A Place for The Night Sky ~ The View from the Keyboard of Sarah Hammond

Sarah Hammond is a hot new YA and children’s author who lives in the UK and studied in Bath Spa University‘s impressive and very successful MA in Writing for Young People. On my last trip to England, I wanted to buy a few copies of Sarah’s brand new debut novel, The Night Sky in my Head, and so I stopped in at Waterstones. Sold out. I walked around the corner to Mr. B’s Book Emporium where they told me they had just sold three copies that morning, and only had one left. Success! Occasionally compared to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, this book will be enjoyed by not just the young adult audience it was originally intended for, but by readers of all ages. (You may have noticed Night Sky on the table of our last View contributor, Shawn Shiflett.) 

Beyond being just a fine, fine writer, Sarah is an active supporter of writing and reading for young people. She is a regular visitor to schools, and supported a young person’s writing contest to coincide with the launch of her new book. We need writers like this, don’t you think–the kind who give back to the community and encourage a love of reading and writing in us all?

Let’s take a peek, then, into Sarah Hammond‘s writing space.

Sarah: Here is a picture of my desk, my writing space. Well, to be utterly truthful, this is a slightly misleading statement. It’s one of my writing spaces and perhaps not even the most important of them either. Of course, my computer is here and I have tapped out lots of words and stories on the keyboard at my desk. However, I find that different stages of the writing process require different spaces. Does that sound strange?

When I first hatch a story idea, I am on the move, not sitting at a desk at all. I’m just observing life and responding to things and people around me. Story ideas grow from life, it seems.

Even when I’m ready to put something on the page, I still don’t head for my desk. For a long time I had a serious office job and this has left me with an unhealthy reaction to sitting in a formal office: it makes me too left-brain analytical. When I try to capture the essence of a new character or story at a desk, I sort of seize up or edit myself so harshly that I can’t write. So the second phase of writing, for me, is to sit somewhere comfortably, looking out the window perhaps, half-daydreaming to encourage the story to come out. My place of preference (much to my chiropractor’s horror – I have a bad back) is sitting on my bed, computer or notebook on my lap. In all honesty, this is my favourite writing space.

Once I’m a little more certain of my story, the process moves to my study as shown in this photo.

This is where I wrote a lot of my debut teen novel, The Night Sky in my Head, which was published by Oxford University Press in July 2012. To find out more about my writing, why not visit my website (www.sarahhammond.co.uk) or ‘Like’ my Facebook page for my news and events ( www.facebook.com/SarahHammondAuthorPage).

Anyhow, here’s a little taster of my writing from the desk in this picture in the meantime…


Extract from Chapter One, The Night Sky in my Head

Timmer and me have been locked out again and I’ve forgotten my key, so we’re going to spend the night in the shed. I bet Mum thinks I’m already in bed but I’m not – we went for an extra-long walk today because Timmer is four today. He wags his tail. He likes it in the shed better than in the house. I do too. It’s quiet and safe in there. I don’t have to listen to lots of noises jab jab jabbing in my head.

The moon is a bright white eye in the sky tonight. It makes the night-garden different to the day-garden. There is scuffling in the shadows. Things are hiding in the dark. The leaves on the apple tree are silver and they whisper secrets to each other when the wind blow. I shiver, even though it’s warm, because I know about secret things.

Timmer barks once and walks down the garden, wagging his tail. He wants to go to the shed but I have to check on Mum first.

The windows are like silent TVs in the dark. I stand and watch. I can see Mum at the kitchen table. There’s make-up down her face so she’s got long black tears down her cheeks. She’s drinking beer out of a bottle. She’s got the photos out again and she’s wobbling. I hate it when she’s like this.

I take a step closer and put my hands on the glass.


(Sarah’s top tip: the Book Depository – www.bookdepository.com – offers free shipping worldwide if those outside the UK would like to read more of the story.)

→Thanks so much, Sarah, for taking the time to give us this little tour. So looking forward to reading more from you. Oh, and for those of you who want to support Mr. B’s in Bath, you can also order Sarah’s book from them. As always, thanks for reading! -PMc←

What I’m Seeing In The Mind ~ A View From the Keyboard of Shawn Shiflett

Back when I started taking writing classes in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago, Shawn Shiflett was one of my first teachers. To this day I think of things he taught me, perhaps the most important thing of all: “Just tell it.” Shawn is one of those writers who works incredibly hard at trying to get the prose to look effortless. His eye for the simple yet pertinent detail, the metaphors in the shadows, his ear for the way folks really talk, and his willingness to “just tell it” so that his audience can’t escape the truths behind his fiction all make for a bold and vibrant read. Shawn’s first novel, Hidden Place, (Akashic Books) is funny and heart-twisting. The novel-in-progress, some of which he shares with us today, promises an equally (if not even more so) complexly emotional and satisfying experience. Watch for it.

