Blogging inhabits a strange universe. I ‘met’ my staying in guest Sandra Harris at an online event and we communicated after the evening. As a result I’m delighted to welcome Sandra to the blog for her tour with Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources and to help start it off. Today Sandra is staying in with me so let’s find out what she has to say!
Staying in with Sandra Harris
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Sandra. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
This evening I’ve brought along the first two books in the Thirteen Stops trilogy: Thirteen Stops (published in June 2020) and Thirteen Stops Later (published in April 2021). Thirteen Stops Earlier will hopefully be released sometime in early 2022.
Why have you brought Thirteen Stops and Thirteen Stops Later?
Can I tell the readers how the trilogy actually came about?
I’ve brought along some Luas (tram) tickets as well, now some of my most important possessions, because they are directly related to the story.
My son Reuben (six feet tall now and built like the proverbial brick privy, lol) went to school for the first time ever in 2018, at the ripe old age of thirteen. By this time, he had seven years of home-schooling by me under his belt and a recent enough diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and he was more than ready for the change. And the challenge!
One of the biggest adjustments I personally had to make that autumn was in regard to transport. Living in the city centre as we do, and therefore having everything we need within walking distance most of the time, I was, and still am, a carless person. Not a careless person, mind you, but a carless one. Well, if you can walk to the chipper and to the Spar for a newspaper and a carton of milk, what do you need a car for?
Exactly! Gimme a break.
So why the tickets?
While we waited for a school bus place to become available for my son, it fell to myself and Reuben’s big sister Lisa to ferry him back and forth to school every day for the month of September on the Luas, which is like a train but kind of smoother. Here in Dublin, we might also call it a tram.
I was a bit iffy about travelling on this tram, as I always do poorly on public transport. It just makes me nervous, plus I get terrible motion sickness, but the Luas was grand and smooth, and a million times less bumpy than the bus. I wasn’t sick once…!
That’s a relief!
Once we were comfortably seated on the choo-choo, oh joy unconfined! Putting a nosy person like myself in a tram with dozens of unsuspecting commuters is a bit like slipping a barracuda into a bathful of goldfish. How I watched them, fascinated, and they never even knew I was doing it.
For, to my utter astonishment –– you must remember that I was new to this travelling lark –– scarcely a one of ’em looked up from their phones or gadgets for the entire journey. My kids caught me staring and hissed: “Mind your own business, Mum! Everyone’s busy doing their own thing!”
Of course, my kids are mortified beyond belief if I so much as utter ‘good morning’ to another living soul, and I kind of see their point. Everything a parent does is embarrassing to a child, and rightly so. But they couldn’t stop me looking, right?
From what I know of you Sandra, I very much doubt it…
And what I saw was gobsmacking. What was happening here, I wondered? Are we now afraid to the point of being terrified of making contact with our fellow human beings, or is it just that the world of interesting stuff to look at and listen to online is too damned tantalising to resist?
I didn’t figure out any answers to this question during my lazy hazy sunlit Luas days. What did occur to me, however, was the following: What if some of these strap-hanging gadget-fiddlers, every one of them a digital island unto themselves, were to look up occasionally from their iPads and take notice of the people around them? A germ of an idea for a story was starting to take shape in my brain. I’d make these lads and lasses mix and mingle if it was the last thing I did, even if I had to damn well write a book to do it, lol.
Aha – I an see where this is headed Sandra.
What a September we had! Places with magical names like Windy Arbour, Cowper, Beechwood and Balally (they’re all in the books!) whizzed by us daily as we lounged like royalty in our iron chariot, while, on an exposed stretch of road between the Luas station and the school, an Indian summer sun burned a layer of skin off our pale inner city faces.
We even picked blackberries on this road, something I hadn’t done since I was a kid. Blackberries, can you imagine? My son, being autistic and fussy, was naturally suspicious of something that grew on a bush by the side of the road and didn’t come in a flat box with a picture of a smiling pizza-making man on the front, but my daughter and I gobbled them down with child-like enthusiasm. City folks don’t see too many blackberries growing au naturel…!
I might be with your son on that one – too many car pollutants. I grow my blackberries in my allotment.
