My interviewee is Sarah Cuming whose story, The Star Worker, appears in Fusion. Sarah lives near the New Forest and loves going on walks to wake up her creative side. Landscapes often crop up in her work, in this case the icy wastes of The Star Worker. Sarah has recently graduated from her Masters in Writing with Merit at the University of Warwick, and has had short stories published in four anthologies (including Fusion) and her University’s New Writing Society magazine.
Sarah tells me that she first heard that she would be published in Fusion on Fantastic Books Facebook page, and then in the official announcement via the YouTube video. She says, ‘I was absolutely astonished. The Star Worker was my first true fantasy story, and so I’d sent it out more as an experiment than actually expecting to hear anything back. Finding out that my story had been chosen was absolutely wonderful, and it wasn’t very many minutes before my family found links to the announcement cropping up in their inboxes.’
I have to say I’m astounded to learn that The Star Worker was Sarah’s first venture into fantasy. There is an easy maturity to the writing that makes you assume she settled into the genre years ago.
I ask what motivated her to enter. She tells me, ‘I think the fact that the competition was raising funds for charity was definitely a motivating factor. The thought that, even if I didn’t get published, money would be going to a good cause gave me the nerve to submit my piece, whereas otherwise I might have just left it in a drawer to gather dust. Publication was a definite bonus, though!’
When asked if she sees it as a positive to have been published alongside established authors, Danuta Reah and Stuart Aken, Sarah’s answer is very clear. ‘I can’t think of any way in which it could be seen as negative. They are great writers and having my work printed alongside theirs is a definite privilege. What I also like is the fact that fans of theirs may find other writers they like from the great selection of authors in the anthology. There’s such a range of stories and styles that you can’t help but be drawn in and become enthralled.’
I certainly agree with that. Fusion is a great anthology.
Along with all shortlisted authors, Sarah worked with the Fantastic Books editorial team to polish her story for publication. How did she find the process? ‘Having the Fantastic Books editorial team comment on my work was very helpful, and it helped put the edges and the shine onto what was previously something of a rough diamond of a story. Writing is a constantly developing process, so I found the comments from the editorial team to be of great value to me. Getting the final proofs through from them was a lovely feeling.’
When asked to recommend a compelling read to counter the tedium of a long-haul flight, Sarah says, ‘Ooh, so many choices, but I find that when it comes to recommending books, I can’t help but return to the books I read as a teenager. If something that you read at thirteen can still sing to you at the age of twenty three, it’s worth reading. The two that come to mind at the moment are Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy, which has some fabulous female characters, and Kevin Brooks’ novel Lucas. Lucas isn’t sci-fi or fantasy, but it is a beautiful, haunting book that taught me that a tragic ending doesn’t stop it from being a good one. On a more recent note, a friend of mine, Rosanne Rivers, has a new book out called After the Fear that would definitely make the hours of a long-haul flight disappear before you knew it! It’s a Young Adult dystopian novel written with great depth and emotion. My copy arrived a couple of days ago and nobody’s been able to tear me away from it since.’
Along with all my interviewees, I ask Sarah to imagine that she is a space scout for an alien race who has discovered Earth and learnt its history. Would she recommend that her people made contact? She takes her time to give me a thoughtful and considered response. ‘Hmm, don’t know. People can be a pretty awful lot, both to each other and to the planet we live on, and the good things sometimes get lost in amongst the darkness. I think my alien self would recommend contact – a wary, tentative contact, in order to share knowledge, and I’d like to think that in doing so it would be astonished and surprised by the beautiful wealth of literature and art it would find hidden away in secret corners. I also think it would show its people the beauty of our environment and how precious it is, and help humanity see that we need to do more to preserve it, help us heal some of the hurts.’
Sarah is clearly building a fan base who will want to know what she’s currently writing. She tells me, ‘I’ve got a couple of writing projects on at the moment – a few short stories that are halfway through their first drafts, gearing up for competition entries, and a children’s fantasy book that’s only just at the scribbles-on-a-whiteboard stage but that I can’t wait to get going with.’
Don’t wait too long, Sarah. If you can produce The Star Worker as a first attempt, I for one can’t wait to see what comes next!
To find out more about Sarah and her writing, follow her on Twitter where she posts her writing info.
Or sample her writing:
“The Embers of a Masterpiece” from Momaya Annual Review 2012: Heat
“Magazine Me” from Papercuts: Stories from the Warwick MA inWriting 2012
“Fingernails” from The Draft: Stories from the Warwick MA inWriting