Sara Gethin is a pen name of award-winning author Wendy White. She grew up in Llanelli, an industrial town in south west Wales, and graduated in theology and philosophy from Lampeter, the country’s most bijoux of universities. She has been a primary school teacher, an assistant in a children’s library and a childminder. She writes for and about children. Her own children are grown up, and while home is still west Wales, she now lives in a small town with a castle. She and her husband enjoy travelling to Ireland and spending as much free time as possible in their Dublin bolthole.
Hi Sara, lovely to have you with us today.
Good to be here, Judith
I’d like to chat with you about your debut book for Honno. But first please tell us a little about when you started writing?
I joined a writing class run by Swansea University around fourteen years ago when my youngest child started secondary school. I was working as a supply teacher and had some time on my hands – and I was probably feeling a little redundant in the ‘mothering’ department. I’d enjoyed writing as a child, filling notebook after notebook with stories, and even as an adult I always had plenty of make-believe rolling around my head, but I never seemed to find the time to write anything down. Joining the class, and the homework we were set, gave me a reason to write, and I soon found I loved it. Even now I still rework some of the pieces I wrote back then – in fact, one short story became the basis for my novel.
What do you write?
I began by writing children’s books under my real name of Wendy White. My first – ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’, published by Gomer Press – won the Tir na n-Og Award in 2014, and that was really encouraging. It spurred me on to write two more children’s books, ‘Three Cheers for Wales’ and ‘St David’s Day is Cancelled’.
All the time I was working on these, I was also writing a novel for adults. It’s called ‘Not Thomas’ and will be published by Honno Press this June. It’s about a five-year-old boy who’s returned to the care of his mother and isn’t allowed to see his beloved foster father anymore. His mother’s hiding a drug addiction and she badly neglects him. Despite the subject matter, the novel does have plenty of lighter moments too. I decided to adopt the pen name of Sara Gethin for this new venture to make a clear distinction between my light-hearted children’s books and my darker writing for adults.
What drew you to this genre?
Having been a primary school teacher, I guess it was natural that I’d lean towards writing for and about children. In fact, every job I’ve ever done has been child-related, from my first Saturday job on a market stall selling toys, to a stint working in Mothercare and then at my local children’s library. I’ve been a child-minder too in between teaching jobs. I was interested in writing a novel that had a child’s viewpoint, and although the central character in ‘Not Thomas’ isn’t based on one child in particular, some of the things he experiences have happened to children I’ve known through teaching.
What process did you go through to get published?
I took what might seem an unusual route to have ‘Not Thomas’ published, as I didn’t send it to an agent or direct to the slush pile of a publisher. Last year I came across a ‘Meet the Editor’ scheme run by Honno Press, a publisher of women writers living in Wales or with a strong connection to the country. Honno’s scheme offers an opportunity to have the first fifty pages and synopsis of your novel read by an editor – in my case, Caroline Oakley who previously worked for Orion – followed by a face to face discussion. I nervously applied and was delighted when Caroline liked the start of my novel enough to ask to read the rest. When she offered to publish it, I was walking on air for weeks.
The process with my first children’s book was different. I rather naively sent the manuscript of a story to Gomer Press without checking what they publish. It didn’t meet with success. Gomer publishes stories with a Welsh dimension that celebrate the culture of Wales, and my story didn’t have that. Fortunately the editor was kind, complimented me on my writing style and encouraged me to rework it and send it to her again. I appreciated her praise but very foolishly ignored her advice and just put my story away in a drawer. It took me five years to realise that I could rewrite my story giving it a Welsh flavour – quite literally, as it was about food. When I submitted for a second time, it was accepted.
How do you market your books?
A very good question. When I was writing my first book, I didn’t give a thought to how I would actually sell it – I simply assumed the publisher would take care of all that. While I do get a lot of support from the lovely marketing people at my publishers, I quickly discovered that books don’t sell themselves – well, mine don’t anyway! I’m quite active on social media, with twitter and Facebook accounts, and I have a Sara Gethin website which includes a weekly blog. I visit schools and libraries, and give talks to writing and WI groups. I also take part in book-signings at WHSmiths, Waterstones, indie bookshops and book fairs.
While in the beginning I was very nervous about talking to people about my books, I now really enjoy doing book-related events. Meeting lots of different people and chatting about writing is, for me, one of the perks of being an author. And it’s very rewarding when someone tells you how much they’ve enjoyed your book.
What else have you written?
I occasionally write short stories and was lucky enough to have a story short-listed for the Colm Tóibín International Award in 2016. I’m working on a novel for young adults and recently the start of this was highly commended in the Winchester Writers’ Festival competition. I also enjoy writing poetry, although I usually average only one or two a year.
Where can we buy your books?
‘Not Thomas’ is available from Honno Press and Amazon in paperback priced at £8.99, and also in e-book.
My children’s books are available from bookstores in Wales and online from Amazon and Gomer Press directly.
Thank you for the interview today, Sara.
Thank you, Judith!
Social Media and Book Links for Sara Gethin
Website & Blog: saragethin.com
Amazon author page:
Social Media and Book Links for Wendy White
Amazon author page: