Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
I love to profile writers who have published their first novels midlife, especially when the books highlight issues and scenarios women over 50 face and relate to. Today Sandy Day shares the inspiration behind her latest novel, Fred’s Funeral.
When did you start to write?
My creative writing teachers always went ga-ga over my writing so I think that encouraged me. My first poem, about a cat, was published when I was in Grade 5 – around 10 years old.
What have been the challenges for you?
A challenge for me has been starting so late in life. I don’t feel like I have time to wait while editors and publishers sit on my work for months at a time before rejecting it. That’s why I decided to indie-publish my work. If I’m going to be rejected I’d rather it be by readers – they’re the only ones who matter.
I studied English Literature in University but immediately afterward, I embarked on a retail enterprise with my sister. All my creative energy went into the store so I didn’t write for about 25 years. I also had two children during those decades. When the time came, my husband was not supportive of me abandoning my moneymaking talents to pursue a writing career. Instead of giving up on my lifelong ambition, I ended the marriage.
When was your first book published?
I published my first book in 2011. I recently removed it from the market because I am revising it for re-release in February 2018. It’s called Poems from the Chatterbox.
What is the title of your latest book?
What was the inspiration behind your latest book?
Since 1986, when he died, I have been intrigued by the life of my Great Uncle. He was a WWI soldier and he lived most of his long life in mental institutions. I knew him as an old man, my grandfather’s brother, who we were supposed to be quiet around because he had “shell shock” but on the night of his funeral, I also learned that he’d undergone shock treatment in a mental hospital. In 2011, I began working on a book about my Grandmother and a box of letters written by my Great Uncle came to light. These letters, and there are hundreds, were written during his time overseas in France and Belgium during the war. I transcribed the letters and Fred began speaking to me in his very distinctive, and literally familiar, voice. I started to write a story that I’d written over and over since the night of his funeral in 1986. A course in novella writing inspired me to add the supernatural element of Fred being a ghost in the book.
What can you share with us about the plot – without spoiling the ending!
Fred’s Funeral is a rivalry plot. Rivalries abound between brothers, and also between Fred and the main antagonist, his prudish sister-in-law, Viola. The story takes place over the course of Fred’s funeral, from the time his body is discovered to the end of the wake. Viola shares her version of Fred’s life to the mourners while Fred, the agitated ghost, fills in the reader with his side of the story. Did he have shell shock or didn’t he? That is a central question to the story.
Who are the key characters – and how do you hope readers over 50 will relate to them?
The key characters are Fred, a pitiful old man of 90, and Viola who is not much younger. Both are at the mercy of their families for care. The question of whether our progeny will help us in our dotage arises in the background of the story. Many over 50 readers will relate to the struggle the family members are having about Viola and her late-life living arrangements.
What do like the most about the character/s you have created?
I am happy with the realism I managed to create with the two main characters. People ask me constantly if they are real people, and of course real people inspired them but I think I managed to make them come alive for the reader. Also, Fred’s a ghost, that was the most fun to write.
Are there any key issues you wanted to draw attention to?
I am concerned that we as a society are ignoring the avalanche of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in all sorts of people including soldiers returning from combat zones. I am a big believer in peer-to-peer support as treatment for PTSD. I hope my book adds something to the conversation about how we treat those suffering with PTSD.
What do want readers to take away having the read the book?
I hope people will talk to the old people in their lives. Capture their stories, write them down, ask questions and listen. It’s so important for each of us to be known. Attention is a key component of love and a precious gift to offer an old person. (I hope my kids read this.)
What’s next for you – will there be a sequel with the same characters?
Yes, there will be a sequel! Many of them. I am already putting together a novella about Viola, and there will be more about other characters and settings in Fred’s Funeral. I envision about five short books altogether.
What’s next for me is the rerelease of Poems from the Chatterbox. After that will be the release of a collection of short pieces I wrote last summer called, Yellow Flags. I also have a novel I’m writing titled White Feathers and I hope to have it out by the fall of 2018.
What 3 tips would you offer women looking to write their first book?
- Write every day. Even if it’s just for fifteen minutes, write every day. The words accumulate over time and you will be amazed how quickly a book comes together.
- Read extensively the genre you want to write. Readers expect certain elements to be present and are disappointed if you don’t deliver. Your task is to create a unique work that delivers the reader’s expectations in a surprising way. Become a student of your chosen genre.
- Edit, edit, edit. For me, the revision is the best part, and it’s in the rewriting that the magic happens. I don’t think anyone but you (and your prompt-writing group) should read your first draft material. Edit a few times before you share what you’ve written with anyone. And don’t bother sharing your writing with unsupportive people – it just hurts and it’s a waste of your precious energy.