Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Sandy Day to the blog to talk about her latest book Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand which is published this week.
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, I never felt like I wasn’t a writer, I just got distracted a lot. After university, which I went to because I wanted to be a writer and my favourite writer Michael Ondaatje taught there, I immediately became a store owner. Then I had two children. Both of these events threw me off my pursuit of writing for about twenty years. I was inspired to start writing again when my marriage broke down. I guess I needed the outlet. After that, the words poured out and I haven’t stopped since.
If you had to give an elevator pitch for your latest book Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand, what would it be?
It’s not a love story. It’s a story of love-obsession, chronicling a young woman’s coming of age during the height of the 1970’s women’s liberation movement. My protagonist, Livvy is teetering on the edge of womanhood, clinging as if her survival depends on it to the first love of her life. During the novel she is constantly torn between subjugating herself for love or claiming her identity and independence. Lovesick and artistic, Livvy spends the summer with an aunt she adores, and crosses paths with a cast of characters in the coastal community of Margaree, Cape Breton Island. Fans of The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Lives of Girls and Women, or The Bell Jar will enjoy it.
What inspired you to write a coming of age story set in the 1970s?
That’s when I grew up so it’s the only thing I know. Coming of age is a confusing time of life but it was particularly confusing during the second wave of feminism when the “free love” movement was still prevalent. My mother’s generation of women was still, for the most part, financially dependent on men, but they were preaching to my generation to throw off the shackles. There were a lot of mixed messages and making decisions as a teenager girl was fraught with anxiety and peril.
Which comes first for you, the characters or the plot?
Characters. I’m terrible with plot. I recently paid for a whole course to try to learn how to plot. I’m still clueless. Then I heard a podcast the other day and realized that my book, Fred’s Funeral, is in a “transitional genre”: partly status, partly war, and partly society. I’ve just called it “literary” and somewhat historical, because I didn’t know. Anyway, Fred’s Funeral, I learned from the podcast, is all about esteem, which is a basic human need. And I had no idea that’s what I was writing about. I just had my character, Fred, and I wanted to write his life story. Then I had another character, Viola, and she worked perfectly as a villain. Thus, a book was born. Currently, I’m writing a novel about a character who was in one of my short stories a number of years ago. I like her so much I needed to put her in a larger arena. Her name is Kaffy.
What essentials do you need to have close to hand when you are in writing mode?
Tea. Silence. Privacy.
What would you say is the best thing about writing? And on the flip side, what is the hardest?
The best thing about writing is it’s so cathartic. I feel cleansed after I’ve written something down. Sometimes I write pieces in workshops and share them with the other participants and I know that the piece will never see the light of day because it’s too personal or it’s telling someone else’s story. But after reading it aloud, I am clear of the story. Journaling works that way too.
The hardest part of writing is the blank page. I always have to wrack my brain to remember how to start a piece. First drafts are difficult but I think I’ve cracked the code. I managed to write the first draft of a novel in November by having a scene list, writing one scene a day, and not reviewing what I’d written on the previous day. Now I’m revising, and that’s my favourite part.
If you could write in a collaboration with another author, who would you like to write with and why?
That is a very interesting question. I find writing in collaboration with my sister absolutely essential. I like to be able to talk to her about my story and have her offer possibilities for plot elements. Remember, I’m terrible at plots. She usually reads several drafts of my books before they’re ready for publication. She’s amazing.
I find I’m often saying to people, “We should write a book!” but nothing ever comes of it. I don’t know if I’d be very good at collaborating but I know I’d like to stand at the elbow of Charles Dickens or Alice Munro and watch them write just to see their process.
What novel(s) have you read that you wish you had written?
Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout. I’m reading it right now and I’m floored by how good it is. It’s also inspiring for me as I’m writing a novel with a character who reminds me of Olive. I love the language and the pace and the authenticity. It’s just sublime.
Sandy Day is the author of Fred's Funeral, Chatterbox Poems, and An Empty Nest. She graduated from Glendon College, York University, with a degree in English Literature sometime in the last century. Sandy is a trained facilitator for the Toronto Writers Collective's creative writing workshops. She lives in Georgina, Ontario, Canada.
Facebook: Sandy Day Writer
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