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  • Celia Jenkins

BaBs - Interview with Author Sarah Driver

There are a lot of authors I've been keeping my eye on recently, and one of them is Sarah Driver. With the first two books in her series The Huntress out this year, this new fantasy author has already got her readers (9-13 age range) gripped with these thrilling stories. I got the chance to speak to Sarah about her inspirations and find out more about the first two books in the trilogy.

Congratulations on the publication of your first book The Huntress: Sea. How has life changed for you since becoming an established author?

Thank you! In some ways, my life has changed considerably - both internally and externally. I still work as a nurse but now I work part time, to allow enough time for writing, editing and promoting my work. I also noticed how the ‘true’ identity of being a writer that I have always felt inside (but often kept hidden) has been externalised, with the result that sometimes I feel as though I’m wearing my skin inside out (possibly a side effect of being an introvert suddenly getting a lot more attention.) So now it’s not just me sensing that I should be writing; there are other people validating that identity for me, which is quite an overwhelming, but wonderful, feeling! Life has also changed in terms of the amount of discipline I have to exert over my work schedule – I’m now mostly freelance, so I have to have a lot of self-discipline to meet the demanding deadlines involved. I’ve found myself asked to speak at literary festivals and schools, which has been lovely.

But many other aspects have life have remained constant, which I think is great for staying grounded. I live in the same house, in the same town. I love the balance of keeping my old job part time as it allows me to work in a team and be physically active for 20 hours a week, and when I’m writing it’s the same as it’s always been – me at my desk, chipping away at my latest project.

Set aboard The Huntress and featuring a host of fantastical creatures, did you always know you'd want to write a fantasy novel?

I’m not sure if I always knew, consciously, as I’ve always played with writing in various genres, but at the same time I’m not surprised, as fantasy was my first love. As a kid I loved fantasy by authors like Joan Aiken, Philip Pullman, Tamora Pierce, JRR Tolkien, Barbara Sleigh, Berlie Doherty, Garth Nix and Jill Murphy. I’ve been writing mostly fantasy since I was about fourteen. Fantasy allows my imagination to run wild but still lets me tackle difficult subject matter, which is something I love about it.

How did growing up on the Sussex coast influence your relationship with the sea?

I think it created a strong bond with the sea without my realising it until I moved away for the first time, when I moved to London to train as a midwife. The sea was a constant feature in my childhood. I spent countless weekends and holidays swimming, body-boarding, rock-pooling or roller-blading along the seafront. I remember hanging onto the straps of my granny’s swimming costume, in the sea, before I could swim alone, and collecting seaweed with her for my scrapbook. The sea was a constant for me (but a place that changes every moment) and a free place to go, and both my parents say they would never live away from the sea, as they hate feeling landlocked. My granny would get in the water any chance she got and my dad showed me how to gut fish, and taught me the names of different fish. He still buys fish from the local fishermen and makes paintings of the fishing boats. I love transition, for example in the seasons, and I think I’m drawn to the sea because every time I go to the beach it’s like it’s transformed into a completely different place. I feel like the sea has about as many mood changes as I do!

Despite her rodentine name, your protagonist Mouse is a strong female character off on a wild adventure. How important do you think it is for young readers to encounter characters like Mouse?

I find it so interesting that you use the word ‘despite’. A few other people have also mentioned the name in a similar way. But I’m really interested in different types of strength and different interpretations of it. Traditionally, some people seem to interpret quietness as weakness and I love the idea of subverting the typical idea of a ‘mouse’ or ‘mousey’ character. There are actually some amazing mice called grasshopper mice that howl at the moon and attack scorpions. When you think about it, most rodents have to have plenty of endurance and skill. Mice are clever, quick, sharp, keen creatures. I never hesitated to think that a girl called Mouse could be fierce, but I like to think that it’s up to her how that fierceness manifests – and as an introvert, I know that doesn’t always have to translate as ‘loud.’ Similarly, I reject the term ‘feisty’ as I don’t think boys as ever described as such and I feel like it’s always used to describe a certain personality type, ignoring other types of strength.

I think it’s very important for young readers to encounter characters whose gender places no limits on their achievements, but I think it’s also important for them to see how others try to prescribe limits according to gender, like how Stag tries to impose his ideals as to what girls and women should be doing in society. I think it’s important for boys to see female characters leading adventure stories.

I think it’s as important as ever (perhaps increasingly so) for girls to be represented as widely as possible, to show boys (and the world) that they are as multi-faceted as male characters and that they can do everything male characters can do – it is so obvious to us that they can, but I think that as there is still so much inequality in the world, we need to place girls at the centre of adventure stories as much as possible.

What can you tell us about your sequel The Huntress: Sky?

The Huntress: Sky is really the first time that readers and Mouse will be in the same ‘boat’ (ha!) in that Mouse will be encountering everything she didn’t already know about Trianukka, together with readers. It is the first time she hasn’t been able to coast on her reputation as a future captain. SKY is a wild burst of new cultures, new creatures and wild settings such as iceberg forests, mountain fortresses and hidden Skybraries. It was so much fun to write!

What was your experience of the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa University when you started work on your first novel?

The MAWYP changed everything for me and opened doors I hadn’t even been able to see, let alone unlock. The course gave me a writing community, invaluable feedback, contacts in the industry, deadlines, motivation, the freedom to experiment and play and the space to write for a year. It changed my life. I found the atmosphere at BSU to be very supportive, welcoming and encouraging. I found a workshop group who were so keen to see more of the story that became The Huntress that I found the motivation to finish it, which is partly how I first started writing – to entertain my family as a child. I also met my wonderful agent through the course.

Do you have any writing rituals or special places where you go to write?

I like to write alone and I prefer early mornings and late evenings. I like listening to music through headphones, usually cinematic scores. I often like to light a candle or incense stick. I usually write in my study but often write in the shed in my garden earlier on in the conceptual stage, pre-first draft, when I feel the need to distance myself from the house. I like doing late stage hard copy edits in a local café. I’ve written some of my favourite scenes on trains and planes, though. If I’m really struggling with my internal editor during a first draft, I’ll write in bed, pulling my laptop onto my lap and typing even while my eyes are still bleary. I like to write some first draft scenes by hand in a notebook.

What are your plans for the future? Do you have ideas about what you'll be writing after The Huntress trilogy is published?

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunities I’ve had. My plans are to always stay curious about the world and try to grow and learn as a writer as much as I can. I want to write books for as long as I’m allowed to – though if I never had another book deal, I would always write, anyway. I want to push the boundaries of my creative practice however I can, for as long as I can.

To find out more about Sarah Driver and her books, visit her website.

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