Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sara Jayne Townsend @ sarajtownsend Shara Summers Mysteries #AmateurSleuth, #Contemporary, #CozyMystery

I’d like to welcome Sara Jayne Townsend, author of the Shara Summers mystery series, to my blog today.

RW:       Tell us about yourself, your family, where you live, etc.

SJT:      I spent the first ten years of my life in the North of England, and then we moved to Ontario, Canada. I moved back to England when I was eighteen, and have been living in the London area ever since. I used my own background as inspiration for my amateur sleuth, Shara Summers, who has one British parent and one Canadian parent, and has lived in both countries.

RW:       How many hours a day do you spend writing?

SJT:      I have to write around the day job so it can be difficult. I’m too tired to get much writing done when I get home from work, so I get up early—as in, 5:30 am, and get the early train into London so I can write before work. I spend an hour or so in a coffee shop writing, at least twice a week, before going to the day job. I think having a limited amount of time focuses me, though, because I can get quite a lot done in that hour.

RW:       Why did you decide to write? When did you submit your first manuscript and what genre was it?

SJT:      I always say I didn’t “decide” to write; it short of chose me. I was telling stories from being a very young child—all of my dolls and toys had names, and family histories, and personalities, and I used to make up stories about them to send myself to sleep. From the moment I knew how to write, I was writing the stories down. I decided when I was ten that I was going to be a published novelist. I wrote my first novel at age eleven, but it really wasn’t very good. The first novel I submitted to publishers was a horror novel called ‘Terror in Tanner’s Field.’ I started it when I was fourteen, and started submitting it when I was seventeen. It piled up a few rejections, but since I made a point of mentioning my age, the rejections were quite encouraging. All along the lines of, “We love to hear from young people who like to write, and we hope you keep at it. Perhaps try again in ten years or so.”

RW:       Who are your favorite authors? Who influenced your writing?

SJT:      As a teenager, when I started writing horror, I was hugely inspired by Stephen King. I still have a lot of admiration for him. I love the way he writes about ordinary, flawed characters and puts them in extraordinary situations. They always come across as being entirely believable even when the situation is not.

              My favourite crime writer is Sara Paretsky. One of my first full time jobs was working in a book store in Central London. I was about nineteen at the time. Sara Paretsky came to do a signing. I’d not read her books before, but I was impressed by her, so I bought a copy of the book the store was promoting and she signed it for me. I was so enthralled by the book and her character, VI Warshawski, I read all the others in the series, and she inspired me to start writing a crime series.

RW:       How do you celebrate the mile-markers of publishing?

Signing the contract!
Finishing Edits
Going over the ARC or galleys
Release Day!

SJT:      Before I was published, I always imagined that getting the contract was the end of the story, and then I found out that it was just the beginning, and there are so many occasions that could be interpreted as “the end,” it’s hard to pinpoint when it’s appropriate to celebrate! So you have to have little rituals to suit yourself.

              When I finish what I have decided is the final draft of a manuscript I open a nice bottle of wine. I know it can be argued that it’s not finished, because there’s the editing process to go through, but the moment I have decided the manuscript is ready to submit is the moment I celebrate its completion.

              Funny thing about signing contracts. For the first two, I did find that a big reason to celebrate. Now it doesn’t seem quite as big a deal but maybe that’s because I’ve now done it a few times. So saying, when I signed the contract with Muse for the third Shara Summers book, Hubby and I did break out a bottle of wine with dinner that evening, and we toasted Shara.

              Release day always seems a reason to celebrate, even if it’s only an e-book. I had an online Facebook launch for the first two Shara Summers books, and that was quite good fun, and it meant I got to interact with readers without leaving the comfort of my home. There was virtual champagne being splashed around the internet. I also opened up a real bottle of champagne with Hubby.

RW:       How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?

SJT:      There’s quite a lot of me in Shara, and I’ve already mentioned the transatlantic experiences we share. People always say write what you know—I do think it’s easier to write with more feeling if you’re writing about things you’ve experienced yourself. When I’m writing about things I haven’t experienced, it means I have to try and put myself there emotionally. That can sometimes take me to a place that is quite uncomfortable to go to.

              A lot of the childhood anecdotes that Shara comes out with are based on either my experiences or those of family members. I have to say, though, that Shara’s family are all entirely fictional, and not based at all on any of my family!

