Perth-based novelist and former book editor Sara Foster’s fifth novel, The Hidden Hours, was published on April Fools’ Day, but long before then it was generating plenty of interest within the publishing industry, and among Sara’s many readers. It’s psychological suspense set in a London publishing house, and centres on the murder of Arabella Lane, a senior executive at the firm, and new employee, Eleanor, believed to be the last person to see Arabella alive. The problem is, the hours surrounding Arabella’s death are “missing” from Eleanor’s memory, and Eleanor is desperately trying to forget her own traumatic past.
The Hidden Hours is next on my “to-read” pile — literally on my desk, next to me, as I type these words. And if her earlier novels are any indication, I’m likely to read it in one sitting — possibly because I’ll be too scared not to finish it all at once, or because I’ll simple have to know what happened to Arabella and to Eleanor, and I won’t be able to get to sleep until my questions are answered.
Sara lives with her husband just outside Perth, where she home schools their two young daughters. She is a doctoral candidate at Curtin University, with a focus on the role of mothers in dystopian fiction, and loves to travel, wherever and whenever possible. I’m certain you’ll enjoy reading her answers to my Shelf Aware questions as much as I did. Her passion for reading and writing is evident in every response — but especially in her list of favourite books and authors…
Q. How would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I aim to develop stories with compelling plots that always have a more serious observational side to them too. All my books are studies in something integral to the human experience – such as trauma, grief, belief, hatred, communication, neglect – but I try to put that into a page-turning format.
My main genre is somewhere between mystery, thriller and psychological suspense – I usually start with an interesting character or situation and try to sketch out a compelling plot from there. This involves a lot of time drafting, either at the computer or on paper. However, sometimes I get out and about to research ideas, and that is definitely one of my favourite parts of the process.
Q. What is your latest project, and/or what do you have in the pipeline?
A. My book The Hidden Hours has just been released in Australia. It’s the story of a young Australian woman, Eleanor, who moves to London and begins working at a publishing house. She’s only been there for a few weeks when Arabella Lane, one of the directors of the company, is discovered dead in the River Thames after the office Christmas party. Everyone knows that Eleanor was one of the last people to see Arabella, but Eleanor cannot recall a few hours of the evening. As the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that people close to Eleanor may be involved. Under intense pressure from all sides, she begins to unravel, and memories of her traumatic childhood are drawn to the surface.
In addition to this, I’m already working on the next idea, which is another psychological suspense that deals with some contemporary women’s issues. I’m also studying for my PhD exploring YA dystopian fiction, so there’s plenty to keep me going!
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)? How are your books organised/arranged?
A. I have a front room crammed with bookcases, and my study is also full of books. I often have a large wobbly pile on my bedside, and of course we have lots of children’s books in two more bookcases in the lounge and in each of their rooms.
The front room used to have a little colour scheme happening on certain shelves, but I always run out of space and then it gets more haphazard. Every now and again I have a big rearranging session. I have shelves of signed books, children’s books, books on certain topics, coffee table books, dystopian titles and books I have worked on. I also have about five crates of books in the garage that won’t fit anywhere!
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. I have a bit of everything! I have classics, general fiction, literary fiction, dystopian, mystery and crime, non-fiction, animal and environmental books, coffee table books, dictionaries and anthologies, autobiographies, lots of children’s books and a fair amount of YA.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. Lying in the hammock in our back garden, under the shade when the sun is warm but not too hot. Bliss!
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I always seem to be reading a few books at the same time nowadays! I’m reading Shrill, by Lindy West – I saw Lindy at the Perth Writers Festival and really enjoyed her talks. I tend to pick this one up when I don’t have enough time to get into a novel, and so far I like it, but it’s not wowing me yet.
I’m also reading An Isolated Incident, by Emily Maguire. This one passed me by when it first came out, but I thought the storyline sounded really interesting, and I was intrigued by the Stella Prize suggestion (it’s on the shortlist) that it redefines the crime genre. I can’t comment on that yet, but Maguire has set up a compelling story and the voices are unique and strong.
My eldest daughter (age 8) and I are reading Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George (although we’ll be back on Harry Potter shortly, I should imagine), and my youngest (age 3) is obsessed with the Emily Brown books, by Cressida Cowell.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. I’m going to give you the long version, and this still misses out many books, as I have been wowed many times.
Classics: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Waves by Virginia Woolf, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.
Amazing books I’ve read in the last twenty years include The Colour Purple by Alice Walker, One Hundred Shades of White by Preethi Nair, Beloved by Toni Morrison, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan, The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Beneath the Skin by Nicci French.
More recently I’ve loved titles by Heather Gudenkauf, Kate Morton, Wendy James, Liane Moriarty, Jodi Picoult, Anita Heiss, Zana Fraillon and Emma Healey. The latest Hannah Kent book The Good People blew me away, and I think Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey is incredible.
Favourite dystopians are probably the Pure series by Julianna Baggott and Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. I also loved Clade by James Bradley.
I’m a genuine fan of all the work by the writers in my little writing group: Amanda Curtin, Natasha Lester, Annabel Smith, Yvette Walker, Emma Chapman and Dawn Barker – they are all incredibly talented.
My favourite books about animals are The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony and Priceless by Bradley Trevor Grieve. My favourite book of poetry is The Self-Completing Tree by Dorothy Livesay.
This is the long version and I still feel like I’m missing out many titles and authors! Finally, there is a very special place in my heart for Maggie O’Farrell – I’ll always hunt down her books and she’s been an inspiration for a long time.
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. Well, it would be a very difficult task but three top picks would be: first of all, the signed limited edition of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings that my best friend from childhood bought me for my 40th birthday. Second, a copy of The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison that she signed at an event a long time ago. And third, a facsimile edition of Winnie the Pooh that my mum bought for me.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. I would like to get Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Maya Angelou in the same room, and ask them everything about their experiences of writing and womanhood! I would provide a sumptuous high tea, and I wouldn’t do much talking, I’d just listen (and eat – and take notes)!
You can find out more about Sara on social media:
Facebook: Sara Foster, Author