#291 – Feminist Dystopian Fiction with Sara Foster

In this episode, we are joined by psychological fiction author and Ph.D. candidate Sara Foster (author of You Don’t Know Me, The Hidden Hours, and more) who spoke to us about her recently released speculative fiction novel, The Hush.   Find more information about our podcast, including links to our guests’ books here.

In this episode, we are joined by psychological fiction author and Ph.D. candidate Sara Foster (author of You Don’t Know Me, The Hidden Hours, and more) who spoke to us about her recently released speculative fiction novel, The Hush.

Join us for an in-depth discussion about Sara’s writing process, the research that went into The Hush, and how it felt to be writing and publishing dystopian, epidemic fiction during the pandemic.

  • Sara discusses her past as an editor, and how that has helped her writing and published process.
  • She talks about writing The Hush pre-pandemic, completing it during the pandemic, and what it’s like to publish dystopian literature with pandemic-related themes in our current climate.
  • We get into how Sara balances being a writer, a Ph.D. candidate, and a mother to two daughters.
  • We learn how feminism, mothers, mother-daughter relationships and women’s rights as represented in fiction (and their reflections in the real world) are all key parts of Sara’s writing and research, and what woman writers and academics have influenced her work.
  • And lots more!

Useful links

Sara Foster’s Website

Sara on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

The Hush

Mentioned in this episode:

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Matched by Ally Condie

Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich

Maternal Thinking by Sarah Ruddick

The Author’s Mindset by Sara Foster

Lisa Jewell

Maggie O’Farrell

Louise O’Neill

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Sara Foster is the bestselling author of six psychological suspense novels: You Don’t Know Me, The Hidden Hours, All That is Lost Between Us, Shallow Breath, Beneath the Shadows and Come Back to Me. Her seventh novel, The Hush, a near-future thriller, was published by HarperCollins (Australia) and Blackstone (US) in November 2021.

Sara lives in Western Australia with her husband and two young daughters, and is a doctoral candidate at Curtin University. Find out more at www.sarafoster.com.au

Episode Transcript

Rachel: Hi, writers. You’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast, where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing yourself publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Rachel, promotions specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Joni: And I’m Joni, author relations manager at a Kobo Writing Life. On today’s episode, we are talking to Sara Foster, who is the best-selling author of seven novels, including her most recent, “The Hush.” We chatted to her about the process behind “The Hush,” the research that went into it, and what it was like writing dystopian, post-pandemic type novel during a post-pandemic time.

Rachel: It was a really interesting conversation. We managed to get into, like, the nitty-gritty of her research, how her Ph.D. in missing mother figures in fiction really influenced this book. We talked about different kinds of feminism, and the evolution of feminism, and how that’s reflected in her characters. And we talked a bit about her writing process and how she plots out her thrillers. And it was just a really interesting conversation, and we hope you enjoy.

Joni: We’re here today with Sara Foster to discuss her new book, “The Hush.” Thank you so much for joining us, Sara.

Sara: Pleasure to be here.

Joni: We’re really excited to chat to you. As I said, Rachel and I both really enjoyed your book. Could you give us a little synopsis or a description for people that haven’t read it yet?

Sara: Sure. So, “The Hush” is set about 5 to 10 years into the future in the UK. And it’s at a time when there have been a number of unexplained stillbirths happening across the country and pregnant teenage girls are going missing. So, in response to this, the government have decided they are going to clamp down on women’s freedoms and humankind, human rights, in general, and increase their powers of surveillance across the population. So, into this scenario, come my mother-daughter duo of Emma and Lainey. So, Emma is a midwife at the local hospital, and she’s determined to help the women who need her there. And Lainey is a student at the local high school, and her friend, Ellis, is among the missing. So, as the story goes on, these two find that they’re increasingly caught up in events around them until suddenly things become very personal. And when they realize they’re in danger, they have to turn to a group of formidable female friends around them in order to try and get themselves to safety.

Rachel: Before we dive into “The Hush” more in-depth, I did kinda wanna take a step back and ask you about your writing career because you worked formally as an editor before you became an author. How did you enter the author sphere and how did you find the process of writing coming from your editorial background?

