Interview with an author: Sara Mendes da Costa

You might not recognise Sara’s name, but if she spoke you’d definitely know her voice. Sara is the voice of the Speaking Clock, and is the fourth person to hold this title since its inception in 1936. She’s also a successful, world-renowned voiceover artist, her dulcet tones are easily recognisable on television, radio, film and across countless media.

I caught up with her to chat about putting her voice to paper, and about difficult decisions in life.

When did you start writing? Life long passion or hobby you got into recently?

I wrote when I was at school. I loved writing stories and had a good imagination. It was something my teachers always encouraged. I wrote poetry too, just rhyming stuff but fun to do. As I grew up though, I changed schools a good few times and kind of lost the impetus. Growing up, it’s important to fit in and that took my focus. New schools, new kids, new friends…new challenges! As a kid, particularly as a teenager, you want to have fun (which certainly took precedence with me!) But the writing was always there and as I grew up and started work, I wrote a bit here and there; a bit of poetry, some adverts when I was in advertising and descriptions in marketing catalogues – sales stuff really.

However, when I went travelling in my early thirties, I really felt the urge to write something that came from my own ideas. I kept getting dialogue in my mind, back and forth, back and forth. I’d taken a journal with me but I couldn’t physically write the words down fast enough! I made some notes and when I came home after about five months, I started to write a bit – just comical, fun stuff. I didn’t have a definite plan really. Things did form, just nothing I stuck with.

One night I caught myself sitting on my sofa clutching my knees and rocking back and forward feeling so trapped. I knew then, at that very moment, that things had to change and I was the only one who could make that happen.

So I let my mind wander through the things I loved – and stuff I thought I might love if I tried it. Two particular things came up for me: voiceover work and writing.

From there I had some life coaching to help cement the thoughts into proper ideas with plans. My coach said I came alive when I talked about being an author – she wasn’t wrong. I wound the company down and began my new life.

I put everything I had into getting into the voiceover world as a means to support my writing. I wrote and I wrote in practically every spare moment I had. I went to Estepona in Spain, first for a week then for five weeks and I gradually developed my writing skills and my story. Peanuts & Eggcups grew organically as I did.

Writing is a passion. One I can absorb myself in for hours and, unlike other key areas in my life, I can literally lose track of time.

Everyone has the moment of inspiration, when did the inspiration for Peanuts and Eggcups come to you?

It’s funny but I think the inspiration for me was simply to write as opposed to writing this particular book. Peanuts & Eggcups grew organically from that desire. I just used to sit at the laptop and see what came out. It may have been a word or a sentence or a bit of dialogue and then I’d expand on it.

At the start, I did have an idea to write about a girl who had voices in her head; not in the slightly crazy way but in a way that we all have different parts of us pulling and pushing us. Maybe a ‘voice of reason’, a ‘go for it’ voice, a ‘be careful’ voice, a loving voice a disruptive voice…different ways of thinking about things and perceiving them – and ultimately leading to our decisions.

I started to write a quirky, funny novel about three characters who each had times where they won over the arguments from within the girl’s head. I would get into the flow and the characters didn’t feature. I realised then they weren’t needed anymore. As I was integrating the different facets into my life, and becoming more centred and grounded into my life, the characters were integrating too and didn’t need separate expression any longer.

Maggie, my protagonist, was my main focus and I wrote her story. It was organic, and it was only part way through I had to stop and plot things out properly – but even my plot changed as time went on. The book grew as I grew and I learned how to write by simply doing it. It’s been an incredible and extremely rewarding process.

The cover of Peanuts and Eggcups

The cover of Peanuts and Eggcups

It’s such a quirky title, how did you come up with it?

It came out of the blue; quite suddenly. I was in that wonderful unconscious writing flow where the subconscious takes over from the conscious mind and stuff just pours out. I thought of adding a game to my story – quite an incidental game about aiming peanuts into containers, one of which was an eggcup. It sounds odd as I write it, but it fit really well with the backstory of Maggie and her friends when they remembered being teenagers.

I had to think of a name for the game and the one that immediately sprung to mind was Peanuts & Eggcups. In a lightbulb moment in the early hours of the morning, I realised what a wonderful analogy Peanuts & Eggcups was for the bigger focus of the book – Maggie’s delicious rollercoaster journey to love. The name of the game became the name of the novel.

How would you describe Peanuts and Eggcups in five words?

That’s tricky. I’m used to writing oodles of words.

Funny, bittersweet, touching, insightful, engaging

There’s a central theme of friendship in this book, how important do you think it is to balance friendship with romantic relationships? How do you yourself do this?

I do think it’s important and I feel that the right friends and the right partner will accept and welcome the other parts of your life. If it’s difficult, it’s wise to do some dissecting, learning, and changing.

Sara Mendes da Costa, author of Peanuts and Eggcups

Sara Mendes da Costa, author of Peanuts and Eggcups

I guess the first relationship to master is the one with yourself. If you can balance and understand that, you’re pretty much there. From that point of wisdom, you choose the right friends and the right partners. If you’re happy with yourself, you’ll likely attract ones who like each other and are happy for you to spend the right amount of time with each.

I don’t feel friends or partners should be demanding time – or anything – from you (and vice-versa); they should/will love you no matter what, and understand when a lover or a friend needs a little more from you or you need to spend more time with them.

I guess I’ve managed this by seeking to develop myself over the years, to learn who I am, what’s important to me and what makes me happy. I used to try and please everyone but it was exhausting! The friends and lovers who weren’t so good for me dropped away or moved aside – I still care for them but don’t spend my time with them anymore; and the people I am closest to, fit beautifully into my life and our relationships are easy.

Have you ever found yourself torn between two decisions, like Maggie in the book? What happened?

‘Going or staying’ has been a theme for me. Endings are tough and I’ve been guilty of thinking about them for far too long and trying to make things right so I felt safe rather than break free and be happy again.

Staying in a long term relationship through fear of the unknown is pretty common. I’ve always ended up going – and I’ve always ended up feeling happier and more fulfilled as a result.

I need to feel free, and being in a relationship which feels like a trap is not good.

What’s the one big tip you have for someone considering writing their own novel?

If the idea fills you with joy, go for it. It’ll be worth it in the end – as your writing grows, so will you.

We’re all different, some things will work for some and others for others but go with the flow.

Find your flow. Some will feel the need to plot everything out before they even hit the keys or pick up the pen and that’s all good…but at some point you’ve gotta start writing. When the writing is successful, you’re in the zone.

The zone is this wonderful hypnotic unconscious state of writing we authors dream of. Where stuff we didn’t even know about comes flooding out onto the page, the screen. The place allowing the mind to step to one side, just popping in occasionally to make sure we’re on track, and allows you to just get on with it.

So plan away, do your research, whatever you need to do to get ready…but know this, at some point you’re gonna have to go for it and get some words out. Don’t worry about your first draft. You’ll hone and perfect it,so just go for it. Writers block is a conscious mind thing; it’s where we’re trying hard to think about where to go, to force things.

Peanuts and Eggcups is released on June 28.

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