Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Sara Jayne Townsend

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Sara Jayne Townsend

We are delighted to welcome author Sara Jayne Townsend to Omnimystery News today.

Sara is the author of the Shara Summers mystery series, the second book of which is Dead Cool (MuseItUp Publishing; November 2014 ebook formats). We recently had the chance to catch up with her to talk more about her new book.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about Shara Summers. How has she changed over the course of the first two books in the series? And what is it about her that appeals to you as a writer?

Sara Jayne Townsend
Photo provided courtesy of
Sara Jayne Townsend

Sara Jayne Townsend: I write a contemporary amateur sleuth series about an actress, Shara Summers. Half British and half Canadian, Shara is familiar with both cultures but at the start of the first book, Death Scene, she has been living in Toronto for several years. She is summoned back to England by her mother, when her sister develops a mysterious illness.

By the second book, Dead Cool, she has settled back in England, but she is still noticing the little differences in culture that are only apparent to someone who's lived somewhere else.

I have family in Canada and lived there for a while before moving back to Britain, and I liked the idea of creating a character with a foot in both countries, as it were. I also liked the idea of a character who was a professional actress. I loved drama when I was a kid and had fantasies of pursuing it as a career, but I was never really good enough. So instead I created a character I could vicariously live a life on stage through.

I also liked the idea of my amateur sleuth utilising her acting skills for her sleuthing. In each book, Shara dons a costume at some point and plays a role.

OMN: How do you see her character developing over the next few books in the series?

SJT: Flawed characters make for a more interesting story, but to keep a reader engaged, I think the character has to change and grow over time. Shara makes mistakes, but I want her to learn from her mistakes, and the things that happen to her in each book have consequences in future books. She still needs to learn how to make better choices in her love life, though.

OMN: Tell us something about Dead Cool that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

SJT: The setting of Dead Cool is London, and real places around it. Shara lives in Sutton in Surrey, a real place not too far away from where I live myself. Most of the action takes place in a hotel just off Tottenham Court road. I took some liberties with the geography of London, though, because the hotel doesn't really exist. But I could show you exactly where it stands.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

SJT: I am something of a meticulous plotter. I make notes first, including a list of characters with descriptions and brief biographies. I do a three-page plot summary, and from there I create a chapter plan, with details about what has to happen in each chapter. Only then do I start writing a first draft.

I have learned from experience — after too many first drafts that ended up languishing in the drawer because I got half way through and then got stuck — that this is the best method for me. I can't finish a first draft without knowing before I start how it's going to end. This doesn't necessarily mean that I know everything that's going to happen on the journey when I begin, though. Sometimes characters who are meant to die early on decide they are going to have a much bigger role in the plot. Sometimes I realise as I'm writing that a plot point I've planned can't happen that way because it means something else doesn't make any sense. In the case of Dead Cool, I was about three quarters of the way through the first draft when I realised that the murderer actually wasn't who I thought it was. When such things happen I try to ignore the plot holes that are developing in my draft, I write "fix it in the rewrite" all over my chapter plan and I keep on going to the end of the draft. Then when I begin the next draft I work out how to fix the issues that came up in the earlier draft.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world to research the setting for a book, where would it be?

SJT: I'm planning on taking Shara to New York and setting a book about her there. This is mostly because I just love New York. I've already visited there five times, but if I was rich enough, I'd buy an apartment in New York City and spend part of the year there. The first book of the Shara Summers series, Death Scene, starts with her filming in Central Park. There's a passing mention of her having a brief role in an American soap. I've already decided that there's going to be a further story about the character she plays in that soap that requires her to go back to New York for more filming, which gives me a reason to set a book there.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

SJT: I used to be involved in amateur dramatics, and that rather inspired me to create an actress character in the first place.

I'm also learning to play bass guitar, and I do open mic nights with my guitarist husband quite frequently. This interest in music found its way into Dead Cool, since Shara gets a job as backing singer with a rock band about to launch their European tour.

OMN: How involved were you with designing the covers of your books?

SJT: The covers for both Death Scene and Dead Cool were designed by Charlotte Volnek, one of MuseItUp's cover artists. MuseItUp works largely with manipulated stock images, and I think both covers look great. I also really appreciate the way that the cover artists are keen to work with the author, to create something that the author will be happy with.

I was quite keen that I wanted a representation of Shara on all the covers in the series. For Dead Cool, I wanted her looking back over her shoulder, at an empty stage with something signifying a rock band on it — a drum kit, maybe, or a microphone. The cover Charlie came up with has both, and the purple spotlight shining down adds a touch of drama.

The only thing I wasn't happy with for the first incarnation of the Dead Cool cover was the model representing Shara, who was quite glamorous and looked more like a Broadway show girl. I went back to Charlie and asked if I could have someone who looked a bit more "rock chick". The second cover model I thought represented this much more vividly and she was the model who went on the final cover.

OMN: Suppose your books were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the role of Shara?

SJT: In my mind, Shara Summers looks like the actress Jennifer Garner, so she'd be the logical choice.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young? And do you think these played any part in how and what you write today?

SJT: I was certainly into crime from an early age. I discovered Enid Blyton's "Secret Seven" books when I was about five or six, and then the "Famous Five" books a couple of years later. Both series are about groups of children solving mysteries, and they inspired my friend and I set up a club house in the garden shed and pretended to solve mysteries.

Aged about 12 I got into Agatha Christie, and in my late teens I picked up my first Sara Paretsky book. I love her tough-talking female private eye VI Warshawski, and this character inspired me to create my own female sleuth. I wasn't confident enough to write a police procedural, though, so I decided to create an amateur sleuth.

OMN: What's next for you?

SJT: I'm currently working on the third Shara Summers book, which has Shara involved in a reality show on a remote island off the coast of Scotland. In the meantime, though, I'm wearing my "horror writer" hat since the next two books to be released are horror novels — The Whispering Death will be released by Kensington Gore Publishing in Autumn, and Suffer the Children is to be published by MuseItUp in Spring 2016.

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Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror, and someone tends to die a horrible death in all of her stories. She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there. She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband Chris. She co-founded the T Party Writers' Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person. She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was 10 years old and finished her first novel a year later. It took 30 years of submitting, however, to fulfil that dream.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at website and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Dead Cool by Sara Jayne Townsend

Dead Cool by Sara Jayne Townsend

A Shara Summers Mystery

Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)iTunes iBook FormatKobo eBook Format

Actress Shara Summers has settled in London and is "between jobs" when her Canadian ex-boyfriend David sails back into her life, begging to her to fill the backing singer vacancy in the up and coming band he's about to go on a European tour with.

Short on funds and auditions Shara reluctantly agrees, but tragedy strikes at the opening night party when the band's charismatic front man Dallas Cleary Anderson falls to his death from a hotel window. It soon becomes clear that Dallas did not fall, but was pushed. His arrogant and confrontational manner means there are no shortage of people who wanted him out of the band permanently — but who would resort to murder?

Dead Cool by Sara Jayne Townsend

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to have an actress as your sleuth and one who has travelled widely as well. Looking forward to more Shara Summers adventures!

    ReplyDelete

 

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