Sarah Driver’s Advice for Budding Authors

Notes from a rookie author’s publishing journey

Hello! I’m Sarah and I’m the author of The Huntress Trilogy. The trilogy is a fantasy-adventure for 8-12s, which takes place in the perilous world of Trianukka, where terrodyls plague the skies and the sea crawls with savage gulpers and merwraiths. It tells the story of thirteen-year-old Mouse, a longbow wielding Sea-Tribe girl who was born and raised aboard the Huntress, a trading galley captained by her one-eyed Grandma.

I first drafted Sea during my MA in creative writing for young people, at Bath Spa University. Whilst I think that the best things you can do to learn to be a writer are to write as much as you can, and read as much as you can, I chose to apply for the MA because I needed to learn a few tough lessons.

Here are some things I learned on my MA:

  • Finish your first draft, whatever it takes! Writing is re-writing, so just keep going through all the ups and downs of that first draft.
  • Know that first drafts are supposed to be the rough sketch of what will be built up into a finished piece over time. That knowledge can help you relax and allow you freedom to explore while drafting.
  • Write the book you want to read. Author Laini Taylor says to imagine the book that would set your blood alight and write that book.
  • Make yourself feel something – ‘no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.’
  • Allow yourself to experiment and play. Free-writing is a great way to warm up, flex your writing muscles, discover voice, get to know characters and get to explore fictional worlds. Without it, I’d never have discovered moonsprites, one of the fantastical creatures in my books.
  • Accept constructive criticism (but don’t let it knock your confidence – choose the writing community that works for you.) Sharing my work changed everything for me.
  • Learn to tell a story for an audience. Think about the needs of your particular audience – I think that helps you make some key decisions in your writing, such as point of view, tense, chapter length.
  • Learn to condense until everything on the page is there to move the story forward.
  • Take note of body language by observing how different people move, their expressions, their mannerisms, how they talk. Everyone is so unique, so there are infinite characters to be discovered.
  • Learn everything you can about structure and plotting, but if you find they kill your creativity, focus on the things that you love, like character and atmosphere and the rhythm of the language – at least to start with, while you’re finding the essence of the story. After all, plot is something that can be ‘designed’ and it can come after a few other things have been settled into.
  • Create a wealth of motivating material around your book, like a playlist of songs that help get you dreaming up your story, or get you fired up to write.
  • Find a place to write that works for you – seek solitude if that’s what you need. Chances are it is, at least for parts of your writing process. Writing might drive you to sail rough North Icelandic seas in oak boats (hey, seasickness is research too!) or see the icicles hanging from the snouts of reindeer, ride under the northern lights, in -32 degrees. I’ve even written at the top of an ancient pyramid in Mexico. Give the writing what it needs, even if you don’t travel far.
  • I’m a writer who likes to research either during or after drafting a story, rather than gathering all the research before writing. I love filling my books with tactile detail. I’ve crammed countless notebooks with scribblings made at exhibitions on Vikings and Celts and other planets. I’ve also taken research trips slightly further afield.

My final piece of advice is not to feel the need to completely nail down ‘your’ process – it can change from project to project. Don’t feel like your process has to match anyone else’s, either – only you can write your books, and only you can really work out how best to go about it.

This is from my experience of falconry (in the ancient woodland of a castle!) which is a very important aspect of the plots of the books as Mouse has her own ‘sea hawk.’


You can grab the first instalment in Sarah Driver’s The Huntress trilogy, Sky, with every purchase of Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust in store at WHSmith.

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