Q&A with Sandy Day, author of Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand

Fred's FuneralI recently read Sandy Day’s debut novel, Fred’s Funeral (you can read my review here) so I was delighted when Sandy got in touch to let me know she has a new book coming out soon, a coming of age novel called Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand. It’s due to be published on 14th February 2020 but is available for pre-order now. You can find all the details below.

I’m delighted Sandy has joined me today to talk about the inspiration for her new book, the challenges of being a self-published author and her approach to writing in general.

Welcome, Sandy. Your latest novel Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand is published on 14th February 2020. Can you tell us a little about it?

Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand is a book about desperate love. The protagonist, Livvy, is coming of age in the late 1970s. She is all in for feminism but finds herself psychologically enslaved to a man because she is in love with him. Livvy has to find her way through the agony of her desperation for love.

What was the inspiration for the book?

The setting of the book was inspired by a visit I took to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia when I was 17 years old. I loved the countryside and the ocean and it was easy to conjure it as I wrote. My protagonist suffers from love obsession, which fascinates me. Love addiction is a common affliction that is often fatal but no one really talks about it. I think it’s important to dig into so I decided to write this story.

The book’s title is intriguing. How did you come up with it?

chatterbox-pink-coverThe title is from one of my own poems that inspired a passage in the book. It describes a baby-doll you might find washed up on a beach. For me, it paints a picture of my protagonist, her desperation and her dilemma.

You’ve written that you love reading coming of age stories. What is it about them that particularly appeals to you?

Ebook-Cover-Empty-NestComing of age is a short period in our lives and yet it is so profound. No-one gets through their teen years unscathed, and if they say they did they’re probably in denial. I think we spend the rest of our lives getting over our coming of age, or at least coming to terms with it.

I’ve recently discovered there’s another coming of age during middle age, which I wrote about in my book An Empty Nest. So much angst, so much turmoil, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel – what’s not to love?

You’re a self-published author. What challenges does that bring?

By the time I decided to devote my life to writing I was fifty years old. There was no time to worry about finding a publisher. I’ve always been an entrepreneur so self-publishing was not daunting to me.

Most advice I hear on podcasts says that writers of literary fiction should not self-publish. I think that’s because publishers of literary fiction rely heavily on contests and awards for publicity. As an indie-author my books don’t qualify for most awards but I am determined to succeed anyway.

If I can manage to create a following for my books I will be able to earn more money than traditionally published literary authors and as an entrepreneur, that thought is so tantalizing, it motivates me.

What’s your favourite and least favourite part of the writing process?

I love writing in a group. I hold a writing workshop in my home once a month just to write spontaneously and freely with other people. It’s so much fun and I’m always amazed and surprised by what comes out of my pen.

My least favourite part of writing is the first draft of a planned work. It’s like pulling teeth. The story feels confused and lightweight. It seems like I’m repeating myself and being too obvious. The language feels stilted and plain. Ugh, why go on? And yet, days or weeks later, when I reread what I’ve written, I find nuggets of gold and I’m inspired to polish. Revision is my forte – I have to force myself to stop revising and publish the damn thing.

Do you have a special place to write or any writing rituals?

During National Novel Writing Month this year I discovered that I like writing at night in my bed. When I was young, I always wrote this way but more recently I’d been trying to force myself to write in the mornings. I’ve also switched to writing on a laptop instead of longhand. I’m finding both changes rewarding – I managed to write an entire first draft of a novel in the month of November, just by writing an hour a night.

You studied Creative Writing at university. What was the most valuable thing you learned from that experience?

I wish that what I’m discovering now through books and podcasts about craft and storytelling had been available in the 1980s when I was attending university. It was not and basically our workshops were just reading what we wrote and receiving gut reaction feedback from our classmates. Not the most constructive way to learn to write.

I studied many contemporary writers back then and their work inspired me. In particular I’m thinking of Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Adrienne Rich. I think the most valuable thing I learned was to aim for concise, unsparing, but beautiful language.

What books are currently in your To Be Read pile?

I’m reading Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout and I love it. [Sandy, I loved it too.] Next on the list are the Neapolitan Novels [by Elena Ferrante].  I’ve got the whole boxed set. I’m a slow reader these days so that’s as much as I am committing to at this moment.