Sara: Yeah. Well, it’s been a long journey really for me. So, I started working at HarperCollins in the UK back in 2000. And I was an editor there for a couple years. Actually, I was an assistant to the publishing director, first of all, and then worked my way up to be an editor. And then I left and went freelance, and did that for a few years. And all the time I was kind of writing in the background. So, freelance editing was brilliant because it gave me the opportunity to dive into all sorts of different types of novels and non-fiction, and kinda learn different elements of the craft. So, while I was doing that, I was trying to put my own work together. And by the time I got to that kind of a decade later, I had a lot of experience in how you actually put books together. So, it’s meant that every time I put a book together, I can also sit on the editorial side of the fence and look at what I’m doing, which has been invaluable.

Rachel: Do you find that your editorial experience makes taking feedback from other editors more difficult, or do you find it’s more collaborative?

Sara: I find it easier, actually, because I think I know more what they’re trying to do. So, I don’t take it so personally. I’ve been on the other side of that situation as well. So, I had to give that advice. And I know, and I can see what they’re doing in terms of trying to tread carefully, but also enhance your story. And I find that when I work with editors, 95% plus of the time I agree with what they’re saying. And even if you don’t quite agree, there’s something in it normally that you can work with and work around and even work into your own way of writing. But I’ve really valued the editing process and really enjoy it.

Joni: I saw that you’d worked on some of the Liane Moriarty books. She’s one of my, like, auto-buy. I always buy what she releases, and I love her books.

Sara: Yeah. I was lucky, actually, because that was, “The Last Anniversary,” that I was able to work on. And that was before she was such a big name. And I remember thinking what an amazing book it was and going and finding, I think she’d only done “Three Wishes” before that. So, I went and found that straight away. And after that, I followed her career and watched her rise. So, that was quite exciting, yeah, watching her whole journey.

Joni: That’s really cool. So, this is the first book of yours that I read. And looking at your previous books, it looks like they are more thrillers. Is this your first delve into speculative fiction?

Sara: It is. Yeah. So, normally I write suspense, thrillers with kind of psychological suspense really, and often I’ve made them more about family relationships, personal relationships. Normally there is a bigger, broader theme going on in the background. So, for example, in, “All That is Lost Between Us,” there was this theme of what happens with teenagers and social media going on, but it was told from the story of the family. So, it was the mom, dad, brother, and sister. And the daughter in that story had a big secret that was kind of caught up in the social media world. And so I like to combine those very personal, psychological mysteries with a few themes that resonate to a wider audience and on a kind of more cultural level in the hope that it’s just interesting to explore both at the same time. So, I hope you get a really good story, but then also a bit of an analysis of what might be going on in some of these knotty issues of today.

Joni: Yeah. And this book really does dive into a lot of very timely issues. So, you set it post-COVID, I think it’s COVID that you’re referencing, but you started writing it pre-COVID, right? So, how did that journey go?

Sara: Yeah, absolutely. So, that’s been crazy actually. I started writing it in 2015, and it was part of my Ph.D. because I wanted to look at what happens when you have young adult heroines in this kind of fiction. And the mother is missing because I noticed that in big books, like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” “Matched,” the mother was either not present or not very present, you know, kind of the mother figure was really in the background of the daughter stories. And I wanted to look at what might happen if you had empowered generations all the way through, in a story like this. So, I think sometimes in YA fiction, there’s often this tendency to take the parents out so that the young people can have more agency. And my query was also, what that actually did to the story? Whether they really did have more agency or whether actually by separating the generations, causing some unintended problems, you know, and kind of communication and representation.

So, I was trying to introduce all those different ideas back into the story. And that was the genesis. So, I was looking at things like the #MeToo movement when it came up. I’m really interested in those kind of things, but COVID just hit sideways really. So, when COVID came along, I looked at the story and thought, “Oh my god, you know, I’m writing a book that’s about an epidemic. And now we’re in the middle of a pandemic, who is going to want to read this book?” And really, it was the fact that I was writing such strong female characters. And that was the core of the story for me, was trying to ask, what do the women do in these highly pressured, you know, kind of a situation so intense that it’s kind of probably the worst thing I can think of really? What would the women do to fight back? And how would the women connect with each other? And what I wanted to do was represent women of every generation on the page together so that readers of every generation could read it together and have someone there present and recognize the different female generations in their family or their lives. And that was the core of the story. And that’s what carried me through COVID really.

Rachel: And like you mentioned, you have a lot of complex female characters who all kind of embody different generations’ interpretation of feminism, but you also kind of have the women who work with the system to get ahead in your novel. Why was it important to include kind of that dichotomy?

