Author Interview: Sarah Lean
As seen on the Golden Books Girl blog. Read more at goldenbooksgirl.wordpress.com
Hello everybody! Today, I’m really excited to be sharing my interview with Sarah Lean, to celebrate today being her incredible new book the Good Bear’s publication day. Onto the post!
1. Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for being here and agreeing to answer my questions! Can you please start us off by describing the Good Bear in 5 words?
Hi Golden Books Girl! Girl saves bear saves girl.
2. Like a lot of your books, the Good Bear focuses on an incredibly special relationship between an animal and a child. What is it about this theme you most enjoy writing? Do you have any childhood memories with pets/other animals?
As a child, I had some trouble at school with children being mean and excluding me. Around this time, a cat walked in our back door and she arrived in my life when emotionally I most needed a friend. She came and went as she pleased, sometimes following me to school and often waiting for me to walk back home. The bond between us grew and grew and I believed she understood me as I began to understand her cat ways. Independent as cats are, the bond with her helped me through my difficulties, so I suppose that the child in me is the one who prompts the stories. Eventually, the cat became accepted as part of our family life and she stayed with me for the rest of her life. It seems to me that whatever situation presents itself to us is the one that needs our attention. But more than this, now is a time when we most need to connect with nature and all its inhabitants. My stories always have an emotional difficulty at heart and it’s in the unravelling of these inner things that we also come to recognise a bigger picture, that we are not alone and that we need each other. Our relationships are significant on a one to one basis and can also open us up to understanding on a much larger scale. But action is necessary, not just feelings. Thea is one such person who finds herself initially stuck in her personal relationships until she acts, for the bear, and finds a greater good.
3. Another big theme in the book is Christmas! The book begins with Thea telling her daughter about the most memorable Christmas gift she ever received, which kickstarted this whole adventure and gave her a Christmas experience to cherish forever. What’s the most unique or memorable present you’ve ever gotten?
Something very similar happened to me and the scenes of Thea with her mother and the typewriter are taken from my life. My mother used to bring a typewriter home to do some extra work and I’d stand by her side and dictate stories. Then she taught me how to touch-type when I was even younger than Thea. I also asked for a typewriter for Christmas but unfortunately my parents couldn’t find one. That Christmas I received a pair of wellington boots! I didn’t react as Thea did though and hid my disappointment, but my mother is still sore from the experience of knowing they couldn’t get me what I wanted. I hope this story shows my mother it didn’t matter that I didn’t get what I wanted all those years ago, and that I only needed to find a way to express myself.
4. While Thea doesn’t initially enjoy her trip to Norway, by the end this definitely felt a place I’d love to visit too, specifically to experience the Christmas she does. Which bookish Christmasnscene would you most like to jump into?
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The story is fundamentally about Scrooge’s change of heart, a subject which always appeals to me, and also the love within the Cratchit family, no matter how little they have. I could easily live without the tinsel and gifts, but not without the love found within a family.
5. On a similar note, if you were getting to go on a Christmas trip of a lifetime, what would it be like? Where would you go? Who would you take? What would you do?
Somewhere snowy! And I’d be very happy if someone else did the cooking. I’d love to go to Norway with my son and husband, my mum, my brother and sister and their families. All my nephews and nieces are grown up now but we still all gather for Christmas. I’d love to see the northern lights from a sleigh with them all, slide down hills on tin trays and then return to an open fire, play games and laugh.
6. One of my other favourite things in the book was how vivid the setting was, I really felt like I was in Norway alongside Thea and her bear. What tips would you give other writers for bringing a setting to life?
For me observation is key. And by that I don’t mean just looking with your eyes. Observation is the quiet practice of letting all your senses collect information, and then letting your mind and heart react to it while also observing all that arises in response. I don’t interfere with this observing by adding to it or shoe-horning ideas into it. Often my notes are the odd word or phrase jotted down afterwards and I find my memory works well when I later come to write. You can do this anytime because you never know when something might be useful. I find it most enjoyable, relaxing and inspiring to keep my eyes and ears and heart open to anything. When writing, clear observation is easily recalled and seems to help condense masses of information to precise key things which can elevate a scene much more than paragraphs of lengthy description. I’d also add that even if you haven’t met a bear face to face, or been to Norway (I have done neither of these things), observation will also work just as well through research in books, films, the internet or by speaking to people.
7. Also on the theme of writing, what’s your writing routine like? Do you have any unusual habits or quirks, and has lockdown changed anything about how you write?
I’m sure I said years ago that I needed to be more organised. But I’m still not. I love a keyboard and I prefer writing in the morning with the house quiet and preferably empty of people. Often my little dog, Coco, is sat on the chair with me, meaning I have to perch on the edge, but both dogs, Harry and Coco, are always around my desk somewhere. Unfortunately, I have found it much harder to either read a book or write one during the pandemic, especially while family were furloughed and at home. The lockdown shook up a lot of things and stress can put a damper on creativity. But I spent a lot of time outdoors walking, gardening, observing, as we recently moved out into the country. I’ve got to know the birds who visit the garden, a young buzzard as he learned to fly, and a little red dexter bull who pricks his ears and tickles his nostrils on the bolt of the field gate and lights up my day. Maybe some of this will find its way into a story.
8. Finally, can you tell us anything about what you’re working on just now/might be releasing next?
Well, I’m attempting to work on two stories. One is about changing friendships, life death and the in-between. But I’m also tinkering with another bear story. But we’ll have to see. Stories often don’t end up anything like they started out.
A CHRISTMAS QUICKFIRE
Favourite tree decoration?
A flying reindeer made of lights which goes on the top.
Would you rather ride on Santa’s sleigh or visit the elves’ workshop?
Best Christmas chocolate/snack?
Chocolate baubles from the tree.
Book you’re most hoping to find under the tree?
England: Poems From a School, Kate Clanchy
Favourite Christmas activity?
Chocolate baubles for breakfast!