Interview with Sandra Danby
‘Ignoring Gravity’ was published last year and is the first book in a series. Sandra Danby contacted me with regards to being interviewed.
Your book ‘Ignoring Gravity’ sounds very interesting. Can you tell me a little bit about it please?
This is Rose Haldane’s story. She is confident about her identity. She pulls the same face as her grandfather when she has to do something she doesn’t want to do, she knows her DNA is the same as his. Except it isn’t: because Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. Ignoring Gravity connects two pairs of sisters separated by a generation of secrets. Finding her mother’s lost diaries, Rose begins to understand why she has always seemed the outsider in her family, why she feels so different from her sister Lily. Then just when she thinks there can’t be any more secrets…
Where did you get your ideas for this book from?
Separate strands came together over many years, not in any conscious process. I’m not adopted, nor are my close friends, but from my childhood I was always fascinated about what makes us the people we become. How much is genetic, how much is learned behaviour, likes and dislikes, that we develop as we grow up, influenced by family, friends and where we live. If I had been born in a big city, rather than on a small dairy farm in Yorkshire, would I have longed to go to London to be a journalist? Was the drive to be a journalist in me thanks to some unknown relative two or three generations back? I turned these questions over and over in mind, and a story started to form. Most importantly, it left me with literally hundreds of questions.
Did you need to do any research for the adoption storyline?
I read endlessly about adoption and particularly the social attitudes and adoption processes in the UK in the Sixties. It was a different world then: pre-computer, paper records, names were mis-spelled, records misplaced, many adoption agencies were private and when they closed down the files disappeared. Researching is so difficult: Google can’t find a piece of paper from 1963, or decipher some dodgy handwriting.
So many girls who found themselves unexpectedly pregnant were given an ultimatum by their parents: the baby goes or you do. It was so bleak. The secrecy was based on shame, and this still compounds the difficulties facing people today who are trying to trace relatives via records from the 1960s. There are many families out there today who don’t realize they have relatives they have never met, don’t know they exist. That teenage girl who gave birth to a child in the Sixties and gave it away in shame is today a grandmother or even great-grandmother. And many of these women are still keeping the secret. A husband may not know his wife had a secret baby. And there are adults now in their forties and fifties who were never told their true origins by their adoptive parents, so perpetuating the secrecy. Records are being opened up now, but the research trail is still fraught with dead-ends and distress.
It is an emotional goldmine for a novelist. The Rose Haldane series will consider the various viewpoints of people caught up in the adoption triangle. Ignoring Gravity is the story of an adult who discovers she is adopted. Connectedness is about a birth mother, searching for the child she gave away in the Eighties. Sweet Joy, the third in the series, is the story of an adult who was a foundling, a baby abandoned on a doorstep. And so on. Adoption is a complex subject and it is impossible to cover all angles, all emotions, all possibilities in one novel.
Can you relate to any of your characters?
Rose is adopted, and I’m not. Lily longs for a baby, which I never have. But I was a journalist and I did live in Wimbledon. The correct answer to your question is yes, I can relate to them, they are my creations. But they are not real people. I have a vivid imagination, always have had, so I let my imagination do the work.
When will the second book in the series be out?
I’m writing Connectedness at the moment and it’s going pretty well. I’m aiming for a publication date in late 2015/spring 2016. The characters are formed, the research is done, I just need to get the words down on paper. Meanwhile, the plot of the third book in the series is churning around in my brain too. So there’s a lot going on!
Have you got any other writing projects on the go?
Yes, I’m researching the Second World War for a novel idea which is maturing like good wine. It will be a few years I think before I have the space and time to write it, so I’m content to enjoy research at the moment.
At the same time as writing Connectedness, I also write regularly about creative writing at my blog http://www.sandradanby.com/blog/. I love reading and so cannot resist reviewing books for my blog. Some are advance preview copies and some are bought on recommendation from friends. Probably 50% are old favourites taken from my bookshelf or borrowed from the library and re-read with pleasure.
My second blog, Notes on a Spanish Valley http://notesonaspanishvalley.com/ is a diary about our life in the quiet countryside of Andalucía. Nature notes, recipes, our journey to self-sufficiency with solar power and spring water, and photographs of our beautiful hidden valley. It is an adventure to live here, and 900 followers share our Spanish journey.
Do you think that reviews help books sell?
I know that I buy books based on three things: book covers which catch my eye in a bookshop, usually passing through an airport or railway station; reviews in newspapers, magazines and book blogs; word of mouth recommendations from friends. On my Kindle are two books recommended to me by a friend who lives in Singapore: The Gift of Rain and The Garden of Evening Mists by Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng.
Were you ever given any good advice about writing and if so what was it?
Don’t get hung up on word count when you’re writing. Just get it out, get the words down. Don’t count or keep a regular tally: that’s like trying to swim while wearing a strait-jacket. And definitely don’t re-write as you go along: that’s what re-drafting is for. Greg Mosse, author and creative writing teacher – and husband of Kate Mosse, author of The Languedoc Trilogy – said once that Kate’s first draft of Labyrinth was half a million words. Half a million! And I was worried that the first draft of Ignoring Gravity was 140,000 words. Greg’s point was: just let the story develop, and go where it takes you.
If you had a chance to live your life all over again would you still write books?
And read them too… absolutely, I can’t imagine ever doing anything else!
About Sandra Danby
Sandra Danby grew up on a small dairy farm at the bleak edge of East Yorkshire where England meets the North Sea. She started reading early and has never stopped. After a degree in English Literature in London, she became a journalist. She now writes fiction full-time.
Watch Sandra Danby talk about the inspiration for Ignoring Gravity: http://youtu.be/TcOzrhGRc48
Watch the book trailer for Ignoring Gravity: http://youtu.be/jpzWKR4gx8I
For the latest information about the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series by Sandra Danby, sign up for her newsletter [published 1-2 times a year]: http://www.sandradanby.com/about/