Sara: Yeah. I just wanted to show all sides of the spectrum really. I didn’t want to make… I think that is real life, and I wanted to show what, I guess feminism is up against in a lot of ways, because so many parts of ourselves, of women’s lives have to either go along with the system or become indoctrinated by the system so that you see things happen and you think, “Wow. We don’t even recognize as women that that system is working against us.” And we’re almost colluding with the system trying to, yeah, make things work in a way that really isn’t conducive to the female experience or female identity. And it was really important to me to show a whole range of women operating and sometimes reflecting on the system, sometimes totally unaware that they were part of the system.

And, yeah, I really enjoyed breaking that down actually. And looking at the different ways that women struggled with that, particularly, I think you’re probably referencing, there’s another midwife in the story who her reaction to these tragic stillbirths is just to go harder into the system and to try and make sure that she is just following every single rule that she can possibly follow. And she has lost track of the fact that these are the human beings, these are women, these are, you know, kind of people with individual needs. She’s just determined to set it right, but she can’t see outside that world anymore. And when you look at feminism and the gains and losses that we’ve had over the last 30 to 40 years, that’s really evident. You know, sometimes you look at it and you think, “How can we still be trapped in some of these cycles and circles that go on? And how can some of these problems be so invisible?” And I think the only way we can really progress through that is by continuing the conversation and by bringing up these different scenarios.

Joni: It’s interesting that you started writing in 2015 because when I do a little retrospective of what’s happened since then, like, it must feel weird to have started it then, and then how much things have gotten more dystopian since.

Sara: It’s so strange because it started out as speculative and it ended up feeling like I’m writing about contemporary fiction, you know, and almost… And so that’s been a very bizarre journey and raised a lot of questions, and made me look at things in ways that I didn’t even realize were going to be issues when we, in terms of government control, I guess, and people reacting in different ways to vaccine mandates, and one thing and another. And my book asking questions about government control has taken on a whole new range of meanings that weren’t present when the story began. But it’s only made the discussions much more interesting.

Joni: What was it that originally sparked your interest? Was there one moment or was it a more gradual interest?

Sara: Well, I think the fact that I wanted to look at mothers and daughters and how that all worked together was because when I was reading, I was kind of connecting with those books, the big books, like “The Hunger Games” and going, “Okay, these stories are so popular, what’s making them so popular?” And then as I was reading them, it was just the time where I was having my first daughter. So, it was kind of 2009. I think I even read “The Hunger Games” you know, in one of those kind of breastfeeding fogs where you just kind of have to sit there, and you actually get quite a lot of reading time at that stage. And so I think everything was working together, in my mind, kind of putting different things together and going, “Where am I in her story?” Like, I love the fact that I could show her this book and go, “Here’s a really empowered woman.” You know, like, young woman, who’s taking it on. And she’s not traditional, she’s got so many things to say, she’s fighting back against the system.

And then I was like, “Where is her mom?” And her mom was so withdrawn and kind of difficult. And Katniss is very angry with her mom, to start with, in that book for all sorts of reasons that when you actually delve into are not necessarily, again, her mom’s been coerced to operate within the system and is then stricken with grief when Katniss’s father dies. And she hasn’t really had a chance to explore her own identity. And yet, Katniss feels so let down by her mom’s behavior and her mom’s reactions to different things. And it just, those kind of things, just sparked my conversation of where are the representations of mothers? How do we represent mothers in stories like this? How do we represent the relationships between mothers and daughters? And is there a way that you can kind of discuss that complexity and those divides as mothers and daughters while recognizing that the system we live in is responsible for more of those divides than we might first think?

Rachel: And you mentioned that this book started as part of your Ph.D., and I imagine that involves quite a bit of research. What was your research process like, and how did you pull that information into your novel?

Sara: Well, so my research on the theoretical side has been all sorts of feminist texts, basically. I’ve kind of gone right back to the start. And so I looked at lots of second-wave feminist texts, but more in the context of motherhood, ultimately. So, Adrienne Rich “Woman Born,” that was a big one for me. And then when you read the kind of things that she was saying about the way mothers are represented in this kind of dichotomy between what she calls motherhood, which is the kind of constructed idealistic version of motherhood that we have in society versus mothering, which is the authentic identity that women feel as mothers who want to nurture and take care of their children. When you look at… She was writing that in 1976. And what happened after that was no real progress was made in terms of these kind of discussions apart from through a book called “Maternal Thinking,” I think by Sara Ruddick and she wrote in the ’80s.