We may never recapture the magic and beauty of that sun-dappled September, when the road ahead literally shimmered for us with newness and anticipation, but it doesn’t matter. We lived it, and it’s in our heads, there to play on the flickering screen of our memories whenever we press ‘rewind.’ Happy days. Oooh-er, I’m sniffling a bit here. Help yourself to some complementary blackberries while I compose myself.
I’ll pass on the blackberries but you help yourself to a tissue…
The pictured Luas tickets are the actual ones we used that September to ride the rails. I’ll never part with them because of what they represent, but I might sell ‘em if I ever get famous and someone offers me a million dollars for them…!
I can quite understand that Sandra. Fingers crossed for that million dollars (and a cut for me).
So, what else have you brought and why have you brought it?
You said I could bring guests, Linda, so here they are. Their names are Victoria, Honey Joy, Millicent, Princess Katerina, Claudia, Catherine, Patricia Constance, Rose, Kate and Scarlett Cassandra… and they’re all dolls…!
Oh. Why dolls?
Why am I bringing dolls to join us on our night in? Well, while I was writing my trilogy of chick-lit books, I felt extremely girlie, somehow. I’m not one for spending all day shopping for clothes- in fact, I loathe shopping of nearly any description, except book-shopping- but I was aware that there was something I’d been missing in my life since my childhood… dolls!
Somehow, I felt that being a chick-lit author entitled me to reclaim my long-disregarded inner girlieness and finally make it up to myself for the loss of my childhood dolls; Baby Noelle (I can still smell that Christmas morning new doll smell!), my rag doll Susie, my favourite doll Linda and my cute little girl doll Goldie.
I’m so glad to hear the name of your favourite doll Sandra!
I decided I was going to buy some dolls for myself, and that’s exactly what I did. They all came from charity shops or vintage second-hand shops in Dublin city centre and didn’t cost very much, and within a ridiculously short space of time, I had acquired the above-named ladies.
They’re mostly for show and not to play with as such, but I do enjoy picking them up and fiddling with their hair, because they all have such fabulous hair! Most of them are wearing old-fashioned dresses, which I love, and some of them came from the oddest little junk shops, the kind piled from floor to ceiling with old books and vinyl records and moth-eaten vintage clothes, and there’s usually a tray or two of old coins or army medals sitting near the till, you know the kind of place!
I do indeed.
I love them all, but especially Victoria, because she was the first and has magnificent curls. Scarlett Cassandra was so named because her dark green velvet dress reminds me of the gown Scarlett O’Hara makes from her mother’s curtains in Gone With The Wind. She wants a new outfit so she can look her best when she’s visiting Rhett Butler in jail, to ask him to lend her the dough to pay the taxes on Tara. But to pull down and desecrate Miz Ellen’s portieres… As Mammy might say, t’aint fitting…
Princess Katerina is extremely tall, at about three feet. I found her leaning against the back wall of a dusty old vintage shop, waiting to be seen. My daughter and I had just finished watching our North and South box-set, starring the delicious Patrick Swayze as Orry Main, and we both agreed that her outfit and gorgeous hat resembled something that Lesley Anne Down might have worn as the stunningly beautiful and fetchingly garbed Madalyn La Motte.
Honey Joy and Millicent I adore because they look like exactly the kind of doll a little Victorian girl might have played with back in the day. The Victorians really knew how to craft a beautiful doll.
Claudia, my one Barbie, is ultra-glamorous. I imagine her as a mysterious Eastern European princess of a small, little-known principality, and she goes to parties peopled with James Bond-type spies and beautiful but deadly female assassins, parties where the hero is, of course, smitten by her beauty. Will she submit to a woo-ing, or does she have she an ulterior motive our hero has yet to find out about…? That’s the fiction writer in me, lol. I’m never off the clock…!
Crikey. That’s some collection. Dare I tell you I never liked dolls as a child? I was given twin boy dolls at Christmas one year and bit off their noses. I also cut all the hair of my sister’s doll Blondie who had to be renamed Baldie.
