I am a glutton when it comes to books. My desires are larger than my reading time – which is why I have two crates full of books sitting in my bedroom right now, all of which I want to read, and yet I keep getting more – because there’s just so much temptation around! Sometimes, during the periods when my writing gets intense, I have to put my reading pleasures aside for a while, and boy do I miss it. I emerge from isolation like a racehorse from a starting gate, and the pile of books at my bed begins a period of rapid turnover (or at least it did before I had a child, I’ve had to slow down a bit). During these times, I try to blog about the books I love. You’ll find these recommendations listed on my facebook page, and full reviews on my website and on goodreads.com. I read a wide variety of genres, but I think you’ll quickly determine that I’m attracted to strong psychological dramas – which probably won’t come as much surprise if you’ve read my books. I hope you enjoy my selections, and wish us all many hours of happy reading!
I’m well into novel number 3 now, and looking forward to having a first draft ready early next year. I just spent ten days in Japan where I did a little bit of research as well as taking some family holiday time, but that’s all I’ll say for the moment. I hope to be able to put the synopsis/teaser for book 3 up on site early next year, so watch this space.
On Sunday morning I attended a Perth Writers Festival session discussing the future of printed books in this world of rapid, almost rabid, technological change. I was completely engrossed listening to the panel of Geordie Williamson (chief literary critic of the Australian), James Bradley (novelist), Lev Grossman (novelist) and Angela Meyer (writer, Literary Minded blog) as they contributed a wealth of suggestions and observations. There were a few differences of opinion, but one thing was for certain: change is already upon us, whether we are prepared for it or not.
I came away feeling reasonably positive. James Bradley noted that, as happened with the music industry, the restructuring of the book industry would engender a new wave of creativity. Lev Grossman suggested that the new technologies need not mean the death of the old ones, but rather the advent of something ‘more complex and interesting’. And Angela Meyer proposed that the bookstores who prevail will be the ones who create a culture around themselves, such as the Readings chain in Melbourne (which I’m excited to be visiting for the first time next week). Geordie Williamson observed that we may end up seeing a more diverse industry, akin to the way things operated before conglomerate consolidation.
One question raised was whether the enhanced e-book is a good or bad thing – or indeed if it is possible to authentically translate all books into standard or enhanced e-formats. I loved Lev Grossman’s statement that ‘just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should’ (something that sprang to mind again as I looked longingly at the scones in my local cafe this morning). Geordie Williamson’s related comment, that in our excitement we may begin to see technology as a virtue in itself instead of a tool, also rang bells with me – because my fiction books are written with the aim that I want you to lose yourself in them. I don’t want you to pause to click on words to find out their meaning unless you absolutely have to. I don’t want your e-reader battery life to run out just before the final chapter. I don’t want you to accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself reading a random page. I guess in some ways my novels (and, heaven forbid, me?!) are a little bit old school, so I’m happy I am writing at a time when I can see them in print.
I got home that night and saw on Twitter that the publishers of the Oxford dictionary have conceded there is no point in publishing the printed version any more. From now on it will be online only. I thought of my enormous dictionary in the study, which I frequently don’t bother to haul out, since I can look up a word much faster on the internet. And yet… to flick through page after page of minuscule text and find random words you never knew existed … to be able to feel the English language as a weight in your hands… The loss may not be registered by future generations, but at that moment I began to feel it.
However, on the panel, James Bradley told us that Socrates apparently deplored the coming of the written text as he said we’d no longer have to remember things. It’s a reminder that many fears prove unfounded, and that change, loss and adaptation are part and parcel of life. So while I may get nostalgic for the vanishing worlds of this wonderful business, I’m also looking ahead with optimism and excitement at what may come next, and enjoying being part of it all.
I was very excited this morning to read Jessica Rudd’s blog on Mama Mia, speaking out in defence of chick lit and commercial fiction. Go Jessica! While my books don’t fall easily into the chick lit category (they are a bit too dark, although they usually have at least one female chick-lit-style character doing her utmost to lighten things up) they are certainly commercial. And I’m very proud of that. I want everyone, and I mean everyone, to read them!
