Sunday, 29 March 2015

A guest post - Sara Jayne Townsend

They were dying to be famous. And someone was prepared to kill for it…

Actress Shara Summers has settled in London and is “between jobs” when her Canadian ex-boyfriend David sails back into her life, begging to her to fill the backing singer vacancy in the up and coming band he’s about to go on a European tour with.  Short on funds and auditions Shara reluctantly agrees, but tragedy strikes at the opening night party when the band’s charismatic front man Dallas Cleary Anderson falls to his death from a hotel window.  It soon becomes clear that Dallas did not fall, but was pushed.  His arrogant and confrontational manner means there are no shortage of people who wanted him out of the band permanently – but who would resort to murder?

By Sara Jayne Townsend

I describe myself these days as a writer of crime and horror, but I was a horror writer before I was a crime writer.  I discovered Stephen King when I was fourteen, and spent the next few years writing increasingly gruesome short stories.  But I’ve been reading mystery stories all my life, starting when I was very young with Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, then the Famous Five, and then I discovered Nancy Drew.  By the time I was 12, I had moved onto Agatha Christie.  Then I discovered Sara Paretsky’s independent-minded feminist private eye VI Warshawski in the late 1980s, and ever since then I have loved kick-ass women sleuths.

By the late 1990s I was reading almost exclusively crime, and yet I was still writing horror.  Since I believe that writers should read widely in the genre they write in, I felt that perhaps the universe was giving me a sign that I should give crime writing a try.  Of course I had to write about a female sleuth, but I wasn’t confident about being able to write a police procedural.  You have to really know your stuff when you write in such a genre.  I confess I’m a bit lazy when it comes to research.  So I decided an amateur sleuth would work better for me.  But she would have to be contemporary – historical requires more research.  And besides, I was inspired by VI Warshawski, and she is a character set in the here and now.

And so my amateur sleuth Shara Summers, Canadian actress living in London, came into being.  The first two books are published, I’m working on the third, and I have some plot ideas for further adventures.  But writing is a learning curve, and I’ve learned a great deal in the years I’ve been writing about Shara.

For starters, these books are different from my horror stories and have a completely different set of readers.  Yes, OK, there are a handful of fans out there who just like what I write and will read everything, but on the whole the Shara novels have a different fan base to the horror stories.  A lot of people don’t like horror because they find it too dark and too gruesome.  Although murder is at the heart of the Shara stories, there are no graphic or bloody descriptions of death.  Generally, the Shara stories have a happy ending.  This is not necessarily so when I’m writing horror.  Many of my horror stories end with the protagonist in a decidedly bad place.

But the most significant thing I’ve learned about writing the Shara stories is how important it is to plot first.  I am meticulous about it.  I can’t start writing chapter 1 until I’ve worked out not only who the murderer is, but how Shara learns their identity, and this involves working out what clues she’s going to pick up along the way and exactly when they will appear.  I know a lot of writers swear by ‘pantsing’, claiming they need to start writing about a character without knowing where they are going next, but I couldn’t write a mystery like this.  I need to know ‘whodunnit’ and ‘how’ and ‘why’ before I sit down to write the first draft.

And what I have discovered is that this style of writing really suits me.  I am very much a ‘planner’, not just in my writing but in all aspects of my life.  I like order and structure – chaos makes me nervous.  In my day job I sit at a desk all day, and for every project I have a list of tasks, and as each task is completed I diligently cross it off and move on to the next.  I like the routine of a desk job, coming in at the same time every day.  My writing time is also structured.  Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, I get up earlier, take the train into London and sit in Starbucks with my NetBook to do some writing before I go to work.  I sit in the same seat, and I order the same thing every time.  When we go on holiday, I work out an itinerary, listing flight times, hotel details and activities for each day, and this goes in the hand luggage with my passport.

I like an ordered, predictable life and I am suited to write mysteries which have a satisfactory and just ending.  Maybe this isn’t to everyone’s taste, but we can’t all be the same.  It doesn’t worry me.  We all have to find our own path in life, and I have found mine.  It’s straight and clear and leads to a satisfying conclusion.

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 co-founded the T Party Writers’ Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person.

She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was 10 years old and finished her first novel a year later.  It took 30 years of submitting, however, to fulfil that dream.

The first two books in her amateur sleuth series about Canadian actress Shara Summers, DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL, are available as e-books from the MuseitUp book store:

You can learn more about Sara and her writing at her website at and her blog at