‘Have you always wanted to write a book?’ Debut author Sarah Bailey tells all

Melbourne author Sarah Bailey’s debut novel The Dark Lake has been described as “an addictive crime thriller, a mesmerising account of one woman’s descent into deceit and madness, and a stunning debut that is already causing a stir around the world.”

We’re thrilled for Sarah as she’s a graduate of our Creative Writing course. You can read about her journey here.

With a background in advertising and communications, Sarah is now set for publishing success! It’s published by Allen & Unwin in Australia in late May 2017, then internationally from October. A sequel, titled Into the Night, was published in June 2018. A further sequel, Where the Dead Go, was published in August 2019.

In this post, Sarah writes on a question that she is frequently asked …

‘Have you always wanted to write a book?’

Ever since my book, The Dark Lake, was accepted for publication I’ve been bombarded with questions. Where did you get the idea? Was is hard to write a book? How long did it take you? Did you hate getting feedback? Will you do it again?

But by far the most common question I’m asked is, did you always know you wanted to write a book?

Often, this question is asked of me by people that I know, people that are surprised that I have written a book. This is because in all the time they’ve known me, they were not aware that this thing was growing inside me.

And the truth is, neither was I.

But clearly it was.

I certainly have not spent the last 30 odd years consciously wanting to write a book. And yet, when I think back, it’s conception has been a steady, dogged presence in my life. It is perhaps a secret I even kept from myself.

I do recall experiencing an inexplicable pull toward blank pieces of paper from a young age, desperately wanting to fill them with my own words. As a child, I remember being fascinated with the plot arcs of stories, delighting in the outrageous decisions characters made every time I turned a page.

As a teenager I remember being sad and despondent when a book was over, missing my new friends. I remember thinking that I would love to be able to create worlds of my own and bookend them snugly between some achingly cool front and back cover art. I remember aimlessly starting a story at the age of seventeen, giddy with the possibilities of the characters that had started to form in my mind. I recall struggling with the second chapter and then rewriting the third, dragging myself through the forth and then losing interest completely.

I remember reopening the file about three years later and liking it but still having no idea what to do with it. I remember hunting down a writer online and sending her the chapters to review and her response: that I definitely could write but that the structure of my story needed to be reworked, that there wasn’t enough action. There was no hook. I remember feeling both buoyed and depressed by this feedback.

Years later I tried to find excuses to write in my advertising job, where I was tucked away in a business management role, finding pleasure in even the most menial of writing tasks. I remember setting writing goals on my two stints of maternity leave, busily writing little bursts of fiction and opinion pieces.

I remember greedily consuming every piece of writing advice I could find, from Stephen King to amateur podcasts, analysing the different ways that people had managed to give birth to their stories. I can recall a conversation from about five years ago when a colleague flippantly asked me what I would do if I won the lottery and I surprised myself by automatically replying that I would probably try to write a book.

I remember inspiration striking in 2013 as I started to write a story, feeling a momentum that I had never felt before. And then, just like all those years before, I hit a wall and couldn’t work out how to climb over it. I remember thinking that maybe I should try short stories instead, that maybe I’d actually be able to finish something rather than adding to the graveyard of half completed word documents on my desk top.

I ended up finishing 14. But oddly, the moment that they were complete my mind tapped me on the shoulder dragging me back toward the base of an Everest sized novel mountain.

So okay. Perhaps it’s actually a pretty easy question to answer. Clearly I have always wanted to write a book. But it wasn’t an overt, noisy desire. It wasn’t constant. I didn’t name it. I very rarely said it out loud. I didn’t acknowledge that it was a goal I was working toward. There were significant lapses in effort, years of no writing, an absence of a neat plan and definitely no real sense that it would ever actually happen. And maybe it was less about wanting to write a book and simply about wanting to write. In whatever way I could.

A book is never just the words that end up printed on the pages. It’s all the words that were typed and deleted, the scribbled ideas in a notebook. It’s the half-formed characters, the perfectly crafted lonely sentences amidst the sea of rubbish. It’s the writers’ block. The silver bullet ideas that visit in the middle of the night. The threads of thoughts that barely make sense in the morning.

I think that most writers have probably always been drawn to writing. Have toyed with the fantasy of getting their work published. But it’s an easy craving to ignore. It can be pushed aside, you can circle it, sniff at it and decide it silly, an indulgence. Something barely worth considering, let alone mentioning.

Now having written a book I know that the only way to do it is to…do it.

But firstly, you have to really want it, whether you say it out loud or not.


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