The joy of reading is that it’s such a personal experience. We form relationships with the characters we read about, and we have our own reactions to the journeys they are on, which are interlinked to our own feelings and experiences. Stories are places of freedom, of escape, and of personal interpretation, so it’s a sad state of affairs when any kind of snobbery begins to try to dictate our reading passions. Besides, sweeping whole genres into generalised definitions is plain daft. I’ve read some brilliant chick-lit that has had me crying with laughter – Watermelon by Marian Keyes springs to mind. I’ve also read plenty of books in the same genre that I thought were a load of old rubbish (and will therefore remain nameless!). It’s the same with ‘lit fic’ – I’ve waded my way through a few prize-winning, critically acclaimed doorstoppers wondering why I felt compelled to waste my time; and yet other books have had me in awe – Swimmer by Bill Broady, and Beloved by Toni Morrison are two of my all-time favourites. But I should add that I did my dissertation on Beloved. It was by studying it that I got such a lot out of it. In fact, I think I gave all my friends copies of Beloved for Christmas that year, and, in hindsight, since most weren’t doing English degrees they would probably rather have had the latest Bridget Jones.
Wouldn’t it be great if all types of writing could simply co-exist and try not to squabble? But it’s unlikely, isn’t it. Life just isn’t like that, at least not yet. In the meantime, I have made a conscious choice to try to write the kind of books I love to read. And there is nothing I enjoy quite as much as a spine-tingling mystery with characters you can’t stop thinking about. If that makes my stories your guilty pleasure, then so be it. I promise you’ll get your money’s worth!
I’m about to start editing Beneath the Shadows, and I’m very excited about it. It is through this process that my book will gradually evolve from its raw first draft into a finely polished finished piece. With a background as an editor I feel very open to the editing process, which can be pretty daunting and confronting for a writer. Everything from characters, plot and pace, and the strength of the writing itself, is examined thoroughly during editing; and as a result the book can change quite a bit, sometimes in ways the author never envisioned. Come Back to Me was a much better book after editing, and I’m sure that it will be the same for Beneath the Shadows.
Beneath the Shadows is currently at the structural editing stage. So we’re looking at things like how the chapters work, both on their own and with one another; whether the characters are developing fully; if there are gaps that need filling, or sections that need paring back. So wish me luck, and I’ll post some updates on how it’s going.
I was recently asked advice on how to become a published writer.
Here’s my take on what it takes:
In general, the more original your concept, the better. But originality must still be able to be placed within the market. Sometimes what’s original to one person can be just a bit too way out to the next reader, so don’t go too far. Alternatively, you may want to follow a trend – vampires, anyone? – but you still need an original take on it. And you need to get the timing right, so the market isn’t oversaturated by the time you finish your book.
You have to really want to succeed, be prepared for knockbacks, not get bogged down in them but use them to make you stronger.
First of all to finish the book. An enormous feat. Then to go over and over it yourself, figuring out how you can make it better. Then to allow other people to do the same.
To learn from those who have been there. Listen to published writers. They can give you so many ideas, and to hear them talk is often inspirational. No one begins life as a published writer, they were all once in unpublished shoes, without exception. Read lots of books. They all have something to inspire you – even if it’s only, ‘I could do better than this!’
Listen to critique. While it’s great to wholly believe in what you have written, it’s also good to remember that your readers might just have a point. Try to look dispassionately at your writing, and pay particular attention if you hear the same comment more than once, even if it’s not what you want to hear.
Put yourself in a busy publisher’s shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? I can guarantee you that it will usually be the one sent with a bit of razzmatazz from an agent. So then perhaps you should find an agent. If you decide to go this route, put yourself in their shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? The one that’s double-line spaced, interestingly presented, with a quick-to-grasp concept. And a covering letter that stands out. From someone who phoned or emailed first with a great, succinct pitch (although do check what type of contact each agent prefers before doing this)? Or the single-spaced scruffy sheaf of papers, appended to a meandering cover letter, from a person they’ve never heard of or from. I know which I would choose.
And finally: Passion
For the written word. For writing for writing’s sake, not just for publishing’s sake. Because that joy and commitment will be immediately recognisable to the reader, and there is little more compelling than that.
It is always interesting to see how writers respond to editorial guidance. Some are completely open to suggestions, others are not, and there’s a third category who seem to be keen for a critique, but then either don’t like the reality, or don’t seem to alter anything much as a result. What many writers appear to get stuck on is the ‘Well, I like it’, or ‘It has to happen because…’ response. A writer becomes so attached to a piece of writing, or a certain event in their plot, that they will hold on to it come hell or high water. But I believe that the more malleable you see your work, right up to the point it becomes set in print, then the more likely you are to create a better book. This doesn’t mean you have to follow any or all editorial suggestions, because ultimately, and quite rightly, the author has the final say. However, it is worth remembering that editors are there to help you produce the best finished product you can, not to ruin your treasured script! Therefore their comments should not be dismissed too lightly.