What are you working on next?

I’m revising the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo this year. It’s a domestic noir and I’m enjoying writing it more than anything I’ve ever written. I think it’s because it’s completely fictitious and it’s so much fun twisting things just to see what happens. I’ve got ideas for other stories and novels itching to make their way onto the page. If all goes well, I think this will be a very productive year for me.

Thanks, Sandy, for your fascinating answers to my questions, good luck with Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand and the next one, your domestic noir.

HOB-ebook-coverAbout the Book

Teetering on the edge of womanhood, clinging to the first love of her life as if her survival depends on it, 17 year-old Livvy is torn between subjugating herself for love or claiming her identity and independence. When Livvy, lovesick and artistic, spends the summer with the aunt she adores, she crosses paths with a cast of memorable characters in the coastal community of Margaree, Cape Breton Island. While Livvy’s cousins torment her, house renovations disturb her, an annoying young islander tries to befriend and teach Livvy to disco dance, Livvy prepares for the much anticipated arrival of her boyfriend, Kane.

With poetic fluidity and breathtaking revelations Sandy Day draws you into Livvy’s obsession. Such a deep dive into the dire and agonizing crannies of a love-obsessed young woman establishes Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand as a memorable coming of age story.

For fans of The Girls Guide to Hunting and FishingLives of Girls and Women, and The Bell JarHead on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand promises to immerse you in the world of a troubled but observant young woman coming slowly to terms with love, life, and all its messy relationships.

Pre-order/purchase links*
Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

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Sandy DayAbout the Author

Sandy Day is the author of Poems from the Chatterbox. She graduated from Glendon College, York University, with a degree in English Literature sometime in the last century. Sandy spends her summers in Jackson’s Point, Ontario on the shore of Lake Simcoe. She winters nearby in Sutton by the Black River.

Sandy is a trained facilitator for the Toronto Writers Collective’s creative writing workshops. She is a developmental editor and book coach.

Connect with Sandy
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


#BlogTour A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer @SarabandBooks @LiteraryMinded

SuS_blogtourposter FINAL

I’m delighted to welcome author Angela Meyer to What Cathy Read Next today as part of the blog tour for her novel A Superior Spectre. You can read my interview with Angela below.

SUS_coverAbout the Book

Jeff is dying. Haunted by memories and grappling with shame, he runs away to a remote part of Scotland with a piece of beta tech that allows him to enter the mind of someone in the past. Instructed to only use it three times, Jeff – self-indulgent, isolated and deteriorating – ignores this advice.

In the late 1860s, Leonora lives in the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by nature. Contemplating the social conventions that bind her, her contented life and a secret romantic friendship with the local laird are interrupted when her father sends her to stay with her aunt in Edinburgh. But Leonora’s ability to embrace her new life is shadowed by a dark presence that begins to lurk behind her eyes, and strange visions.

A Superior Spectre is a novel about curiosity, entitlement and manipulation. It reminds us that the scariest ghosts aren’t the ones that go bump in the night, but those that are born and create a place for themselves in the human soul…

Format: Paperback (288 pp.)        Publisher: Saraband
Publication date:  15th August 2019  Genre: Crime/Thriller, Historical Fiction, Literary

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com
*link provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find A Superior Spectre on Goodreads

Interview with Angela Meyer, author of A Superior Spectre

Angela, welcome to What Cathy Read Next. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about A Superior Spectre?

Hi Cathy, thank you for having me on your blog! A selfish, dying man abuses an experimental technology that allows him to invade the mind of a nineteenth century Scottish woman. And while the book contains some big ideas, people have been finding it a page-turner (which is nice!).

The book is described as ‘a novel about curiosity, entitlement and manipulation’.  What attracted you to exploring those particular issues?

We often talk about curiosity in a positive way, but curiosity is skewed by power, and dominant or cultural ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. A Superior Spectre asks questions about this on a large and small scale.

