Thursday, 26 September 2013

From Short Story Writer to Novelist - An Interview with Sarah England

I'm absolutely thrilled that the lovely Sarah England has joined me on the Writing Allsorts' sofa today.  She's ventured over from her FictionHotel to tell us a bit about her ups and downs of making that step from short story writer to novelist.

So without further preamble - welcome Sarah - it's great to have you with us - do tell us a bit about your success as a short story writer.

Well 9 years ago I had never had anything published, and after writing two tomes of utter drivel that I had the brass neck to send out to agents and publishers, the thought occurred to me that maybe I ought to start again, only with short stories for magazines this time. A year later I had my first acceptance – with My Weekly. It took all that time! Reading other people’s stories, scouring the magazines, getting dozens and dozens of rejections – until I finally cracked it. Since then I’ve had around 140 short stories published in magazines, anthologies and newspapers, plus a serial for Woman’s Weekly; although I pretty much stopped about a year ago when I decided to spend some time putting a collection together, and also submitting my comedy novel (Expected) to publishers. I must add – I am not giving up writing for magazines – I’m currently writing another serial.

Please tell us about your journey from short story to novel.

Well I concentrated solely on short stories for many years, getting better at what I did, and expanding the number of magazines I was accepted by. I also had a few successes in various competitions, and drafted out the early edition of ‘Expected’. However, last year I decided to put together all my darker stories into a collection – ‘3am and Wide Awake’ – and happily, Alfie Dog Fiction published it with both a digital and paperback option. At the same time, I had ‘Expected’ available again – a women’s fiction/comedy novel –which had been accepted the previous year by an online publisher, who subsequently ran into difficulties, leaving my book high and dry. It took a year, but I finally extracted it and decided to try Crooked Cat Publishing at the beginning of this year, as they offered digital and paperback options, and I wouldn’t need an agent. They took it and it was launched this summer.

Regarding an agent – I tried several and had several near-misses – but in the end they all told me that women’s fiction was the hardest genre to market and so I started looking at smaller publishers. This summer – over 7 years after I had my first short story published – saw my first ever anthology and novel publications. I hope it is the beginning of a long career….And who knows? Maybe I will have an agent to help me in the future?

Do tell us a bit about your novel!

Expected is a comedy featuring Sam Sweet....the poorer, unluckier version of Bridget Jones! Here’s a brief synopsis! 

Sam Sweet is a failed psychiatric nurse from a sink estate in Weston Super mare. Her mother, whose husband ran off with another woman 20 years ago - although you'd think it happened only yesterday - has only one ambition and that is to be a grandmother.

But Sam is terrified of giving birth. She is easily traumatised and has no ambition to return to the sink estate and have dozens of children. She just wants a chance to do something with her life first, to fall in love, and see a bit of the world.
Alas, in a drunken stupor she meets Simon - the psychopathic surgeon, who promises her a wonderful life and she believes him - because she is a dingbat and has a lot to learn.

But now she's trapped and can't get out of the situation - her latest job is injecting facial fillers and clients are suing because it's going lumpy; and her best friend, also her boss, is sexually jealous to the point of blind rage because her boyfriend fancies Sam and does little to hide the fact. Living with her psychopathic boyfriend and with her job on the line she now has nowhere to go! A plan is needed.

However, Sam's coping strategy as her life whizzes out of control, is to eat more chocolate and shop like a WAG on speed. But soon she piles on weight and sinks deeply into debt, at which point Simon the surgeon starts playing serious mind games; and by the time it dawns on Sam just what a horrific mess she's in - we might as well pass her the JCB because she keeps on digging.

As she hits rock bottom, however, her dream man arrives - Joel - WOWEE - Madison! - but Sam now feels too fat to pursue matters.... and slimy Simon ups the stakes when he sniffs out her potential happiness and escape. Although that's nothing compared to the cards her mother decides to play... oh it's getting worse.......the wedding to Simon is booked....fireworks? You bet....

Expected can be purchased from and 

‘3am and Wide Awake' is a collection of 25 thrillers and chillers by prolific short story writer, Sarah England. From the demonically inspired title story, to the madness of 'Girl in the Rain', or the shocking sadness of 'Rough Love' - there is one common factor - each story will take you to the edge of the precipice, and then bring you safely back again. Usually...

Dip into revenge with 'Retribution', or medieval terror with 'The Witchfinders'...Dare to invite a stranger into your house with 'Moving In'. Can you bear the aching loneliness of 'Burned'? Or the frightening consequences of dabbling with a Ouija board in 'Out of the Woods'? Why is a top surgeon being haunted by a vengeful woman in, 'A Second Opinion'? And what happened to the girl who took 'The Last Bus Home'?

