Today we’d like to welcome friend of the WRs and all round 80’s addict, Sarah Lewis, to the blog.
We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far and what it was that inspired you to write your first book?
I suppose you could say that I started writing my first book 30 years ago. It’s just taken me a while to get it finished! I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember – one of my earliest memories is dancing along to the Bay City Rollers when they were on Top of the Pops, when I was about 5. When Bob Geldof and Paula Yates moved to my home town of Faversham, when I was 11, my interest in the music industry and the people in it was piqued even further. By the age of 13, I had begun to meet a number of artists, including Midge Ure, Gary Kemp and Simon Le Bon, and I began to write to other musicians, with a view to putting together a book based on their replies. That love of music, popular culture, and the fantastic decade in which I grew up all inspired my first book, ‘My Eighties’.
Can you tell us a bit about your second book – Your Eighties – please?
It follows a similar format to the first book, in that it’s a combination of memories, anecdotes and celebrity interviews. However, instead of the memories and anecdotes being mine, they are ones they have been sent to me via my website, my blog, Twitter and Facebook. It has been fascinating putting the book together, hearing and reading other people’s recollections of the decade, and even being reminded of a few forgotten gems. To discuss the Eighties with fellow fans (there are a lot of us out there!) is always a real pleasure, and it I have the privilege of being able to share those discussions with a wider audience.
Of course, there have also been the interviews with some of the decade’s favourite faces, including Buster Bloodvessel, Martin Fry, Ranking Roger, Erkan Mustafa (Grange Hill’s Roland Browning), and Musical Youth’s Dennis Seaton and Michael Grant, which have been a blast! Transcribing the interviews afterwards, not so much. Despite what some may think, I really don’t like the sound of my own voice, and it drives me crazy when I have to listen to a section repeatedly, to ensure I’m quoting accurately.
Do you have any writing habits or superstitions e.g. writing in the same place, using a certain pen, times of day etc?
Most of my writing tends to take place after 9pm, when I just get lost in what I’m doing. I’ll check the time after what seems like an hour, to find it’s gone 1am! Usually, I’ll be in my office at the back of the house, and will have music playing in the background – anything from classical to Meatloaf, depending on my mood, and what I’m writing. If I’m researching or editing, I’ll do so during the day, and tend to follow the sun – I start off in my office, then as the sun moves round, I move to the desk in my bedroom. During the summer, I’ll work outside as much as possible – you can’t beat the al fresco office. Again, usually accompanied by music or the radio.
Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you tackle this?
The short answer is “Yes, and not very well!” There was a point when I was writing ‘Your Eighties’ when I just hit a wall. I had a stack of research notes, some amazing submissions from 80’s fans, and a few interviews transcribed, but I couldn’t write. At first, I tried doing something completely different, to ‘free the writer’. However, having cleaned my house from top to bottom, tackled an enormous pile of ironing (which I hate), and begun to de-clutter an overloaded garage, I realised I was merely procrastinating. So, I forced myself to write. I wrote anything I could think of, even if it was as basic as “last night I went to a gig, then I went backstage and I interviewed…”. It’s a lot easier to edit something that is badly written than nothing at all. I think the key is to keep the flow and momentum going. I have pens and piles of scrap paper scattered throughout the house, just in case inspiration should strike. Often, my moments of clarity come just as I’m dropping off to sleep, so I’ve become particularly adept at scribbling notes in the dark! I also carry a small notebook around with me. Struck with an opening line whilst driving, I spent 5 minutes the other day saying the same sentence over and over, until I found a safe place for me to pull over and jot down the idea.
What are you working on now and what are your writing aspirations?
I have just begun working on the third book in the 80’s trilogy, ‘More Eighties’, and I’ve recently started a weekly 80’s column in the Canterbury Times. You can check out my first post here. As far as writing aspirations go, I would love to write the biography for a musician from the Eighties. I have a couple of people in mind, but I haven’t approached them yet.
As much as I love, and indeed live, the 80s, I’m always up for a bit of diversity. It would have to be something completely different though, not just a different era. I love the interviewing and research stages of writing, so anything that allowed me to do that would be great. If it involves visiting sunny climes, even better. Maybe something on the people and history of one of the Greek islands.