My character Jeff is someone who has grown up under capitalism, who is taught to feel entitled to indulge his curiosity, his thoughts and emotions, and he comes up against the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ of his context. He dwells on, and feels great shame about, certain desires, and yet he continually invades the mind of a woman, and also treats the thoughts and feelings of other women in his life fairly dismissively. He’s a product of patriarchal capitalism, and I guess the novel is fairly sceptical about the fact that even with a literal empathic experience (living in Leonora’s head) it is difficult to shift what’s embedded in behaviour, in the mind.

I’m drawn to these themes because I’ve always been fascinated by the ways individual psychology is shaped by our social, political, cultural context (not just our immediate upbringing). There’s another layer to all this with the tech itself, and how readily we accept and incorporate new (commercially driven) technology into our lives.

In the book, Jeff ignores the advice to use the piece of experimental technology three times only. Is there a wider message there about our use (or misuse) of technology?

Tying in with the above, it’s quite a classic sci fi trope, really, but as relevant now than ever. The most incredible things are being done in neurotech. I just learned the other day about Elon Musk’s neuralink, for example. It’s all supposed to help people with devastating illness and disability. But they also say the tech will ‘enhance’ human ability. And who is going to have access to that first? Elon Musk. The one per cent. Who will also feel ‘entitled’ to enhance their abilities, to become superhuman? All of us in the West are taught we deserve such things…

A Superior Spectre is partly set in Scotland. What made you choose that as a location?

The simple answer is that it was just always set there. The idea itself was tied in with the place. I have spent a lot of time in Scotland and I love it deeply, like a person. I am not Scottish. I am part-Norwegian. I feel at home in these Northern landscapes. But my character, Jeff, is Australian, as I am. And it is his lens through which we see Scotland (partly or fully? Or at all? Readers decide when they read it).

Part of the book is set in the 1860s. How did you go about creating a picture of life in that period?

A combination of research, immersion in the places I write about, and some very ‘method’ writing which involved being holed up in isolated parts of Scotland with no electricity. I even stayed in Barnhill, George Orwell’s house, on the isle of Jura. Because so much of my writing is about sensation, about being in the body (or someone else being in your body!) I find that being or having been in the place you’re writing about, even if the past is just a ghost over the landscape, is helpful. But maybe I also, simply, feel entitled to my curiosity…

You’ve published award-winning short fiction.  Are the challenges of writing a full-length novel different and, if so, in what way?

So many years! And also structure. A novel has to have multiple threads, has to have tension, has to have a satisfying payoff (in a plot and/or character sense), has to contain so much and keep the reader interested for so long. It’s a huge challenge. Short stories are difficult, but you can play, abandon, start again. A short story could be ‘about’ the mood, the rhythm of the sentences, the voice – not just the story. But to write one that works, that is resonant, is also a huge challenge. I want to keep getting better in both these forms.

You’ve worked in publishing.  Did this help with the experience of seeing your own novel through to publication?

In Australia, because I am known in the industry, I think publishers did read it quite quickly, but it didn’t mean they picked it up! That took a year. What has been very helpful is understanding the publishing process. I know how hard it is to get published, how hard people work at all levels in publishing, and how limited the opportunities are for authors to have their books seen, read, talked about. I’ve truly been grateful for every opportunity, every stage of the process, and the fact that I get to go through it all again with A Superior Spectre now coming out in the UK.

Which other writers do you admire?

So many. Deborah Levy is a big one at the moment. Kafka has always been a favourite. John Cheever’s Diaries have been a wonderful companion in the last few years. Janet Frame. Australian writers Jane Rawson and Krissy Kneen. So many more…!

What are you working on next?

The next release is my Mslexia Award-winning novella, Joan Smokes. And I’m working on another novel, slowly…

Thanks, Angela, for those fascinating answers to my questions.

Screen-Shot-2019-05-13-at-13.34.13-wpcf_345x237About the Author

Angela Meyer’s Joan Smokes won the inaugural Mslexia Novella Competition in 2019. Her short fiction has been widely published, including in Best Australian Stories, Island, The Big Issue, The Australian, The Lifted Brow and Killings. By day she works as a publisher for Echo Publishing, an Australian imprint of Bonnier Books UK, and in this role has discovered and developed a range of award-winning, globally published and bestselling talent, including global number one bestselling author Heather Morris. A Superior Spectre, Angela’s debut novel, is already shortlisted for a number of prestigious awards.

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