RW:       Tell us about your latest book. What motivated the story? Where did the idea come from? What genre is it? Does it cross over to other genres? If so, what are they?

SJT:      The latest Shara Summers book, Spotlight on Death, which will be released toward the end of this year, takes my actress amateur sleuth to a remote manor house off the coast of Scotland as part of a reality show. It’s an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which I think is one of the best crime books ever written.

              It’s also inspired by an exercise my writing group did years ago. We had a point when we were writing novels in a ‘round robin’ way, where everyone would write a chapter and then pass it on to the next person. There was a point we had three on the go at once. I started one of them, and again it was inspired by And Then There Were None, with ten people arriving at a remote mansion. And then of course the others involved took it off on a completely different track, and the final version turned out to be very different from what I’d originally envisaged. However, I have “borrowed” some of those characters for Spotlight on Death, though my novel remains firmly in the mystery genre. The story the writing group came up with was rather more weird.

RW:       After you’ve written your book and it’s been published, do you ever buy it and/or read it?

SJT:      Usually by the time a book’s published, it’s been through a lot of edits, and I’ve had to read it so many times I am sick to death of my own book. I am also afraid of finding errors because after publication, it’s too late. So, although I keep copies of all my books to hand, to show off, I generally don’t read them through after publication.

RW:       If I were a first-time reader of your books, which one would you recommend I start with and why?

SJT:      If you’re into crime then I would recommend you start with Death Scene because that’s the first one in the Shara Summers series. Although I think you can approach the other books without necessarily having read the first one, there’s a lot of backstory in the first one that helps to shape Shara’s character.

RW:       What is the hardest part of writing for you?

SJT:      The hardest part is always starting the first draft, when you’re staring at a blank screen (or a blank page). The first draft is when I’m still getting to know the characters, and quite often I struggle with it. By the time I get to the second draft, I generally know them well enough to know how they will react in a certain situation. It’s always easier to edit than it is to create. Once the foundations are laid, it’s a lot easier to build the rest.

RW:       Have you experienced writer’s block? If so, how did you work through it?

SJT:      When I first started writing novels, in my teens and early twenties, I was pretty much a ‘pantser’ and would just start with an idea. I would usually have a vague idea of where I wanted to go, but I had no idea how I wanted to get there.

              During that period I wrote quite a lot of novels that never got finished, because I would get stuck half way and not know how to finish. My first published horror novel, Suffer the Children, was a victim of this process. This was a book I really wanted to finish, so after it had been stuck in a drawer for a few years, I dug it out and re-read it. I wrote out a plot summary for how far I’d got, and then decided how it was going to end. From there I broke the book down in a chapter-by-chapter summary, and that allowed me to finish the novel.

              Ever since then I’ve been a plotter, and that has allowed me, on the whole, to overcome writer’s block. By the time I sit down to write the first draft, I know where the story is going. Sometimes it will vary a bit as I’m writing it, and the characters take unexpected turns, but as long as I know they are all going to end up in the right place I’m good with that.

RW:       Those are all the questions I have for you. Thank you for speaking to me.

SJT:      Thank you for having me!

(Shara Summers Mysteries Book One)

The Plot

British-born, Toronto-based, actress Shara Summers turns amateur sleuth when her sister is stricken with a mysterious illness. Summoned back to England to be with her family during a time of crisis, Shara discovers doctors are at a loss as to what’s causing Astrid’s debilitating sickness.
After her aunt is found dead at the bottom of the stairs the death is deemed an accident. Shara suspects otherwise. Her investigation unearths shocking family secrets and a chilling realization that could have far-reaching and tragic consequences that affect not only her own future, but Astrid’s as well.

An Excerpt:

Ruth sat in her rocking chair watching the television–which was probably about ten years old, and appeared to be the most modern thing in the room. She was wearing a blue floral dress, with a patchwork blanket over her knees. I had seen that dress before. Her hairstyle hadn’t changed, either–her white hair was thinning, and she wore it short and curly, in the style of old ladies everywhere. When we came in she looked up, a toothless smile breaking out over her face. She had dentures that she never wore–something else she only saved for special occasions. As a child, Ruth had appeared very scary to me on the occasions she wore her dentures because we just weren’t used to seeing her with them.