But really there was very little going on until kind of the turn of the century where motherhood studies began to be part of university courses, and more things were discussed around motherhood. But there was this whole gap of kind of discussion around motherhood because feminism didn’t know how to deal with motherhood. So, it just kind of pushed it to the side and it became this very awkward part of feminism that we couldn’t quite kind of wrap our heads around all. Yeah. So, it was better not to talk about it at all. And so that’s really only just come back now in the last 20 years and become more part of popular cultural discussion again. And that was the theoretical side of things. And then in terms of the novel research, I basically read a lot of news and future thinkers and people who were kind of trying to predict where the world might be going in 5 to 10 years’ time. What might be happening then, again, feminist thinkers, who might be sort of saying, you know, if we carry on like this, it might end up…you know, society might end up even more control for women, and just feeding all of that research into different elements of the story so that some of it is plot, but some of it is just that thematic sense you get of different things going on in the book.

Joni: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I read somewhere that you were very interested in exploring missing women in fiction. Was that part of your Ph.D. studies? And are you thinking about in writing or in real life and then exploring that in fiction?

Sara: So, it’s really been more around the mothers than the women, to start with. But what’s happened, I guess, as I’ve looked at this is, though, I’ve found so many more academic researchers and popular research about how women do show up in fiction and the different ways that we kind of construct female identity in fiction. So, that’s become a bit of a passion of mine as we go along. And it’s definitely something I’d like to stay close to. You know, the next book I’m hoping to write is also going to have a very tricky mother-daughter relationship that is not a traditional mother-daughter, quite an estranged relationship, again, to sort of really try and break down, what are we doing when we try and write female characters? How can we get beyond the tropes that we all see a lot? And how can we add more authenticity and more complexity?

And really, often, it’s kind of a lot of the things that we try and write about with women characters is paradoxical. Because as soon as we try and lump women into one group, we’re kind of getting it wrong because, you know, there is no such thing as one individual representation of womanhood. So, it’s such a fascinating topic because we can draw themes and commonalities through kind of writing about women. But if we go too far, we start to move away from being able to represent something authentic about the female identity, about womanhood, and we get into that area of tropes. And we talked a lot about that lately in terms of, you know, the fact that in crime writing women are always, you know, kind of raped, or murdered, or… You know, and that’s the basis for so many crime stories, and can we move past that? Can we do something different, you know, with crime writing now and why would we still want to do that all the time? And all these conversations are so interesting and important to try and progress how we represent women in the fiction.

Joni: Right. So, it’s more about missing women from the narrative rather than missing in the sense that the pregnant girls go missing?

Sara: Yeah. I mean, funny enough is like a literal correlation too. Yeah. What’s actually happening, theoretically, yeah, in some ways. So, yeah, there are a lot of missing women in my fiction, literally missing women as well. But, yeah, it kind of echoes the kind of themes I’m interested in.

Rachel: And you have included a group of very different women in your book that, like you said, the group of women who come together to kind of unravel the mystery at the core of the novel. Is there a character that is closest to you? Like, is there one that you found you put your most of yourself in?

Sara: That’s a great question. I think possibly Emma, the mother herself, Lainey’s mom, partly because she’s worked as a midwife. I have no midwifery experience at all. So, not in that way. But I think that she’s a quiet rebel. And I think that that’s me as well in terms of, I haven’t really done a lot of shouting from the rooftops about my feelings and my desires within society and what I want for my girls, and all that kind of thing. But I’m working behind the scenes very hard to live authentically and give them a good representation of who I want to be and to communicate with my daughters so that they don’t necessarily end up with the same issues as, you know, kind of my generation of women have had around all sorts of things from body image to, you know, kind of, yeah,

sense of self-worth, and all those kind of things. So, I think, yeah, I see that in Emma. I see that she struggles, and she still is very clear that life isn’t perfect for her. She’s a single mom. She has to work, you know, it’s not… Yeah. Her life isn’t set up for her and/or to be easy for her, but she still tries through all that to just have a very authentic relationship with her daughter. And there are times when you expect her to take on a traditional mother role and to almost collude with someone, whether it’s the police, or the headmistress at school, or someone, and to take their side and to kind of be, “Yeah, lady, why did you do that? What did you do?” And every single time she goes, “You know, this is my daughter. I stand with her and how do I help my child through this experience?” And I really like that about her as well.

Joni: And do you think that Serena and Lainey kind of encapsulate the future of feminism? Or do you think they’re more like the generation that’s trying to figure out what’s next?

