Interview: Sarah England, author of Expected

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, pretty much. My mother was an English teacher and an avid reader. I can remember reading her old Victoria Holt's at a very young age, and imagining myself as the heroine. We'd discuss the books very seriously, even though I must have only been around 8 or 9 years old. And then I went on to love creative writing, and made up stories in my head all the time. It was to be another 30 years before I started writing, though. I guess real life gets in the way! Pesky bills and things like that...

Tell us about your novel, Expected.

Expected is for ordinary girls. What I mean by that is, well, take a look at Bridget Jones or Becky in Shopaholic (both similar in style). They have either parents in the country and/or wealthy men and kind friends to help them out of their ditsy messes. But Sam Sweet, my heroine, is from a rough council estate, and her single mother is a tad bonkers to say the least. Sam chooses the wrong man, and her job is perilous. She cannot simply slap her disastrous fiancé's face and move out. She's in debt. She has desperately low self-esteem and the worst luck imaginable. Fortunately, she has a wicked sense of humour, and that is probably what gets her through. So yes, her choices are lessened by circumstance. Here is a brief synopsis of the story: Sam Sweet is terrified of giving birth. Only, she doesn’t dare tell anyone. Especially her grandchild-obsessed mother, or her fiancé, Simon, top surgeon by day, mind-game expert by night. Repressed by the expectations of others, Sam feels trapped. All she ever wanted was a career and a crack at independence, but as a catastrophically failed psychiatric nurse who now injects fillers into the crinkled faces of unhappy women, a career is proving tricky. There’s something wrong with the product, and now clients are suing. Nasty work colleagues stir up scandalous gossip, and soon Sam hits rock bottom, consoling herself with button-popping chocolate binges and terrifying spending sprees. Sam is going to have to find her voice if she ever wants to be herself, fall in love, and follow her dreams. Alas, the wedding date is set...

What inspired you to write this novel?

Oh dear, I'm afraid it's experience! Also, humour is a big part of my psyche. I am the kind of person who gets stuck in revolving doors, flies out of the car door with my foot wrapped round the seat belt (yes, it is possible!), and will be the one saying something loud and possibly incriminating at just the point when the room goes quiet. 'Sorry' is my middle name. I was the butt of amusement for my parents from a young age. So there is quite a bit of tragic experience in this book! 

Describe your heroine, Sam Sweet. Why is she controversial?

Well, Sam is terrified of childbirth. She doesn't really want children at this stage in her life - she is 24 - and feels sick at the thought. This is actually more common than we might think. It is called tocophobia and affects around 20% of women. But we do come to see why she feels like this, and there are 2 main reasons, the most obvious one right from the start being that she is with the wrong man and feels trapped. The other is almost at the end and it would spoil it if I said. So, that is one reason for the controversy. The other is that Sam stays with horrid Slimy Simon for quite a while after she has twigged just what a peevish psychopath he is. So why stay? Many readers have said she should have left him sooner. Yes. She would have loved to. Especially when she meets Joel and falls in love with him. But she has to have a plan. First of all, Simon loves to hurt her and play one-upmanship games, so she has to outwit him, or he is going to make her life very difficult at a time when her job is in meltdown. Next, she has very low self-esteem and keeps thinking she should do what everyone wants, and everything is her fault anyway. Thirdly, there is the unstable force that is her mother. Oh, and the small matter of her huge credit card debt. Sam really has nowhere to go, and is terrified of ending up destitute and alone in what she already knows is a very rough world for a girl with no friends, no money, and no family to speak of. Even her work colleagues seem to have it in for her. But there is always Plan B...and it is Sam's journey, her ugly duckling to swan metamorphosis, with lots of self-deprecatory laughs along the way, that is what the book is all about. 

You also write thrillers. Is it difficult to switch gears from women’s fiction to your detective serial?

I veer from humour to horror, and it's quite bizarre. I guess humour is a big part of my personality, but horror is my fascination! I put together 3am and Wide Awake as a collection of short stories from the darker side, earlier this year, with Alfie Dog Fiction. I've done 2 murder mystery serials now - am awaiting a decision on the second one as we speak! In answer to your question - no, it's not difficult. It all depends which part of me I tap into - now I'm going to sound completely bonkers!! Ha ha

Describe your experience writing for women’s magazines. Is it much different from writing novels?

Well, I started out writing novels, but they were truly cringe-worthy! I even had the brass neck to send them off to agents and publishers. I could weep with the shame. That was around 9 years ago when I left my job as a medical rep, which I'd done for 20 years or so since leaving nursing. So then I tried my hand at what I thought would be easier - writing short stories for women's magazines. Well, I got that one wrong! In the end, I did a correspondence course (if at first you don't succeed, try reading the instructions! LOL) and about a year later, I had my first story accepted with My Weekly. I've now had around 150 published, but although I intend to never stop, I have to for the moment while I write my next book. Is it much different? Well, the same rules apply to writing prose, but yes, so much more work goes into a novel.  

What was the last book you read that you loved?

Loved! Hmm... I've enjoyed quite a few but really loved...probably East of the Sun by Julia Gregson. Brilliant observation.

When you’re not writing, what is your favorite activity?

Reading and shopping!  

What are you working on now?

I'm just starting a supernatural thriller. After that, I will be completing the sequel to Expected. Sam was left far too content, and I've got a lot more to put her through yet! However, this supernatural idea keeps coming to me, and I've been wanting to get it down for a while now. I think it's my life's mission. The urge to write it up is that strong! Thank you very much for inviting me onto Fictionella. I'm honoured! 

Thank you, Sarah! 

Sarah England was originally trained as a nurse in Sheffield (UK) and then went on to work as a medical representative for nearly 20 years, specialising in mental health. She had always wanted to write fiction, but did not begin until around 8 years ago, prompted by a house move and relocation to the South coast. Since then she has had around 140 short stories published, mostly in national magazines and various anthologies; most recently a 3 part detective serial in Woman’s Weekly3am and Wide Awake was released in May 2013 by Alfie Dog Fiction, a collection of 25 thrillers, many supernatural or medically based - two of her predominant themes. Expected is Sarah’s first novel, a comedy launched by Crooked Cat Publishing in June 2013. She lives in Dorset with her husband, Don, and spaniel, Harry.