My mother went up to Ruth and leaned in to give her a kiss on her soft wrinkled cheek. “How are you, Auntie Ruth?” she said loudly. Ruth’s hearing had been going even back then. She must be virtually deaf by now.

The house was freezing. The only source of heat was a three-bar electric fire on the floor by Ruth’s feet.

“I’m doing all right, dear,” Ruth said. Her voice was husky, ravaged by age and lack of use. “Mustn’t complain.”

Summer, still in my mother’s arms, began to cry and squirm, no doubt intimidated by the presence of this ancient lady. “Who’s this?” Ruth said, stroking one of Summer’s chubby legs.

“This is Summer,” Mum said. “This is my granddaughter. You’ve met Summer. Astrid’s daughter.”

Ruth frowned. “Astrid? Your little one?”

“Not a little girl any more, Auntie Ruth. She’s all grown up now.” Mum pointed in my direction. “This is my other daughter, Shara. Do you remember? Shara lives in Canada.”

Ruth was staring at me, frowning. There was no indication that she recognised me. “It’s been a long time,” she said eventually.

“Hello Auntie Ruth,” I said.

“Have you taken your pills, Auntie Ruth?” my mother asked.
Ruth frowned in concentration. “Pills? Think so. Can’t remember, you know. My memory’s not what it was.”

My mother thrust the crying child into my arms. “Watch Summer for a moment, Shara. I’m going to make Auntie Ruth some lunch.” And off she went into the kitchen.

I sat down in the faded armchair and bounced Summer on my knee. She kept crying. Ruth stared fixedly at the television. There seemed to be an Australian soap opera on. I couldn’t tell which one. I wasn’t a fan, and they all looked the same to me. “So what are you watching, Auntie Ruth?”

“Eh?” She swivelled round to stare at me.

I raised my voice. “The television. What are you watching?”

“Oh, I don’t know, dear. I watch everything. Keeps me company, you know.” And she lapsed back into silence, staring at the television. A couple of minutes went by and then she said suddenly, “they’re stealing from me, you know.”


“They’re stealing from me.” Ruth continued to stare at the television. I wasn’t at all sure she was even aware of anyone else in the room. I stood up with Summer in my arms and hurriedly went to find my mother in the kitchen.

[Ed. Note: I reviewed Death Scene when it first came out, and it was great! Here's the link to my review at Roses & Thorns:]



Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror, and someone tends to die a horrible death in all of her stories. She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there. She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband, Chris.

She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was ten years old and finished her first novel a year later. It took thirty years of submitting, however, to fulfil that dream.

The third book in her series about actress and amateur sleuth Shara Summers will be released by MuseItUp Publishing in late 2017.

Book Links:



Contact Sara Jayne Townsend At:

Amazon Author Pages:

You’ll notice I always include the publisher’s buy link. That’s because authors usually receive 40-50% of the net proceeds from the publisher. Editors and cover artists usually receive about 5%. When you buy a book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or another third-party vendor, they take a hefty cut and the author, editors and cover artists receive their cuts from what is left. So, if a book costs $5.99 at E-Book and you buy from there, the author will receive about $2.40-$2.99. If you buy the book at Amazon, the author will receive about $1.70-$2.10.

Download the file from the publisher onto your computer as you would any other file. I’ve created a folder for books on my computer, with subfolders by source (Marketing for Romance Writers, Net Galley, Authors who find me on Kindle lists, etc.). That way, if there’s a glitch with your Kindle, the books are on your computer. Some publishers send books in all digital formats. If my Kindle breaks and my kids buy me a Nook, I won’t have to replace all of my books. If you have a Kindle and your hubby has a Nook, you won’t have to buy separate copies, so buying directly from the publisher can save you money.

Moving the file from your computer to your e-reader is as easy as transferring any file from your computer to a USB flash drive. Plug the larger USB end of your e-reader charging chord into a USB port on your computer and simply move the file from the folder into which you’ve downloaded the book to Documents/Books directory on your e-reader. You can move the file by highlighting it and dragging it to the documents directory in you Kindle you want to move it to. Or right click on it, and then left click copy or move. Or hit Control/C for copy, Control/X for cut, and Control/V for paste.

Your author will be happy you did when he/she sees his/her royalty statement.

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