Sara: Yeah, a little bit of both, I think, because they’re quite different as… I mean, Lainey has a little bit more of a mom in her as in she’s a quiet rebel as well, to begin with. But she’s much more idealistic than Emma. She still believes that a lot more can change, I think than Emma does, certainly at the start of the story. Serena is just out there. You know, Serena is not gonna go quietly about anything, and she’s determined to push change much more than Lainey, I think. And so the story kind of grows around them. You know, they both come up against how can we do that? How can’t we do that? You know, Serena has to step back at times, Lainey has to step forward when she finds herself in certain situations. I love watching the young generation kind of take it on. You know, my oldest daughter now is about to be 13, and she has her own ideas about what it is to be a woman, what she thinks about climate change, you know, all these things. And she’s really starting to take it on. And I love watching them do that. This kind of, you know, when they grow up, you know, and they’re around kind of 18 or so the way that this generation is going, no, we’re gonna fight for something else.

And I think sometimes there’s a feeling that the older generations have not been there for that generation. And I think that’s right in some sense. But it’s nice to write a story where they are there and they’re backing them. And so I think that what I’m trying to do is not just write Emma, sorry, not just write Lainey and Serena as future feminists, but write the whole connected generations as a lineage of feminism, that has not necessarily been able to achieve all its ends, but that certainly has purpose and has certainly fought for everything that it could fight for at the time in the context that that particular brand of feminism existed in. And rather than disconnect all the women and say, “Look, you let us down, you did the…” You know, to kind of these women understand each other, they understand that there were pitfalls and things that they couldn’t achieve, but they’re still there now supporting each other and moving that wave forward.

Joni: Okay. So, your children are quite young, and presumably, probably, I don’t know how it was in Australia, but there was certainly a lot of homeschooling here over the last couple of years. And you were doing a Ph.D. and writing a novel, what was the emotional toll of this? Like, how did you find that writing quite a tough story during a time which is arguably the most challenging that we’ve ever lived through?

Sara: Yeah. Well, it has been an emotional toll. I don’t even know whether I’ve quite come to terms with all that, yet. I feel like I’m still trying to adjust. And obviously, now with everything that’s happening just recently as well, you know, things seem to be changing so quickly. And I feel like we’re always playing catch-up now. Whereas a, you know, five years ago, my plans were, where should I take my girls on holiday? You know, kind of … then there was… And I had time to write. And actually, I homeschool my girls because we’ve done that for years and years. But they’re both dyslexic. So, it’s kind of been very much part of our family to do that. So, that bit didn’t effect us as much, but I had a lot more support before COVID started. So, I had someone coming in to help me with the children that couldn’t, as soon as COVID began, she was immunocompromised. And I’ve never found that support again. So, all of a sudden, life really changed. And I’ve found that that’s happened as well. You know, I’ve had to take on a lot more myself because you can’t always bring people in with all this isolation going on and these rules changing all the time. And so getting that support has been much harder over the past couple of years. And just getting through it emotionally as well, ourselves, I think never mind trying to explain it to the children what’s going on, has been very challenging. And, yeah, I wouldn’t say that I’m on top of all that. I think I’ve just decided day by day, and just what’s my next goal? Break it down. Just try and get there and then just keep going. So, that’s really how this book has been finished and released.

Rachel: Yeah. One day at a time has really been my motto over the past year.

Sara: Absolutely.

Rachel: Because any more than that, it’s just too much. But like you said, like things changed really quickly from like 2020 to now. Like, things are just snowballing. Do you think that had, the pandemic, this is such a huge question, and sorry if you don’t have an answer. But if the pandemic hadn’t happened, do you think your book would have been different? Do you think the pandemic had a huge impact on your story?

Sara: Yeah, that’s a really good question. It’s really interesting to see how people are responding to it because some people are nervous about picking up the book because of the pandemic themes and because it’s been so hard. And to that, I want to reassure everybody that while it starts in that place, I hope that what they find is an inspiring story of female friendship and female solidarity and the different female generations. But I certainly had to change elements of the book to make it feel less disconnected. It almost felt like I was writing in a parallel world. And I added in small references to the pandemic to kind of ground us in that future world, that near-future world again, which weren’t there originally because there was no need for that frame of reference. But, yeah, it has changed the way in which the book is read. I hope that all those themes still stand because they still seem very relevant to me, and the core themes still seem to be evermore relevant really with what’s gone on. And so, yeah. I think that I’m glad that it’s come out when it has actually.

