Sarah Tagholm has a very unusual head. If she doesn’t do creative things it falls off, so it’s really incredibly fortunate she never had a job in data entry.
Mischievous children, nature, and all things bizarre are the inspiration behind her stories, which tend to be odd, ridiculous or, more often than not, both.
Sarah lives in Cornwall with her family, two cats and a fourteen year-old albino toad called Cuckoo (in real life).
If not reading or writing, she can usually be found in, or on or under the sea.
Sarah Tagholm’s first book – the scary, funny and utterly memorable But Wolves, in Helicopters! – is out with Andersen Press in September 2022.
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
When our son was very small he started having terrible nightmares, he couldn’t speak about them and was tight lipped on what they were about. One night he had called out for me and I was curled up in bed next to him, in his state between sleep and wake he just uttered one word – wolves. Wolves In Helicopters is my take on his nightmares and our experience together trying to conquer them
What came first the characters or the world?
For this book they came simultaneously, when the line “Hop shivers in a dark wood. One hundred hungry eyed wolves watch her through twisted trees,” appeared on my blank page.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
I had written for years and been rejected a gazillion times. Joining a picture book writing course helped me better understand structure – and that changed everything.
How long did it take to write?
To write probably a morning, a dark and moody morning! To edit – on and off for a year.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
Sadly, I can’t listen to anything when I write, I’d just tune into the music and not the writing – I need a completely quiet house – I’m easily distracted.
How many publishers turned you down?
Wolves in Helicopters was offered first to Andersen and the brilliant and brave Sue Buswell took it on straight away, but as I mentioned, I wrote tons before Wolves and they were all rejected, and some since too!
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
I think it’s probably a bit of a marmite book – one for children and families who like the weird, who like the old fairy tales and a touch of dark humour. It was described by an editor being ‘like Hitchcock wrote a picture book,” so that was a high for me.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
It’s not published yet, but an editor at Bloomsbury who took on a couple of my texts said it was like, “Darwin meets Dahl,” so that was a great honour for me, I’m a huge fan of both – our son is named Darwin.
What can you tell us about your next book?
Sam Francisco, King Of The Disco is about cats sneaking out at night to rave and a man called Buzzkill Bill trying to thwart them. It’s a rhyming picture book with a danceable rhythm and super-lively illustrations by Binny Talib. It publishes in June 2023 with RocketBird Books, the new picture book arm of Barrington Stoke. I’m so excited about it, it’s going to be the best fun to promote.
Do you take notice of online reviews?
My debut has only just published so I haven’t read any bad ones…. yet. I think it would be hard not to take them to heart.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
I’ve written an early readers book and a middle grade but they haven’t gone out on submission yet. I’m a huge fan of the weird I’d love to try something akin to Andrew Michael Hurley’s writing but not sure I have the skill or patience!
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I worked in TV and film and in conservation and the charity sector. I’ve always bagged jobs that are either great fun or for a good cause. I work part time for international disaster aid charity ShelterBox and have been there eight years now.
Which author(s) inspire you?
Oh wow what a question SO many… Tove Jannson, Susan Cooper, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Charlotte Bronte, NK Jemisin, John Burningham, Roald Dahl of course Tolkien. Probably most of all Susan Cooper – The Dark Is Rising series blew me away as a child, I frequently re-read them, I think that’s why I fell in love with Cornwall where we now live.
Which genres do you read yourself?
Fantasy, folklore, mythology, mid century horror – those sort of stories open portholes in my head and those portholes are where the ideas for my own stories come from. I LOVE all things bizzarro.
What is your biggest motivator?
Well firstly I just love writing and making up ridiculous stories and secondly I love children’s illustration and design so seeing what an illustrator makes of my text is so exciting.
What will always distract you?
Chocolate or a lack of chocolate. A still day at high tide – I’ll want to swim or kayak. Three to seven foot waves – I’ll want to bellyboard. A wild windy day I’ll want to walk along the coastal path with the wind whipping my face – it’s a wonder I ever write at all.
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
Well I’ve only seen two and I’ve fallen in love with both instantly but both publishers have been incredibly collaborative with me about the illustrations so I like to think I would have some say had I wanted it.
Were you a big reader as a child?
An avid reader, we didn’t have a lot of money growing up so I had my mum’s old Enid Blyton’s which instilled a love of adventure, but when I found the library and the fantasy genre – that changed everything for me – HOORAY FOR LIBRARIES, LONG LIVE THE BIBLIOTHEQUE!
What were your favourite childhood books?
Without a doubt it was The Princess And The Goblins and The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe,
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
We are lucky to have lots of independent bookshops in Cornwall I love the Falmouth Bookseller, Stories By The Sea in St Ives and End Of The World Books in Penzance. Waterstones Truro is my local – I love the staff there, they know exactly what I love to read and have recommended some brilliant reads.
What books can you not resist buying?
I love vintage kids books, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s illustrations make my eyeballs so happy.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
I sit on the floor in my lounge at a table that used to belong to British Film director Mike Leigh, he used to keep the actors notes in it’s little drawer, I feel there’s huge energy and creativity in the wood – I’d be devastated to lose it.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
In actual physical life 14, but that’s just the pile by my bed…
What is your current or latest read?
Leo Carew’s The Wolf, I am really enjoying it, can’t believe he just pinged that one off whilst training to be a doctor – its so disgusting when people are multi talented!
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
I’m forever waiting for Patrick Rothfuss to write the third book in The Name Of The Wind series, though no idea when that might be.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
I’m working on a dark story inspired in part by the work I do at ShelterBox for displaced people.
Any events in the near future?
I hope so!
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
I suppose picture books isn’t actually a genre but I’ll go with that… I think I write picture books because I so loved, with all my heart, reading them with my son.