Shawn: When Patty asked me for a picture of my workspace, my first impulse was to clean up the clutter at the end of my kitchen/dining room table. Then I thought, No, don’t change a thing; just snap the pic. Notice that the half-full coffee mug (balanced precariously on top of my rough draft manuscript pages, and also on the edge of my datebook hidden underneath those same pages) is trying to decide whether it should: 1) spill all over my writing and crash to the floor; 2) spill on my computer keyboard so that I’m forced to go out and buy the Macbook Air that I’ve been dying to purchase, but can’t presently afford; or 3) behave like a good little coffee mug until I can get back to sipping from it and working on my novel-in-progress, Hey Liberal! Note the straw in the mug. People are constantly making fun of me for drinking coffee out of a straw, but in my defense, it’s a glass straw (purchased on www.pristineplanet.com) in the photo and therefore kind of cool among us straw aficionados.  But enough about all things coffee and straw related. I write at the end of my kitchen/dining room table—a turn-of-the-century antique that (and I’m proud of this) I refinished myself. I haven’t had a home office for almost thirteen years or, more precisely, since the birth of my son Cole. As with many of us who have kids, I can pretty much write anywhere now, but I’m so grateful that I have this apartment with its tall ceilings and over abundance of sunlight. My fantastically airy workspace aside, what’s most important to me while I’m writing is what I’m seeing in the mind rather than the physical area around me. For example, I wrote some of my favorite chapters in Hidden Place (Akashic Books) in a danker-than-dank basement.

Back to the photo. In front of my printer is a copy of Sarah Hammond’s young adult novel The Night Sky in My Head, and though you can’t see Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage right on the other side of my open computer screen (thankfully, it’s also on the safe side of the tilted coffee mug), trust me when I say that her short story collection is there.

Below are two pages from Hey Liberal!, a semi-autobiographical novel about a white boy going to a predominately African American high school in Chicago soon after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. An extended excerpt from Hey, Liberal! is forthcoming in the next issue of F Magazine.

DÉTENTE (an excerpt from Hey, Liberal!)

The desk phone rang in Adam’s Body Politic office.

“Community Arts.”



“I got your boy here at Grant Hospital. He stuck his nose a little too close to a Cobra Stone’s switchblade.”

What?” Adam tipped forward in his swivel chair. “Who is this?“

“The man who looks out for your punk-ass son, that’s who.”

“Officer Clark?”

“Yeah, listen up. He needs a couple of stitches. And by the way, a friend of his committed suicide. Besides that, Simon’s just fine.”

“What are you talking . . . Suicide? Is this some kind of—”

“Do you hear me laughing, Reverend? Kid by the name of Louis Collins. Blew his brains out right in front of Simon. Nice, huh?”

In the speechless moment that followed, Adam felt the blood drain from his face. A hard drizzling rain outside of his Body Politic office windows was falling in a straight sheet, and with the room shrouded in shadows, he’d had to turn on his desk lamp, giving him the look of a man adrift on his cluttered raft. A blue ink stain from a fountain pen on the desk’s blotter pad suddenly caught his attention, as if its small irregular shape, like that of a lake on a map missing all other topography, was in some way puzzling to him.

“You still there, Reverend.”

“. . . I’m here.”

“Principal Jursak didn’t call you already? Wouldn’t take it personally. He’s stretched kinda thin lately — a suicide, race riot, the arrest of your pain-in-the-ass-biology-teacher buddy.”

The bad news just kept getting worse, and Adam thought, John arrested? What the hell? Then, realizing that even if Donald Jursak had tried to reach someone at home, Helen would have most likely been in the basement working on one of her short stories and out of earshot of the phone’s ringer. Adam’s shock would have to wait along with the further details, and he leapt to his feet.

“Be there in five minutes.”


→Shawn Shiflett, thanks for letting us in. Looking forward to seeing more of this novel-in-progress. And as always, thanks for reading. -PMc←