Friday, November 22, 2013

Sarah Lean Guest Blog

There have been many jobs that I have managed to fulfil for a while: stencil maker, gardener, primary school teacher, amongst other things, but I prefer to be a writer above any other job.

I have a first class BA in English and an MA in Creative and Critical Writing, both from UoW, and fairly recently at that.

I write middle grade contemporary fiction for children:

A Dog Called Homeless 2012

A Horse For Angel 2013

The Forever Whale 2013

Hero will be published Spring 2014

Jack Pepper, a short story, for World Book Day 2014



I always loved writing, putting my imagination to use. I used to stand over my mother’s shoulder as a child and dictate stories to her. My junior school headmaster said he hoped to see me in print one day but I forgot about that for a very long time, distracted as I was with other things that I believed to be important but were nonetheless temporary and ultimately dissatisfying.


There’s always the hope that readers will find something they identify with in the stories, something that makes them think more about who they are, because stories allow us to do that, grow in ways of understanding ourselves and other people, and I can’t think of anything more interesting. I am often surprised what people find that is meaningful to them. Readers read according to their own interests. Mostly I hope children will enjoy the stories.

I don’t intend a message. Usually there is something I want to talk about, like in the latest one about what it is to be a hero. I’m not trying to define things, it’s more a discussion, a conversation, a set of circumstances that allow me to explore and in which a character can shine.


I am a list writer, a mind-mapper. I like to think of themes and explore everything I can think of, even if it’s loosely associated, and that list will usually include opposites so I’ve covered the natural balance of things. I once wrote a list of everything I could think of that was yellow/gold for one of the stories. I only used some of the things, but it was important to me, having these bright golden images dotted around the story. I am often building the narrative around all sorts of themes linked to a central premise: so with this latest one about a hero there’s fame, loyalty and truth which all have a relevance to being a hero. But it’s a middle grade novel, so on the surface it’s about a boy who dreams of being a gladiator, a dog and a rescue, although I hope it’s not what anyone is expecting as a traditional story about heroism.


Usually I find stories start with characters. I loved the idea of a boy who was a dreamer, a double life of the imagined and the real. In a way that’s what it’s like as a writer too. I don’t remember what started this one off, I rarely do as it’s such an organic process, only that I wanted to know more about him and what he was made of.


When my son was young he had a story read to him every night. I love reading picture books aloud, but he’s 17 now and not that interested to be honest. I’d spend ages at the library picking books while he drove his toy cars around the edge of the shelves, so I suppose he had his own little narrative going on.


Schools, and government, often seem to be putting too much pressure on the need for reading. I don’t think it should be something you have to do, like tidying your room. We need to have found that enjoyment in reading ourselves and have enthusiasm for stories. There’s so much you can learn, and I don’t mean to pass tests. I think children pick up on your motives. If we are pushing them to fulfil what are, in the end, arbitrary exams (and perhaps only suited to some) they may have anxieties about reading and their ability, and shun being judged.


Mostly I want readers to find something universal in the individuals in the stories I write. They are what matters, people. Stories have always been a place to escape, to exercise my imagination. In the end, it is always the connection that you make with the characters that leaves a lasting impression to me.


I have a website where there’s a clicky thing to buy the books but they are also available at independent bookstores.

I tweet @sarahlean1, but lapse occasionally because of deadlines

I am scared of Facebook.


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt.

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