Joni: Yeah, I do think it’s good timing. I mean, things are not getting better with regards to women’s rights, or access to birth control, or any of those things. So, yeah, it’s definitely still relevant. I wanted to ask, I have a theory about this, but you’re originally from the UK, which I also am. Why did you choose to set the novel there rather than Australia?

Sara: Yeah, it became a very practical decision actually, because every time I tried to think about it in Australia, and I did have a think about whether it should be here. The wide-open space, just kind of folded certain aspects of the story. I couldn’t cope with the distances that people might be able to get to so quickly. It needed to be so that people were more on top of each other. In actual fact, I think that the governmental system really kind of works with the UK background, I think it feels very British.

Joni: Yeah. That was my guess.

Sara: Yeah. So, I think that was part of it as well. And, yeah, some of those characters in government, they are almost shades of people who you might see in government. But, yeah. I think that that distance really clinched it for me because there was no practical way of keeping everyone so close together when they needed to be. And everything was just spread out too far, geographically, to make some of the storylines work if we were in Australia.

Joni: That makes a lot of sense. I hadn’t thought about the practical aspect of it.

Sara: Sometimes it’s just a feeling as well, actually, when you start and you keep trying to put it somewhere and you think, “Well, it’d be a lot easier if I put it in Australia because this is where the original contract is.” You know, and that kind of thing. And you’re like, it just isn’t working and it just takes on that feeling and that identity of either Australia or England because I tend to write between the two having lived in both for such a long time. Yeah. But yeah, you can add practicalities in, and then that makes the story, clarifies where it should go.

Rachel: I just wanna take a small step back from the details of the book because, at the heart of everything, there’s a mystery that needs to be solved. How do you plot out your books? Because writing mysteries with twists and turns always fascinates me because I cannot do it. So, how do you plot out your thrillers?

Sara: Well, I have a system where I kind of indulge my desire just to write. And so I do write, to start with, and I get just completely lost in the story. And then when I get stuck, I begin to plan. So, normally I can write for maybe 20,000 words, and then often it starts to run out and I go, “Okay, time to plan.” And at that point, I create a grid and I put in the chapters, and the breakdown, and the characters, and what I’ve got in each section. And I start analyzing where it’s gone to. And when I’ve got that grid, I might have ideas about different twists and turns that are going to go in. And so I add them to the grid, but they don’t have to be in any particular place yet. And by having a grid, I can then move things about to see what it looks like if I were to put that reveal there or this thing there, and I can start to play on a kind of macro basis, you know, and zoom out and look at the whole story like that. But then often I find that the grid starts to bug me and then it’s time to set off with the story again. I’ll just get more ideas from looking at the grid. And as soon as I have the story alive in my head, again, I just let it take me a little bit because otherwise I think it does become very formulaic and it’s not such fun to write and you lose those wonderful moments of surprise where you’re kind of writing away and something pings up. Like, you get the splash of inspiration, which isn’t all the time, but they are brilliant when they occur. And sometimes those take your story in different directions. So, I found that process of what my… A friend of mine calls backstitching, being able to go back to that grid that works in a way you can begin to construct your story and write at the same time. And I never finished that grid because at some stage the story takes off and I can get to the end, and then I don’t need the grid anymore.

Joni: Yeah. I’m always fascinated by pacing because this was one like it’s not short, but I read it really quickly. It’s very fast-paced. There’s a lot going on, but it never feels rushed, which is something I think is quite challenging. But I imagine that your editing background probably plays into that a lot.

Sara: Well, my editing background helps, but the other editors as well… There is plenty of editing in this book to get that right.

Joni: Yeah. Yeah. You can’t edit yourself. I did also want to ask about “The Author’s Mindset” series that you have, you have it in a newsletter, but also on your website.

Sara: I do.

Joni: How did that come about? And can you tell us a little bit about it for people that might not be familiar?

Sara: Yeah. Well, I began writing that because I want to ultimately do more and more to help emerging writers. And often I think that the mindset of writing is overlooked. And you’ll see a lot of courses where they teach you the tools of character and plot and, you know, those strategy elements of writing. But unless you have the right mindset, it’s actually very hard to continue with a book and you often hear people starting books and don’t finish. And one thing another and, so I really wanted to look at the different elements of, yeah, perseverance and all these different things that you might need to get going with your writing and to actually push through those difficult times. Because I think 90% of writing to me is about keeping your head focused because when you come to a sticky point in these books, it’s so easy to just not want to do it and to…yeah. And then to doubt yourself as well to just go, oh, this story is falling apart. I can’t get through that. I don’t know where to go next or how to… And I wanted to help people try and get through some of those challenges. And I would like to do more with that actually. So, at the moment, it’s just, you get it if you sign up to my newsletter, you get the series that I’ve done, but they are on my website as well. But, yeah. I’d definitely like to continue that.