I’ve also brought along some of my fancy notebooks, because, during the writing of the trilogy, dolls weren’t the only thing I indulged my passion for. I adore fancy notebooks, and all my writing scribbles and book notes go into the various nice notebooks I find in stationery shops. I know other writers use spreadsheets, yellow post-it notes, wall charts, etc,. but I’m a notebook fiend and I probably have dozens of gorgeous ones knocking around the place by now.
I think we ALL love notebooks Sandra.
I also took up journaling during the writing of the three books, largely because I really wanted to write words in a notebook with a pen again, after years of typing my work on my laptop. I actually had a real yearning for using a pen and paper once more.
So, I found an unused notebook in a local second-hand bookshop that I liked the look of, and bought it for this exact purpose. I didn’t realise at first that the journal was part of a famous series by a lady called Keri Smith, entitled Wreck this Journal.
The idea is that you find inner freedom and creativity by following the journal’s prompts to do mad things to it, like rolling it down a hill, bringing it into the shower with you, poking holes in it with a pencil and even punching the pages, after first dipping your fist in something. Sweet Jesus.
Is there a society for the protection of notebook abuse?
I knew I’d do none of these wacky, sadistic things to the poor, poor journal. I’d write things in it and carry it around with me and record my thoughts, dreams, hopes and fears in it like you’re supposed to in a journal, although any journal writer will tell you that you can write absolutely anything you want to in a journal. Your journal, your rules. Have it YOUR way, as they used to say at Burger King. Some people even draw or doodle in theirs, if it feels right, but I’m strictly a wordsmith.
I’ve been a fervent diary-keeper for the last sixteen years, since my youngest child was born and suddenly I needed to keep track of things like vaccinations, doctor-and-hospital visits and a load of different baby milestones once more.
But a diary differs from a journal in that it’s a record of events that have happened to you. A journal can be a record of how you feel about these events and what they mean to you. A journal can be a tool, just one of the many tools we can use in search of a meaningful life. (Note to self: Wine and cake are not real tools…!)
Oh I rather think they count too!
I googled what kind of things you can write in a journal. You can keep a gratitude journal, writing down every day what things you’re grateful for. This practice can definitely promote well-being and feelings of happiness, optimism and positivity. Whether it’s a delicious dinner or finding a fiver in an old coat pocket (preferably your own coat, but whatever!), we’ll all have at least one thing to be grateful about every day.
Hang on a minute Sandra. I’m just off to rifle through my coat pockets…
You can journal to find solutions to problems, or just to rant a bit if you have no other outlet. You can use your journal for self-growth and knowledge about self by writing about your talents and skills, your strengths and weaknesses, areas in which you’re doing really well or areas in which you could use a little improvement and, let’s face it, nobody’s perfect, lol.
Except perhaps Bryan Ferry…
Like Richard Branson, you can use a journal to write down lists or your career goals. I started using mine to write down my writing goals for the near future. Even if I don’t stick to the plan, writing down my goals helps to crystallise them for me in my mind and assists me in remembering them.
You can also look up journal prompts on the Internet. I’ve done this a couple of times and ended up answering questions like, what is enough for you, and if you had a magic wand, what changes would you make in your life? Prompts are an endless source of things to write about, and I discovered that you can even buy books of prompts too if you prefer that to googling.
Now I could use that magic wand…
Here’s some stuff I’ve written about in my own journal since November, and some questions I’ve tried to answer there: my dreams (the dreams I have while I’m sleeping, not my goals); my writing resolutions for the year ahead (I’ve broken ’em all already!); thirty things that make me happy (that was a good one!); what does a Wednesday mean to me?
That’s a conversation we’ll have another time I think!
If the world ended at midnight tonight, how would I spend the rest of the day; some movie/writing quotes I like and identify with; how am I currently self-sabotaging my goals (sneaky but very clever!); and finally, I wrote a detailed account of my second child’s birth from sixteen years ago because I realised that, although the story had passed into oral legend in the family, there was no written account of it anywhere. So now it’s in my journal! (My daughter, my oldest child, is adamant that she in particular will never read this account but hey, my job was just to document the birth, not find readers for it…!)