3am and Wide Awake can be purchased at and

Have you always wanted to write a novel, or was there a time when you thought you would only write short stories?

No, I always wanted to be a novelist, but had to wait until I had the chance to do it. Up until I was 40 I was so busy with work – first as a nurse and then as a medical rep (specialising in mental health). And then I had to learn how to be a writer – I started with letters and fillers and short stories, and being nearly destroyed with rejections. I still don’t consider myself a novelist – I see myself as a writer with a long way to go!  

Do you still write short stories, and if so how do you juggle both?

Yes. I wrote one in June while waiting for ‘Expected’ to be launched, and after ‘3am and Wide Awake’ had been! This was, thankfully, accepted by My Weekly for their 2015 Annual! Don’t we work a long time in advance in this industry??!! I also wrote a ghost story which I sent off, and am currently writing a serial – a 3 part murder mystery for Woman’s Weekly. Next week that has to stop for a while as I start a new project in earnest.  

Which do you prefer to write, novels or short stories? 
The story is as it falls…..I have no preference and enjoy doing both!

Have you any advice to a short story writer who may want to move on to writing novels?

My advice would simply be – you have got to want to do it! It’s sooo hard!

What do you feel is the main difference between writing a short story and a novel?

Time needed - months not days. Basically  it is a much bigger story with more characters (usually), deeper motives, possibly many pov’s, sub-plots and narrative. Otherwise it is everything you have learned as a short story writer. It depends on what kind of novel you are going to write.

Which do you find easier to write, a novel or a short story?

Short story!

Have you ever written a short story that you think would work well as a novel?

I have written a serial that I think would work well as a novel – and am considering that for a future project. But not a short story. I think some of the short stories in ‘3am’ might make a good short drama – but that is another huge undertaking!

Would you miss short stories if you no longer wrote them?

Yes I would miss it because I’ve done it for so long, and sometimes an idea comes and you get that immense satisfaction!

What do you think are the pros and cons of moving from a short story to a novel?

Well  a definite con is no money! And more work. And no guarantee of a buyer for your work when you’ve done it… writing a novel is a gamble on your time. It also takes longer to get an answer and longer to see it published. With a magazine, the magazine sells your work for you and you don’t have to promote yourself in any way. With a novel – that all changes! Your name on the book. Your work.  Pro? Achievement of your dream….

If you have an agent or publisher, do you think being a successful short story writer helped get you noticed?

Yes – my short story collection was taken by Alfie Dog because most of the stories had already had the endorsement of publication, although the really dark ones were published online or in the small press. With Crooked Cat I think they had confidence that I had written and presented ‘Expected’ fully edited, and had spent many years learning to write to publication standards. It helped. However, it hasn’t helped me get an agent.   

Do you think being a published short story writer gave you the confidence to take the next step?

Oh yes. You definitely think – ‘Can I push myself harder?’

Do you think self-promotion is an important part of being a novelist?  If so, what are your thoughts on self-promotion?

I find it toe-curling – it must have been invented by the devil! I would love someone else to do it for me, but with 2 small publishers, I’m afraid I have had to do 90% of the promotion myself. I try to make all my posts and announcements different and give people a reason to want to take a look… but it has been the hardest part of being published. By far - and I used to work in sales and marketing!


Samantha Tonge said...

Really interesting interview, seeing as i started first with novels and found them easier than shorts for a long time!

Thanks both of you.


Patsy said...

You're right about needing to want to do it. Completing a story and making it as good as we can is satisfying - and sometimes are only reward.

Karen said...

Great answers, I enjoyed reading them, and the comedy novel sounds fun... I'm off to download it!

Helen said...

Some nice background on you here Sarah and yes I agree with what you say about promotions. ^_^

Sarah England said...

Karen - thank you ever so much - I really hope you enjoy Expected, and have lots of laughs!
Helen, Patsy and Sam - thanks so much for your kind comments.. xx

Amanda said...

Thank you everyone for dropping by - and thanks again, Sarah for a great interview X

Wendy's Writing said...

I am very interested to hear you say that you learnt your craft through short story writing. I agree that this must make you into a better writer - when I look back at my early unpublished stories I see how far I've travelled since then. Thank you very much Sarah and I look forward to your next interview, Mandy.

Nik said...

An insightful interview that strikes several chords with me, having had over 100 short stories and 18 books published. Short stories train you to make every word count. I'm sure Sarah has a long and successful future!

Amanda said...

Thank you for dropping by, Wendy!

Wow, 100 stories and 18 books is brilliant, Nik - how impressive!

Della G said...

You already know this Amanda, but just wanted to say I'm still loving Expected. A novel that can make you laugh while waiting for root canal treatment is a joy. I haven't finished it yet as I have so little time to read, but when I do I'll leave you a review. xxx