ON WRITING: S.D. WASLEY

Sasha Wasley was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia. She has completed a PhD in cultural theory and loves nature, Jane Austen and puns. Sasha is a farming wannabe, with a passion for animals and the land. Although she’s in her forties now, she still wants a pony. Her debut novel, a young adult paranormal, was published in 2014. Today, she lives and writes in the Swan Valley wine region with her partner and two daughters, surrounded by dogs, cats and chickens. Sasha writes mystery, paranormal and young adult novels as S.D. Wasley

Monique: Your novel Dear Banjo has just been released. For those who haven’t been fortunate enough to read it yet, give us a little insight into what people can expect.

S.D: Dear Banjo is a story of broken promises and broken hearts – and how to mend them.

Willow and Tom were best friends, raised on neighbouring cattle stations in the Kimberley. They shared the dream to turn their families’ stations into organic beef operations using sustainable farming methods. But things got tough in their last couple of years of high school. Willow’s mother died of breast cancer, leaving her devastated and hurting. Then Tom wanted to change things between them … something Willow couldn’t face after such upheaval in her world. They fought, and she rushed off to university in the city, while Tom stayed behind.

The story takes place during Willow’s return to the farm 10 years later, and centres on how they heal what went wrong between them all that time ago. There are some letters Tom wrote that Willow could never find the courage to read (hence the title, Dear Banjo), and Willow now needs to face her role in their broken friendship, and find her way back to Tom.

Dear Banjo,

Happy New Year. I guess you’re settled in at the student hall by now. You sure went early. The other kids who got in aren’t leaving until February. I don’t know where you’re staying so I asked Beth to send this on to you. You might have heard I’m probably not going to take up my offer of a place at uni. I’m thinking I’ll defer my course – for now, anyway. Dad’s not fazed. He won’t have to hire extra help this way, not to mention the savings on the tuition fees. Mum’s not overly happy but I keep telling her it’s only for the year. She asks a lot of questions. Not really sure what else to say to you, Banjo. It’s weird without you. Whenever I’m on the quad I turn towards Patersons before I remember you’re not there any more. I keep thinking I’ll see you at the eastern gate, sitting on Rusty, ready for a fenceline race. You knew I’d always beat you but you’d have a go anyway. So, yep. Really weird. You’ve always just been there. I guess it doesn’t quite compute yet. Take care of yourself in the big city, okay?

Tom

P.S. We should probably try to sort this mess out.

Monique: Apart from being a beautiful love story, the book explores Willow’s desire to make a difference with her farming practices, eg obtaining organic certification. What inspired you to explore those issues?

S.D: Willow simply arrived in my head that way, and the idea took hold. I like the thought that sustainable farming methods will become a topic for wider discussion, because the issue of food production and how we feed our population is becoming more critical every day. So, without making it the central theme or plot, I wanted the sustainability question as a backdrop to the love story, just as it hovers as the backdrop of real life – and is coming more and more quickly to the fore.

Monique: You’ve captured station life really well. Are you sure you didn’t grow up on a farm?

S.D: Ha-ha! This made me chuckle. I’m pretty sure, but I’ll check with my mum!

Seriously, I did not. But I have farming in my blood, with family properties formerly in York, Norseman and Busselton, as well as an ancestral history in the Barossa region of South Australia (the town of Wasleys was named for a forebear!). I was pretty obsessed with farms and farming from the time I was a kid. My favourite shows were A Country Practice, The Flying Doctors, and All Creatures Great and Small. I always imagined myself becoming a vet with a hobby farm. I learned to ride horses as a teenager and often stayed with my Nanna, who had a semi-rural property where she bred dogs and had neighbours with livestock (which I visited frequently!). I now live on a little patch of land with a chicken yard – so of course, I consider myself a farmer. (LOL)

Monique: You clearly had to do a lot of research to write about station life, and about coping with grief, but how about when it came to vegetarian-vegan food? Did you try a soy cheese pizza?

