Sandra Danby is an award winning author who specialises in writing stories around the theme of adoption. A proud Yorkshire woman, Sandra is a tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills.
Hello Sandra. Nice to meet you after many years as a Twitter connection! Firstly, I wanted to ask you why you moved to Spain?
Hello Ali! Our first villa holiday was to Majorca and we fell in love with it and wanted to explore more of Spain. During our second villa holiday, this time in the mountains behind Palamos near Barcelona, we decided we wanted to live here. That was followed by a succession of short breaks, city breaks and [yet more] villa holidays as we stayed in different parts of the country. We realized quite quickly that we like the sun and so focused on Andalucia. The first time we visited Ronda, we knew it was the place for us. The countryside is spectacular.
My three reasons for recommending Ronda to anyone are:-
The mountains are spectacular, there is some of the best hiking, horse-riding and birdwatching here. It ticked our boxes of nature, privacy, sun, and access to Malaga airport.
Then, of course, food and wine. Everyone here grows their own vegetables, it is much simpler than at home given the amount of sunshine. Also our finca is groaning with olive, fruit and nut trees. Ronda has its own wine denominacion and there are some wonderful bodegas to visit, taste and buy.
The people are so friendly. We live in a small village – we are the only ‘English’ in the village – and people are unfailingly helpful and forgiving of our muddled spoken Spanish. A cup of coffee is a social ritual, as are the swapping of vegetables [everyone grows too many!]
Tell us some of your history – what were you doing before you moved to Spain?
We were living in Wimbledon and were at a point in our lives when our jobs were changing. I transitioned from working as a freelance journalist to becoming a full-time author, and so was suddenly able to write anywhere. It gave us the freedom to be away from London and the South-East of England for the first time.
I have always been a writer, from a small girl when I made my own magazines. After studying English at university I became a journalist and magazine editor. Now I write novels. I can’t imagine not writing, it is my life. I resent a day of tasks which prevent me from writing, and I will continue to write to the end of my days.
Where do you get your ideas from?
There is no Idea Factory [to quote Stephen King]. I read a lot – novels, history, newspapers and magazines – I visit galleries and museums, I walk in the countryside. I think as a writer you become a sponge, absorbing what surrounds you and re-using it sometimes years later. I am a magpie, a hoarder, I have boxes for newspaper cuttings and folders on my computer for storing stories, notes and links to useful websites. If an idea fits with a project, it is put into that particular box/folder. When I come to start work on a new book, I empty out the box and let my mind wander. Quite often I have an idea for a book, but with a few missing connections. When that happens I try to focus on a solution and then research around that idea, which may mean reading books or going to a museum or location. What usually happens that, at a time when I am distracted by something, I get a Eureka moment, the connection which knits it all together. Often it is better to stop searching and let the sub-conscious do its work.
Your latest project is…?
My second novel ‘Connectedness’ is published on this month. It follows on from ‘Ignoring Gravity’, which tells the story of journalist Rose Haldane who finds out, in her thirties, that she was adopted as a baby. In ‘Connectedness’, Rose is asked by artist Justine Tree to find the daughter she gave away when she was an art student. ‘Connectedness’ was written after we moved to Spain and so there is a big role for Malaga – how could I ignore the birthplace of Pablo Picasso which is on our doorstep. Both books are available at Amazon as ebook and paperback.
As an established writer now, what would 3 top tips for people who are thinking about writing a book (or starting with a blog)
The journalist in me says plan, think it through, be clear what you are trying to do, and write what you enjoy and not what you think other people want. Never try to follow a trend, you will always be too late.
The novelist in me says go with the flow, once you have your idea, start writing and see where it takes you. But there is nothing to replace a strong plotline. You should always know how the book ends, even if you’re not quite sure how you’re going to get there.
Most important of all, write every day. Even if it’s rubbish. I treat writing like a job, I sit at my computer every day, I give myself deadlines. Writing is my life, it is not a hobby.
And your personal thoughts on self-publishing, or finding a publisher?
Self-publishing is hard work. There are two ways of doing it. Publish your book, put it on Amazon, and leave it there. Or, publish your book on Amazon and promote it like hell, pay for email promotions, tweet, blog, network with other writers, but most importantly, write the next book. And the next. The hard fact is that there are millions of books out there and unless you tell people that yours is on Amazon, they are unlikely to find it. Unfortunately these days, even traditionally-published authors are required by their publishers to do the same type of social networking that I do – quotas are set for the number of tweets/blog posts etc that they write. As an indie author, I get a bigger slice of [admittedly smaller] royalties, I decide when my book is finally ready to be published, I choose the cover design and write the promotional copy. I have the power to decide.
Thinking about building an audience – do you think your cooking blog has generated more interest in your books?
I’m not sure about that, that’s not why I started ‘Notes on a Spanish Valley’. I simply wanted to share the simplicity and beauty of our life here. It pre-dates my writing blog, my website followed after that. Recipes were a later addition to the blog, purely because we both love cooking and eating. My book publicity is done via my writing blog at my website but when I published ‘Ignoring Gravity’ I did get a lot of support from my NOASV followers, a radio interview on Hannah Murray’s book show at TRE, and an invitation to speak to the Book Club at Competa. So perhaps I’ll be lucky again with ‘Connectedness’, especially given the Malaga connection.
Recipes for cooking and recipes for book stories – which ones do you love best?
The two Spanish dishes we eat the most at home are Pan con Tomate for breakfast, using our own enormous ugly tomatoes in the summer. My husband likes Mercadona’s Pan Pueblo but I prefer to make Jamie Oliver’s gluten-free seedy bread. And our Spanish version of Pistou which uses a large quantity of tomatoes, courgettes and peppers, all from our veg patch.
What was your Favourite childhood book?
My favourite book would have to be ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome, actually the whole series. I loved the freedom of the children, sailing, camping, exploring. I grew up on a farm by the seaside so the exploring hills and sailing things hit a chord with me. I loved the mapping in ‘Secret Water’ and the adventure with Chinese pirates in ‘Missee Lee’. I have the audio books downloaded on my iPod and still listen to them.
What do you do you relax?
Read. Lay in the sunshine and read. Lay in the sunshine and listen to an audio book. You get the picture? Wherever I am, there is a book on the go.
What would be your top tip for someone new to Spain?
Don’t be afraid to try the language. The Spanish are the most helpful, forgiving people, they won’t worry if you stumble and get your verbs wrong. But they do appreciate you trying. I took weekly conversation classes in the UK before moving here and I worked quite hard at it, but to be honest the complicated grammar has been forgotten. I manage perfectly well speaking in the present tense. I found it helpful to read women’s magazines and picked up quite a bit of vocabulary reading recipes and even advertisements for face cream.
Your one big goal for 2018 is…
Publish ‘Connectedness’ then take a break over the summer before admitting that I’ve done enough research and it really is time to start writing the third book ‘Sweet Joy’.
So how do we find out more about your books and recipes?
Author website: http://www.sandradanby.com/
Spanish blog: https://notesonaspanishvalley.com/
Twitter: @SandraDanby and @Spanish_Valley
Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/2G48RdW
Thank you Sandra! See you on Social Media!