Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sarah Salway on Writing & Place


I am delighted to be hosting Sarah Salway on the blog today - poet, short story writer, novelist, writing teacher, blogger extraordinaire and a provider of inspiration in so many ways! Not one to stand still, Sarah has just launched a new website, Stories from the Garden: "This is a website for garden visiting with a difference. Instead of collecting plants, my garden visits are all about collecting stories – those contained within the garden, those told about the garden and those written in the garden." And you can catch Sarah talking all about "A Garden Journey" at the Canterbury Festival next Wednesday, October 17th, at 8pm (see here for more info). 

It seemed appropriate then, given that her new venture is about stories in different places, to ask Sarah my writing & place questionnaire. Here are her answers!

Where are you?


I live in Tunbridge Wells in a very old house that was once Beau Nash’s illegal gaming rooms. The builders we had swore there are ghosts here, but if there are, they feel very happy to me. I like to think of them playing poker.

We moved as a family from Edinburgh when my husband got a job in London. We had no idea where to live and so I was travelling round Southern England looking for places we might call home – a surreal experience.


Tunbridge Wells wasn’t even on the map for us, but on one of my ‘tours’ of Kent, I met up for lunch with two writer friends there and fell in love with it. Out of interest, I called in at an estate agent that afternoon and found the house we moved into just three months later.

Interestingly, one of my lunch companions, Dan Rhodes, moved to Edinburgh about a year later so you could say, we swapped.

How long have you been there?

Ten years. Whether we’ll stay here for ever, I have no idea.

Now our children have left home and we’re not tied to schools etc, I fancy moving far out into the country and becoming a hermit with chickens and pigs.

However, I also fancy moving into the centre of a really busy city and going to the theatre every night. Not sure the two are compatible!

What do you write?

I write in several genres.

I trained as a journalist straight from school, and I still love doing features and interviews – that chance to dip in and out of a subject and ask all the questions you want without seeming too nosy!

Then I did a creative writing drop-in class at Edinburgh University and fell in love with fiction. I started with the short story (perhaps because it felt the same shape as a feature?) and I was lucky enough to be asked to expand one of my short stories into what turned out to be my first novel, Something Beginning With.

I’ve now written and published two collections of short stories (one with Lynne Rees) and three novels, and this year, I’ve published my first poetry collection, You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book.

Sometimes I worry that I’m just distracted writing so many different things, but mostly I feel lucky to be able to follow what I feel passionate about.

At the moment, through my role as Canterbury Laureate, I am working on my first piece of public site-specific writing, doing what we’re calling ‘interventions’ in four of the public parks in Canterbury – changing the municipal signs, recording monologues of park users, turning one space into a meditative spot for letter writing. It’s been a totally amazing opportunity and I think it may have changed my writing practice for ever. I have been so used to thinking of writing as something that appears between the covers of a book that I only just got over asking if this is something I’m allowed to do!

However, for the first time in several years, I do have a novel in my head that is starting to shout that it needs to be written. I’m getting rather excited about disappearing into that fictional world.

How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write?

That’s a really interesting question. I am originally from the Fens and recently, I have discovered that several authors I really enjoy – Trollope and the much more contemporary, Sonia Overall and Katherine Pierpoint for example – are also ‘flatlanders’. However, this isn’t made obvious in their books themselves so I wonder if it’s something in the atmosphere, or language, that I’m picking up. It’s something I’d love to look into more.

I have done three writing fellowships in America now, one in Iowa and two in Virginia, and I can spot the American influence on the work that I’ve produced there, not in terms of content, but as one friend said, ‘they’re more spacious’ than my ‘normal work’. Again, it could be all the flat lands and the skies!

I think I’m more influenced by the landscape than the people, certainly. And by the everyday more than the spectacular. Although I’ve done some epic walks, including up Kilimanjaro, they don’t appeal to me as a topic to write about. The walks I go on around town during the day though, peering into people’s houses, overhearing conversations, or just being on my own in the streets, fill my notebook.

I do write in cafes, but I love writing in libraries more. I once had a week’s ‘holiday’ writing in a different London library every day – the one at the V&A, the Wellcome Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects. Anyone can walk in and get a day ticket, and it was absolutely fantastic. I guess my favourite travel will always be on the page! 

Thank you, Sarah! Invite me round for tea, I need to see the illegal gaming rooms! Check out Sarah's new website, Stories from the Garden, and if you are near Canterbury (or willing to travel, which will be worth it!) go and hear Sarah talking all about "A Garden Journey" at the Canterbury Festival next Wednesday, October 17th, at 8pm (see here for more info).

4 comments:

Sarah Salway said...

Thanks for having me in YOUR place, Tania. Always a pleasure, and yes, come for tea. x

Cally Taylor said...

What a fascinating read. Thanks Sarah.

Neil said...

Great stuff, Sarah. Keep following those passions.

John said...

This is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand, Thanks for sharing the picture it has great detail in it and i really appreciate your true artistic work!


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