Rachel: Would you consider teaching a course, or writing a book on it?

Sara: Yeah, I am actually. I’d like to do a little bit more with that and just… Yeah, anything that I can do now, I feel like I’ve loved writing over the past little while. And that’s actually my goal when I finished my Ph.D., which should happen in the next few months is to then hopefully turn my attention to, yeah, then hopefully, turn my attention to doing a bit more for emerging writers.

Joni: Well, we’ll lookout for that. And you said that you’ve been homeschooling for a while. Do you do a lot of writing? Are your kids interested in writing?

Sara: Yeah. Well, it’s been an interesting journey with the children because of the dyslexia, which we didn’t expect because we haven’t particularly had it in the family, even though it’s theoretically genetic. So, it’s been a challenge for both my children to read. And it’s actually been lovely watching the way that they have come to stories in the end. One of them now is very into reading books, and the other is very dramatic and prefers to act out her stories. So, anything that we can do to bring story alive. I kind of feel like the writing can come almost a little bit after that, you know, and we don’t have to go for the real technical grammar elements of it, as long as they love creating stories. That’s where I want them to be. And both of them have definitely got that.

Rachel: And so correct me if I’m wrong, excuse me, correct me if I’m wrong, but you are homeschooling your kids, working on a Ph.D., and you just released a novel. How many hours do you have in a day?

Sara: Yeah, not enough really. I’ve got a little pattern going now, which is, you know, all the homeschool happens in the morning, the writing happens about… I get up at 5:00, I go for a walk, do an hour of writing before I start anything else. The homeschooling happens all morning. After, I’ve had lunch, then the girls go and do other things. I write then until dinnertime. And, yeah. You know, the Ph.D. has been hard to combine, I have to say. And if I hadn’t loved it so much, I would’ve, you know, not been able to continue. But every time I looked at it and thought, “I’m crazy. Why am I doing all this?” Everything that I was doing really mattered to me. And I really felt like I had something to contribute in all these different areas. So, I muddled my way through, and hopefully, there will be an end product soon and I will actually achieve that exegesis and get the Ph.D. nailed.

Joni: Soon. Something that I noticed is a big part of your social media presence is really about uplifting other authors and kind of spreading the word within the author community about books that are coming out and new releases and that kind of thing. And this is something we talk to a lot of indie authors. And this is something that’s really important in the indie community. And I feel like being an author can maybe feel a little bit like an individual pursuit, but it’s really not. And anyone that’s reading your book, like, there are more than…there are not enough books in the world, you know what I mean? Like, there’s so many readers for everything. How do you find balancing the individual work of writing with being part of the community?

Sara: Yeah, I love it, actually. It’s very rewarding being part of an author community and realizing how close everyone is and how much everyone is cheering you on. I think when you’re inside this world, people know that it’s not as glamorous or well monetized as you might think. And so there’s a lot of struggle, a lot of work behind the scenes that goes into producing these novels. And they aren’t really… Normally people have put their heart and soul into them. And when you know that, you really wanna celebrate every time someone actually achieves the end result and support them and try and push that book out to the right readers. And, yeah, you’re right. There’s a readership for every book. And once you realize that, it takes away some of those kind of early feelings of competitiveness that you might have around writing, and you just realize that you can uplift each other and just everyone will get their own readership. People will find the books they gravitate to anyway. So, just by putting the word out, it’s just a brilliant way of supporting one another and making sure that as many books reach as many people as possible.

Joni: Definitely. And with that kind of in mind, are there any authors that you are particularly inspired by or anyone that you’ve come across that you can recommend?

Sara: Well, I mean, I love Lisa Jewell, obviously, because she’s the queen of psychological suspense right now. And I do think her books are amazing. I also really love Maggie O’Farrell. She’s been an author that I adore for a long time now. I think I’ve read her books ever since she produced her first book, which was 20 odd years ago. And she writes. She originally started writing psychological suspense-type thrillers. And one was called “After You’d Gone.” And that was the one that I really fell in love with her with. But she has gone across the board. She’s written kind of narrative non-fiction. She’s just written the “Hamnet,” which is kind of set around the “Hamlet “story. She has written all sorts of other contemporary fiction. And she always surprises you with what she does. And she has little narrative tricks all the time as well. She’s amazing. Her grasp of language is amazing. And she does special little tricks. I’m always fascinated by how she puts her stories together because there’s always freshness about it and always something different. So, she’d been the person that I would immediately buy her book every time it came out, no matter what it was about.