S.D: I was a vegetarian for several of my teen years (for the same reasons as Willow) and holy hell, the soy cheese was exactly as I’ve described it in the book. Like potter’s clay in consistency and pretty much cheese-like in every way except colour, texture, taste and odour (i.e. not at all). It was pizza that was my undoing as a vegetarian, in the end.

My business as a copywriter saw me writing websites, presentations and marketing materials for a vast range of industries, including a vegan cooking school and a nutritional educator, so I learned a lot about vegan and vegetarian food through that work.

Monique: Willow has a number of challenges to deal with at the station, but the biggest one of all is her relationship with Tom. Were there times you wanted to give her a shake?

S.D: I have a lot of sympathy for Willow. My mum lost her mother too young and I know how deeply it affected her. I hope readers understand why she’s so blocked and frightened of vulnerability. But yes, I can see why they might want to give her a shake, too! The good news is, she comes to her senses in the end!

Monique: Who is your favourite character in Dear Banjo?

S.D: Tom! Ah, Tom. The most loyal man who ever lived. And Willow. She’s so driven!

But I also love Free, Willow’s younger sister. She has no filter and makes me smile.

Monique: Which character are you most like?

S.D: It’s probably Willow. Obsessed with animals, competitive, occasionally frustrating, and a bit of a kid at heart. But I’m also like the maligned Samantha – a tad inappropriate at times!

Monique: You’ve said this will be a trilogy. Will the next two books feature Willow’s sisters, Beth and Free?

S.D: You got it in one! Book 2 will focus on Free, the youngest Paterson daughter. Book 3 is Beth’s story. They are all standalone stories but all three women and their father feature in all the books.

Monique: Aside from Dear Banjo, you’ve also published a number of novels in other genres. What have you learnt from the different publishing experiences you’ve had?

S.D: A lot! I’m still in my author babyhood. I’ve only been published (my novels, anyway) for two years. It’s wildly different being published by small digital publishers, self-publishing, and then getting a book deal with one of the big five. For me, my experience with Penguin has been the best of all. The one key thing I have learnt is that to be a successful author you also (generally) need to be an energetic marketer. It’s tough because authors are commonly introverts, but it becomes easier as time goes on. I’d recommend to new authors that they start thinking about their author brand and developing a positive online presence without being too salesy.

Monique: What are some of the challenges writers face today?

S.D: Market saturation is mind-boggling. The rise of Amazon and other self-publishing platforms has meant there is a huge amount of work out there and it’s easy to get lost in the noise. It can be quite difficult to sell books with that much competition. Additionally, books are more ephemeral. Books come and go so quickly that it takes a huge amount of buzz for one book to stay on shelves and in readers’ minds for more than a few weeks.

Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing? What happens when you get stuck?

S.D: I try to carry on. No point worrying. Normally the issue sorts itself out.

If I get really stuck, I stop and write some notes – a plot timeline, a chapter outline, a character arc. I also have conversations with my family (especially my partner) about the story because a good chat often helps me work out where the problem is. I’ve solved many a writing dilemma with the help of my trusty man!

Monique: What’s your typical writing day like?

S.D: I often write at night, actually. I tend to spend the day faffing about with edits, emails, marketing jobs, and doing my part-time job. My real writing seems to happen in the downtime after the evening’s domestic duties are done. Then I will either sit at my desk, or in bed with my laptop and a glass of wine, and hammer out some words. When I need a pause, I might mess around on my phone or Google a few things for research purposes. I can usually get a few thousand words done, if I’m on a roll.

Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?

S.D: That we’re well-paid! The money is unsteady and not at all substantial. It takes a lot of years and books for the average author to reach the point where they can give up their day job.

Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?

S.D: Overuse of adjectives and adverbs. I usually have to go back and show more of the emotional undercurrent through action and dialogue, and cut out simplistic ‘telling’ sentences.

Monique: Which “must-read” book have you not yet read?

S.D: So many! I have Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird on my shelf and must admit I’ve not yet read it. But a lot of people seem to think we “must read” Fifty Shades of Gray, and I haven’t read that, either. 😉

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