Having set her first novel Red, Blue, Green in Lincolnshire where I live and her latest, Having Fun, in Cornwall, a place I love, I just had to ask Sarah a bit about her writing.
Four friends set off to Cornwall for a winter break, a “lost weekend” drinking cocktails and having fun in a remote clifftop cottage.
It turns out, though, that having fun isn’t so easy. By the end of the weekend, two of them will have illicitly fallen in love, one will be in hospital and who knows what will become of the fourth…
The story is told from the four different perspectives of the four different characters, revealing their private thoughts, their secrets and tragedies, and their misunderstandings about each other. The book explores the assumptions we make about other people and the masks we wear ourselves.
This is a book about seizing the day; about the impossibility of really knowing other people; and about the slipperiness of life itself.
An Interview with Sarah Healey
Hi Sarah. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Hi. Well, I’ve always loved writing and lived pretty much in my own little world of imagination, but I studied Law at university and worked for about ten years as a solicitor, specialising in criminal defence law. I gave up work when my son was born and since then I’ve been home educating him, and writing. My husband is a writer too and although we’re both Northerners we moved down to West Cornwall about twelve years ago, where we enjoy the quiet life.
And tell me a little about Having Fun (without spoiling the plot please).
Having Fun is set over one winter weekend: four students go away to a clifftop cottage hoping for a wild time, drinking cocktails and partying, but each of them has their own private problems and anxieties, and although the weekend is to change all of them, it doesn’t quite go to plan.The book has many themes – friendship, family, mental illness, grief – and I try to capture the feel of life lived, from moment to moment.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I actually do a lot of writing sitting in cafes! I like being alone in a busy place, and it can be difficult to write at home without interruptions from my lovely family. I also like to write with pen and paper first, and then when I finish each chapter I type it up into the computer, which allows me to edit as I go along. I’m not someone who writes lots of drafts; I like to try to get it right first time. I don’t have time to write every day but I fit it in whenever I can. I love writing, and even when it’s difficult it never feels like a chore, more like a puzzle.
Identity seem to be the pivotal focus for your writing, both in Having Fun and Red, Blue, Green . How far would you agree with that assessment?
Oh, definitely. A major theme of Having Fun is the impossibility of really understanding other people – we all wear masks – but the book also considers how we construct our own identities in response to the world around us. One character, for example, realises that she becomes almost a different person depending on who her friends are. In Red Blue Green, the young protagonist feels almost as if he isn’t real at all; he feels like an observer, drifting passively through other people’s lives.
How did you manage the plotting of Having Fun given that there are four character perspectives?
It was great fun. The story is told from the four separate viewpoints, on occasion revisiting the same incident through different eyes, and I enjoyed the misconceptions the characters had of each other, and the different ways of relating to events: Fran, for example, is relentlessly upbeat about everything, while Natalie is cynical and Daniel is lost in his own secrets…. it was great to explore different ways of looking at life.
With which of the characters in Having Fun do you feel most aligned personally?
This may sound strange, but although the characters are all different they are all part of me; I think when you write from a character’s perspective you get inside their skin and become them in the narrative. One of the wonderful things about writing is that you are able to live so many imaginary lives.
I know you have a background as a criminal defence lawyer. Have you any plans to write something in the crime genre too?
I’m not a big fan of crime fiction, but the new novel I have just started writing is actually about a man facing a trial, so I am using a lot of my experiences as a criminal lawyer. I’m exploring how frightening it is for an ordinary person to be arrested and scooped up by the criminal justice system.
You live in Cornwall. How important was it to you to set Having Fun there?
I love my novels to have a strong sense of place. Red Blue Green was set in Lincolnshire, where I lived for six years. The wide flat landscape there is enormously inspiring, and it was the perfect background for a character who felt lost and empty. In setting Having Fun in Cornwall, I wanted to capture the visitor’s experience of being in a remote, wild place, far from home.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I love reading classic twentieth century fiction: Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Saul Bellow, Milan Kundera. My favourite writer is Elizabeth Bowen. I am trying to read more contemporary fiction: recently I’ve enjoyed books by Ben Lerner and Don Delillo. I do read a lot – I have to make full use of my local library because I could never afford to own all the books I want!
(Hurrah for local libraries!)
Thank you so much, Sarah, for your time in answering my questions.
About Sarah Healey
Sarah Healey was born in Sussex, but grew up in Yorkshire and graduated from Sheffield University with a First in Law. She worked for many years as a criminal defence lawyer in magistrates courts and police stations, but gave it up in 2003 to home educate her son. She now lives in Cornwall with her family.
She has always written stories, but only now has she had the time to concentrate on her writing. Her first novel is Red Blue Green, a coming-of-age story about family tragedy and teenage alienation.
You’ll find Sarah Healey on Facebook.