Today, I’m talking to fellow Crooked Cat, Sarah Stephenson…
Jen, thank you for inviting me onto your blog today and asking me so many interesting questions. I’ve found it quite challenging.
Happy to be challenging! So, first things first – tell me about your current project…
Dougal’s Diary, published by Crooked Cat in January, is the story of a modern dog – a labradoodle coping with the trials and tribulations of life in 2012. The hell of London transport, fun of the Queen’s Jubilee, the Olympics and Wimbledon.
Dougal is a complete hypochondriac and Boris Johnson’s No1 fan – identifying with his scruffy blond appearance. He longs to travel the world on Virgin Airlines and star in a local play. Can he survive life with a chaotic owner and her eccentric friends, deal with his jealousy when a foster puppy comes to stay? And as for his dreams will they ever come true?
In general, do you use real or imagined settings? Which do you prefer?
I live near Greenwich, I do have a dog and we go for walks in Greenwich Park. So the settings for the book were real and easy to write. And coming from a dog’s perspective meant the descriptions were skimpy. Dougal had no appreciation of stunning sunsets, graceful floral arrangements or the smell of May Trees. A rancid bone, maybe.
The book I’m sweating over at the moment; a crime novel with the working title Recipe for Death, also has real settings. But here I’ve come unstuck. Do I know Tetbury in Gloucestershire, or the lay-out of the roads in Bath?
I so wish I’d chosen imaginary places and times, instead of the West Country in 2008; the year of the banking crisis, which leads on nicely to your next question; that of research.
And how is your research process? Can you focus, or do you find yourself easily distracted?
For my WIP ‘work in progress’, I’ve been forced to do masses of research. On the popular songs of the time, TV shows, fashions in clothing and foods. The weather. Road closures. Banking problems. Celebrity deaths and political smears. The list goes on.
It’s extremely easy to get side tracked and think you need more information than you actually do. How much is too much? Will the British Library supply me with the information I need? Do I really have to take two days out exploring Bath? Is it essential or a colossal waste of time? Help! Help! When should I stop?
It is all essential. Perhaps!
What about people? Do you include real people? If so, who is your favourite / least favourite?
In Dougal’s Diary, almost every character was based on a real person or dog. The problem with that was I had to get everyone’s permission, except from those who’d died – even the owners of the dogs had to provide written authorisation.
My favourite character based on one of the deceased, was old Mrs King. A terrible busybody, extremely kind, loved a tipple and man mad. Approaching 90 and fantasising about jumping into bed with guys half her age. She believed her great SP (selling point) was needing no protection; none of those nasty Johnny Geronimo thingys.
OK, she was past the conceiving age, but what about sexually transmitted diseases? It was the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Time for a few flights of fancy… If you could have written any writer’s back catalogue, or a single book, who would it be, and why?
What book would I like to have written? Well three, actually.
For sales; The Bible
For literature; Shakespeare
And for history; Dr Johnson’s Dictionary
Good choices! And what about some time travel.. You’re allowed to visit any period / event, as a witness only (no interfering!). Which would it be, and why?
Well, the Dreyfus Affair in 1894. A Jewish officer in the French army was convicted of passing French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, stripped of his army rank and sent to Devil’s Island. It was a serious miscarriage of justice.
Victor Hugo who was at the trial, wrote a great article the following day, called J’accuse. Blaming the government for corruption and antisemitism, he demanded the case be re-opened. Many trials later Dreyfus was exonerated.
To watch that first trial and witness how it was run would have been incredible.
Ok, and now you CAN interfere – which bit of history would you change, if you could?
Now this is a difficult question.
Obviously there are, unlike the Bible, many history books all giving different accounts of the past. And new information is uncovered all the time. But Arthur Bryant, in his history of the Napoleonic Wars, occasionally wrote propaganda rather than actual facts and compared Napoleons plans to invade Britain to those of Hitler.
The circumstances were entirely different, but he made them sound the same. I believe Arthur Bryant should think again and re-write that section of his book.
And finally, you have a whole afternoon with anyone from history… Who would it be, and what would you talk about?
Richard Sheridan. The Irish playwright, poet, MP and owner of The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane: a delightful man, great conversationalist and funny. He was always late with dead-lines – still writing the end of School for Scandal, as the curtain went up.
When watching from the pub across the way, Drury Lane Theatre, his whole empire and living burn to the ground, he was asked how anyone could enjoy a drink at such a time, replied, ‘A man may surely have a glass of wine by his own fireside.’
I have seen both the Rivals and School for Scandal many times over the years and am convinced the popularity of these delightfully funny plays is likely to continue. Naturally there are major differences between recent production and those performed in the late eighteenth century. The intervals are shorter, the lights electric and the audiences no longer have to pay to watch the next act. No wonder each one ended on a cliff hanger. Not unlike the novelist today, who need to keep their readers turning the pages; in those days the crowds had to be enticed back.
Meeting Sheridan would be quite an experience. There’d be so much to chat about; the humour of those days and these. Dead-lines. Social media. The loss of theatres outside the capital. Drama schools. Awards such as the Olivier, the Oscars and BAFTA’s. The introduction of cinema and TV. And then there’s parliament and Brexit.
What would I wear? What would we drink and where would we drink it? The Nell of Old Drury across from the Theatre could easily have been an old haunt of his. Would The Theatre Royal give him a backstage tour and squeeze him in for a performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Might he, on the other hand, prefer to watch Marlow’s Dr Faustus at the Duke of York, or even see a film?
An afternoon spent with Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan? No, nothing like long enough. How about a week?
Thanks for joining me, Sarah! You can find out more about Sarah below…
Joining the Bristol school of Dancing aged seven, Sarah spent most of her childhood dancing in prisons, theatres, old people’s homes and the Grand Palais in Paris. Later she trained as an actress, working with Mike Leigh and other distinguished directors. When the children arrived, she trained as a chef, and when they’d finally flown the nest, catered in Europe, Britain and the States, giving private dinner parties. Sarah still works as a cook and writes.
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Sarah Stephenson798
Twitter: Dougal Dog@ Dougal Diary