That’s the theory, anyway, coming from an editor’s perspective. But how did I go as a writer? Well, I had this experience with Come Back to Me. The book had a prologue, which was the very first thing I wrote for the novel, and I loved it. Every time I reread the prologue, it made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could get this thing published. So when the script came back with a big pencil line streaking across the first page, I did have a bit of a gulp. And, if I hadn’t had an editing background, I would have probably argued passionately for it to remain – because I loved it. However, the thing is, while I felt it was a fine piece of writing, it interfered with something more important: it delayed the real start to my story. So when I’d had a few minutes to think about it, I knew the editor was right. The prologue was a personally beloved part of an earlier draft, but it didn’t belong in the finished piece. So out it went. And the book is better for it.
The absorbing plot of “Beneath the Shadows” shows that a quiet, non-violent mystery can pack a lot of punch.
Oline Cogdill, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Foster’s captivating story is steeped in secrets locked in attics and hidden in cellars, good sisters, bad sisters, a ghost, a couple of brooding handsome men and almost as many characters with mother issues as a Sophocles play.
Carole Barrowman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Foster’s second page-turning tale of suspense set on the snow-covered moors has something for everyone: mystery, romance, paranormal activity and mortal danger.
This is an intricately woven tale inspired by classic stories such as Wuthering Heights and Rebecca. The suspense and unexpected twists will leave you guessing all the way through.
The West Australian
Beneath the Shadows draws together an intriguing mystery, an atmospheric and gloomy setting that steals over you as you read it and an interesting and varied cast of supporting characters to create a psychological thriller that will definitely leave you wanting more from this author!
1girl2manybooks – to read the full review, click here
This is the second Sara Foster book that I have read (it is also her second release – so I now have a bit of a wait to get my Sara Foster fix again), and once again I was mesmerised by Sara’s writing, and completely pulled in by the story.
The Hungry Bookshelf – to read the full review, click here
Sara Foster overtly appropriates the tone, atmosphere and themes of classics from Wuthering Heights to Rebecca, delivering a modern gothic that has the charm and suspense of Susan Hill’s ghost stories.
The Saturday Age, 5 February 2011
…a mystery-suspense novel so thrilling it forces you to burn the midnight oil,
Flourish magazine, 11 February 2011. See full review and interview here.
Beneath the Shadows is full of intrigue and wonderfully dark descriptions of ghosts that haunt the moors.
Good Reading magazine, February 2011. For an online summary, click here.
…merges classicism and contemporary to winning effect.
a book a day till i can stay, #190 – see full review here.
This is an inricately woven tale inspired by classic stories such as Wuthering Heights and Rebecca. The suspense and unexpected twists will leave you guessing all the way through.
Chicklit Club, February 2011. See full review here.
Beneath the Shadows is a tense, suspenseful story of loss, secrets and ghostly presences.
The West Australian, 22 February 2011. See full review here.
When Adam inherits a lonely cottage, he and Grace and their baby move in. Then Adam vanishes. No trace, no clues… A year later, Grace still seeks answers but knows she must move on. The locals are reluctant to offer help, but it comes from an unexpected quarter. As winter snows start to cut them off from the world, Grace finds the answers lie in unsuspected places. Heart stopping moments are ahead for her… and us.
Woman’s Day, 28 February 2011
A year after her husband’s disappearance, Grace returns to their home looking for closure. Set in England’s desolate moors, this page-turner has just the right amount of mystery.
In Style Magazine, March 2011
With spooky clocks, snowstorms, cursed chairs, family secrets, ominous portents, greasy letters written on glass, taciturn locals and a few ghosts, there’s something here for everyone who enjoys a good shiver up the spine. The moors, bleak, beautiful and unforgiving, provide the perfect backdrop.
M/C reviews, April 2011 – to read the full review, click here
If you love a novel with a twist, then Perth writer Sara Foster’s latest novel Beneath the Shadows is the perfect port in a winter storm.
ishoperth, July 2011
…a stunning thriller.
Western Advocate, July 2011
Beneath the Shadows is a great read by a talented Australian author. (5/5 stars)
The Australian Bookshelf – to read the full review, click here
For author interviews and general media, click here