Joni: Did she write “I Am, I Am, I Am?”

Sara: Yes she did. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. See, so different to the concept of Pamela. And yet, both amazing books. And I think when you can do that, and your range can just travel. I’m fascinated by people as well, like Elizabeth Gilbert, who, you know, can write a book about creativity and then write, “The Signature of all Things,” you know, and be like historical fiction. And, you know, people who can just transcend genre, really appeal to me.

Joni: Have you read Louis O’Neill? She’s written a couple of dystopian kind of feminist books, but she also really transcends genre. I find her fascinating.

Sara: Yes, yes, no. I have looked at Louis O’Neill, actually for the Ph.D., so yeah, that’s been, yeah, really good. And, yeah, I found her brilliant as well, and very her type of the feminist feminism she puts in her writing is confronting, it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s like, you know, this is, yeah. Yeah. I love it.

Joni: Oh, yes.

Rachel: And as we’ve touched on, you are a little busy. But do you have another idea for another book percolating yet? Or are you Ph.D. now, next book later?

Joni: No. You mentioned you were working on something, I think.

Sara: Well, I have to be Ph.D. first because I really, really, really do need to get that done. But I do have a couple of other ideas. One is about this other kind of complex mother and daughter story. And also I have to say that the characters from “The Hush” are still talking to me. So, down the track. I’ve never felt like that book was a book on its own, and I’ve always felt like there was another element of that story. And I noticed from feedback that people feel. I’ve obviously, got that sense from the story as well. So, yeah. There’s definitely things going on around that. And I don’t know quite how I’ll layer all this in which order I’ll do things in. But certainly, I’ve got plenty to keep me going.

Rachel: To all the listeners who can’t see us, Joni and I visibly perked up at the mention of a possible sequel to “The Hush,” which I think is the best endorsement.

Sara: That’s very encouraging. I do appreciate that.

Rachel: And I did wanna ask you one more question about “The Hush” and it’s the cover, because the cover is so good. Did you have a lot of creative input on it or was there just a cover given to you that happened to be perfect?

Sara: Well, we knew that we wanted it to be the matryoshka dolls. And so the concepts were played around with, and I saw a couple of designs. The other one was very much more traditional photographic with the dolls kind of, sort of displayed on the cover. But then this one was, as soon as we saw it, everyone went, “Yes.” You know, it just seemed to perfectly represent femininity and, yeah, the female form and the dolls. And, yeah, all sorts of things. So, we’re very happy with the fact that we’ve got this striking bright pink cover. And it stands out on every shelf you see it on, which is awesome.

Joni: It also fits in perfectly with the genre. It reminds me of a couple, like, there’s covers are different in Australia, but there’s, “The Farm,” which is a similar-ish kind of concept, has a similar concept cover. There’s a couple more, but it fits in perfectly, which is what you want, right?

Sara: Absolutely.

Joni: It stands out and fits in.

Sara: Yes, yes. I love it. So, I’m full kudos to, yeah, everyone that was involved in the design of that cover and let it go through because, yeah, I’m really proud of it.

Joni: Awesome. And before we let you go, can you tell us where listeners can find you online?

Sara: Yes, I’d love to. So, my website is sarafoster.com.au. And then I’ve got Instagram, which is @sarafosterauthor. Facebook is Sara Foster Author as well. And I occasionally pop up on Twitter, which is at @sarajfoster. And all Sara’s without an H, I should add.

Joni: Perfect. So, we’ll share those links and definitely go check out The Author’s Mindset series on the website.

Sara: Thank you.

Joni: And we’ll share links to your books and all of that. Thank you so much for doing this. This has been great.

Sara: Oh, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast. If you were interested in picking up “The Hush,” we will include a link in our show notes, as well as links to Sara’s other books. If you are enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us @kobowritinglife.com. And be sure to follow us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

Joni: This episode was produced by Joni Di Placido and Rachel Warden. Our editing is done by Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is imposed by Tear Jerker, and a huge thank you to Sara Foster for being our guest today. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey, sign up for free at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.

Transcription by www.speechpad.com

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