With two historian parents, author Sarah Woodbury couldn’t help but develop an interest in the past. She began writing historical-romance fiction when the stories in her head overflowed and demanded she let them out. Recently we spoke with her about her passion and profession.
What are your own roots?
My roots are in England, Scotland, and Wales. From Scotland, my most famous ancestor is my multiple great-grandfather, Donald McKay, the Boston Clipper Ship builder. He was a Highland McKay from Thurso, whose father had fought for the British during the American Revolution, but then came home to find that his family lands had been ‘cleared’. He accepted land in Nova Scotia, and then Donald moved to Boston as a young man. From Wales, my ancestors come through—among others—my umpteenth great grandfather, William Woodbury, who self-identified as a Welshman when he arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1628. I am also descended from a host of Morgans, Thomas’, Kemries, Johns, Rhuns etc. The line I’ve researched most successfully descends from Llywelyn ap Ifor born around 1300. Six generations later, Sir John Morgan (1448) was knighted. One of my readers kindly researched my ancestry back all the way to the Lord Rhys (d. 1197) and Hywel Dda of Deheubarth. Woodbury is, of course, a very Saxon name, and those roots lie in Somerset.
Why are those roots important to you?
Family history is, in many ways, the stories we tell about ourselves—those key moments in our family’s past that inspire us today. While I can take no credit for the choices of my ancestors, I can both learn from them and be inspired by them.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I had stories in my head that I wanted to tell. It took probably ten years to work up the courage to tell them. I had been a creative child, but around the age of 12, committed myself to the endeavor of school, to the point that I received my Ph.D. in anthropology in 1995 when I was 27. I had four children along the way, and it was really working with them and seeing their creativity that encouraged me to once again tap into my own.
Are they the same reasons you do it today?
Yes, they really are. When I started writing intensively in 2006, I did it on a whim, just to see if I could. By 2007 when I had started to query agents and editors and was met with nothing but rejection, my husband said to me, “give it five years and see if you still love it”. I did, and, nine years on, I still do!
What are the challenges of the profession?
My biggest challenge is actually turning off my computer and walking away. Writing—and managing the business of writing—is all consuming. The further I get into my career, the more aware I am of how much more I could be doing. I’m working on it J
What are the rewards?
The rewards are incredible—or at least they have been for me. I wake up every morning with a plan, excited about what I’m going to be doing. Every. Single. Day. I love writing. I don’t necessarily love every moment of it, but this is, quite literally, the best job in the world, hands down. At least for me. The monetary rewards have been considerable for me as well, given that my husband was able to quit his job as a CIO in 2013. He wasn’t waking up wanting to go to work, and it was silly for him to keep working when he didn’t love it. I have also met so many wonderful people through writing—at first online and then in person. I have people from all over the world reading what I’ve written and loving it. It’s truly incredible, and I am very, very lucky to get to do what I love and get paid for it.
How have you grown as a writer over time?
It wasn’t hard to grow since, in 2006, I hadn’t written fiction since Middle School—so there was nowhere to go but up! At first the learning curve was very steep—just learning how to write dialogue, for example. I hope I will continue to improve my craft.
Is your creative process more ‘inspirational’ or ‘perspirational’?
No book gets written without sitting in a chair and pounding it out hour after hour, day after day. So there’s plenty of perspiration involved. But the inspirational part has to be there too. Lots of days, I might be completely uninspired and not really sure where the story is going to go until I start writing. But that’s why it’s important to do it every day, to sit in that chair every day, to open the door to inspiration.
What makes a good book?
There’s as probably as many different answers to that question as there are readers. I don’t think there is a way to define what’s ‘good’ because the word means different things to different people. For my part, I focus on writing a good story, with a plot that hangs together and characters readers can love. After that, I let the cards fall where they may.
What are your thoughts on the state of “Celtic” literature today?
Because of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, historic Scotland has received a great deal of attention in the last twenty years—and especially recently because of the success of the show on Starz. I know of only a handful of authors writing books set in medieval Wales (or Wales at all, for that matter). When I was trying to get my books published, the fact that my books were set in Wales was essentially a non-starter for US publishers. As far as I know, that hasn’t changed. My focus is also in genre fiction. I don’t have a good handle on non-fiction of literary fiction set in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
What’s next on your creative agenda?
My latest book in the After Cilmeri series releases on 19 May 2015. I’m currently writing the seventh novel in my Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries, and as soon as I finish that, I plan to write the fourth serial in my Lion of Wales series. I’m also really excited about the working vacation I get to take in the autumn when I will be traveling through the UK with my family in October and November. Hopefully, that will be a great research trip as well as a fun way to recharge my creativity for 2016!