What’s the most amazing experience you’ve had as a result of researching the content of your books?
It has to be all the interviews I’ve done at gigs. Not only do I get to hear some of the most amazing live music, but I love the insight into the whole set up. Listening to sound checks, being backstage and seeing what goes on behind the scenes, chatting to some incredibly talented and creative musicians – what a thrill! Plus, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying “I’m with the band”!
Who was your favourite person to interview?
That is a really tricky question, because I have truly enjoyed every interview I’ve done for both books. It’s always good when you feel you can ask an interviewee anything, so from that perspective, I would have to say Steve Blacknell and Erkan Mustafa, both of whom answered my questions with extreme candour. One of the easiest interviews I did was with Owen Paul, for ‘‘My Eighties’. He has loads of interesting stories to tell, and I really only had to say ‘Hello’, and he was off and running! However, I think my favourite interview to date has to be with Dr & The Medics. From the second I stepped into their dressing room, it was non-stop banter and laughter. Clive Jackson (the Doctor) and bass player Jon Randle were like a comedy duo. When you read that part of the book, you’ll see it was a ‘no holds barred’ kind of interview. My face was hurting from laughing so much.
Who’s the most famous person you have in your contacts list?
Now, that would be telling! All I will say is that my teenage self would have fainted if she’d seen some of the numbers I’ve got. There are some more famous names in the pipeline for ‘More Eighties’, as that contact list keeps on growing.
Luckily, I’m quite good at compartmentalising, so even though I can be ridiculously excited or nervous before an interview, as soon as I walk into that room it’s like a switch flicks, and I go into ‘professional’ mode. Well, at least I hope that’s how I come across! I become so focussed on what they’re telling me (often fascinating insights), that I almost forget who I’m talking to. It’s only afterwards when I look back and think ‘Wow, did that really happen?’ The only person I’ve met, who’s given me an attack of nerves, was Jimmy White. I’d been to see him play a snooker match a couple of years ago, and bumped into him in the bar afterwards. I was shaking when I had my photo taken with him!
How important has social media been to your writing journey?
I would say it has been invaluable. Twitter especially has been a fantastic means of engaging with 80’s fans, and getting feedback on a particular topic. I must confess to being something of a Twitter addict (you can follow me @MyEighties). It’s wonderful to be listening to a radio show like Forgotten 80s, and discussing it in real time with fellow listeners. I do the same thing with a lot of the music programmes on TV – BBC4 on a Friday evening is a favourite, if I’m at home. I’ve encountered some amazing music brains and some lovely people through tweeting, and even got to meet some of them at a recent ‘Tweet Up’.
What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
The answer’s the same for both – having your work and thoughts out there for the world to see. It’s the best because you get to reach a lot of like-minded people, and hopefully make them smile. There’s nothing better than having people tell you how a piece you’ve written brought back some good memories for them. It’s the worst because I’m actually a very private person (despite being what one DJ described as “all over social media”). Every time I publish something, even if it’s only a blog post, I have an unnerving thirty second panic of feeling totally exposed, before I get a grip and get over myself!
It’s great, isn’t it? Back in the summer, we ran a competition to design the cover for the book. It was won by Natalie Owen, a 24 year designer from Nottingham. Her dad is a big fan of the 80s, and had told her about the competition, having seen me tweet about it. Her design perfectly captures the decade.
Are you doing anything to celebrate when the book is published on 28th November?
Most definitely! The launch party for ‘Your Eighties’ is going to be held at an old music hall in Kent – a fantastic venue. There’s going to be live music from an amazing local band called Skatacus, plus an 80’s disco, with none other than Erkan Mustafa (Grange Hill’s Roland Browning) on the decks. I’m also going to get to meet Natalie, as she’s travelling down for the party. Some of the book’s contributors will be there, along with some wonderful friends and family, so it promises to be a great evening.
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer or even to yourself, if you could go back to before you’d written your first book?
I would say “don’t sweat the small stuff”. With the first book, I got very caught up in the tiniest of details, proper punctuation and having everything ‘perfect’. That’s what editors are for! I also wrote in a very linear fashion, which became very inhibiting. Now, I write freely in chunks, as and when I can, and pull it all together at the end.