I enjoyed filling some of the journal pages with photos of my kids and hamsters, and my daughter, who adores stationery, bought me some stickers of random girlie things like shoes and handbags to jazzy up the book, so my journals ought to be worthy of display in a museum or art gallery by the time I’m finished with them all…!
I’m sure they will be!
One last thought on journaling, Linda. Did my practice of journaling distract me from my Work In Progress and my actual novel writing?
I was going to ask you that.
Oh, absolutely! One hundred million percent yes. I hardly wrote so much as a chapter while I was journaling, so I had to address that situation and regulate things again, ahem. I really enjoyed being up to my ears in glitter, coloured marker pens and glue-on sparkles, though, and I had a ball wholeheartedly embracing my inner child-artist.
I think that sounds wonderful.
Finally, I’ve also brought some Kate Bush albums to put on in the background as we chat, as Thirteen Stops was written during the autumn of 2018 with Kate Bush on in the background the whole time. I wrote the sequel, Thirteen Stops Later, in the winter/spring of 2019, with Kate’s album 50 Words for Snow pretty much on repeat every single day I was writing.
The sheer beauty of songs like MISTY (sex with a snowman, anyone?), SNOWED IN AT WHEELER STREET, in which she duets with Elton John, and the titular 50 WORDS FOR SNOW literally helped me to fly through the writing. This was the easiest book in the trilogy to write, and at least some of the credit must go to the gorgeous and sensual Ms. Bush.
THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER is a prequel to the events that take place in the first book. I mixed and matched all my Kate albums whilst penning it. I especially loved listening to THE DREAMING, with songs on it like the magnificent NIGHT OF THE SWALLOW, PULLING OUT THE PIN and GET OUT OF MY HOUSE.
This last song was especially apt during the Great Coronavirus Lockdown of 2020, which was when I wrote the third book. Kate’s inspirational music was especially needed and welcome during this time, as all my usual sources of inspiration, such as going for long walks in the fresh air and visiting the library, museums or galleries, were temporarily closed off to me during this time, what with the whole ‘STAY HOME, STAY SAFE AND PROTECT EACH OTHER’ thing.
I love Kate Bush, so I’m really happy you’ve brought her music too tonight.
Anyway, Linda, I’ve gone on a fair bit by now, so best wishes and thank you for having me and all that jazz!
I must say, Sandra, you’ve been one of the most talkative guests who’s stayed in with me but also the one of the most entertaining. Thanks so much for being here to chat with me about Thirteen Stops and Thirteen Stops Later.
There are thirteen Luas stops between Sandyford and St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, each significant in the lives of the people who step on and off the tram every day.
The passengers all hunker down, folded tightly into themselves, eyes fixed on their phones, interminably scrolling, terrified of connecting with each other. Except . . .
Except, who’s that good-looking guy in the long dark coat who’s eyeing up Selfie Queen Laura? Could he end up as one of her terrible choices? Hang on, isn’t he the same guy who was ogling glamorous working-mum-with-a-secret Maroon before? And why is Jamie over there telling his life story to a complete stranger? What’s Fauve hiding in her handbag? It must be the Crown Jewels at the very least, the way she’s clutching it so tightly to herself. And why does Becks from two seats down look out the window so anxiously? Is she worried that Barry could be straying?
Alight here for the inside track . . .
Thirteen Stops Later
The same thirteen Luas stops.
The same twelve unforgettable characters.
A dozen dazzling new twists of fate.
Here we are again, and poor Selfie Queen Laura’s love life has dived head-first from the frying pan into the Towering Inferno. Will she be able to cope? Just about, until she sees who’s coming out of the Disney Store on Grafton Street one Saturday afternoon!
Someone who shouldn’t has a beady eye on Fauve’s bouncing bundle of baby joy, and a face from the past returns to upturn Maroon-Vicky’s applecart of Happy Ever After with the dishy Graeme. The frazzled Carl is up to his tonsils in Tara’s Endless Legs and Things, and something very sinister is going on at Becks’ house . . . will her mother’s old summerhouse finally give up its grisly secret?
All this and much, much more in Thirteen Stops Later. . .
About Sandra Harris
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following this link straight to her Amazon Author Page.
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