Tangled Weeds and Other Tales — Meet Sarah Key
Welcome back to the fifth installment in my author spotlight series for Mystery Thriller Week which opened today and runs through February 22nd. Today’s guest is the divine Sarah Key.
Sarah lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with her husband two daughters and two mixed-breed dogs, Sprout and Zoe. She loves to travel and workout frequently to stay fit and strong, and she just returned from a 3550 kilometre tour of South Africa – her incredible diverse country. Sarah is former English teacher with a Master’s Degree in Adult Education. She loves teaching her post-graduate students at the University of the Witwatersrand where she interacts with a variety of students, many with incredible stories surrounding sensitive cultural issues, and who, once emboldened, shared their stories with her.
From October 2006 – 2010 Sarah led a national rollout of a UNICEF/Department of Social Development project aimed at establishing a model for Child Care Forums – community-owned, community-driven solutions to reduce the ravages of the HIV and AIDS pandemic in South Africa. In 2011 she began her journey writing fiction with her debut novel, Tangled Weeds, a psychological thriller released in April 2014. The Dandelion Clock, the first book in a trilogy, was published in October 2015 and book two, The Butterfly Wind became available on Amazon on the 4th November 2016. Sarah is currently completing the final book in The Sisters of Light trilogy, The Starlight Tide.
Here is a sampling of her books to date:
When lives collide, and time runs out, will there be a final chance for redemption?
Aden Cassalotti, damaged by childhood trauma, tragedies and disappointments, is financially and emotionally insolvent and finds solace in a crack pipe. Volatile Noel Schuurman, Aden’s lifelong friend and business partner, feels neglected living out of town running their marijuana and magic mushroom operation. The brooding recluse has killed before and, with escalating pressures, not even his mother and sister are safe on their isolated plot. Aden takes a job with a ruthless criminal enterprise in an urban slum where dope and flesh are pedalled. He encounters Mandipa Ndlovu, who is being held with other sex slaves waiting to be sent to work. Kgotso Shelile and his cousin, Senatla, search for Mandipa, Kgotso’s abducted girlfriend. In the underbelly of Johannesburg, they encounter Aden. Having grown up together, the men share an immediate bond. When fate throws the three together in a Hillbrow strip club, the potential for peril is fraught with danger. Key’s debut psychological thriller is sure to get your pulse racing.
Silent Helene Van den Bergh has wandered the city since her release from a psychiatric hospital fifteen years earlier. Horrified when her friend is murdered, she knows the bullet was meant for her ‒ but why? On Devil’s Peak on the spring equinox, Helene waits for the moon to rise. She is unaware that two killers stalk her, The Dark Man, and Etienne Craig, the Diabolical Creation, a depraved lunatic whose lust for violence has reached its zenith. But something infinitely more evil tracks the hunters on the charred mountainside. Its depravity knows no bounds and its form cannot be predicted. Evil men set on slaughter may themselves become its prey. Will the Sisters of Light, Honey Esack, a psychic nursing student, Flash Peterson, a music student and rock singer and Petra Montgomery, a rich anorexic, be able to deal with their personal issues and pull in enough favours to help save homeless woman Helene? In a desperate scramble against the clock. can they conquer the darkness in time to save their friend? In this gripping psychological thriller, Sarah Key, author of Tangled Weeds, weaves the supernatural with crime to stunning effect.
Time is running out for the hunchback enchantress, Siango. The village on the floodplain is in conflict and the failing chief needs her dark craft. Crazed poacher, Ikului, hunts elephants for their wisdom sticks. He offloads his cache in Lusaka where he procures unique ingredients needed for Siango’s potions. But he has more than ivory to trade. A vicious attack on a game ranger brings life-long friends back to Chistlehurst Manor in Lusaka, the hotbed of secrets and crushing betrayals. Flash Peterson worries about her brother, Derrick, as the priest’s son has strayed from the righteous path. Caught up in a trans-national smuggling ring, Derrick crosses southern Africa on a soul-altering journey. His cousin, Honey Esack, uses her psychic ability to locate him. From Cape Town, to the Victoria Falls, Lusaka and Western Zambia, disparate characters’ fates are perilously entwined. In a storm, on a bridge spanning the mighty Zambezi, can the Sisters of Light once again conquer darkness? Can forgiveness be won in a pulse-racing faceoff with evil? Sarah Key again enthralls readers in this sequel to The Dandelion Clock, about the Sisters of Light and the mysteries and magic of Africa.
Go Sarah! Looks like you’ve been busy! She took the time to answer a few questions so let’s see what else Sarah’s been up to.
What’s your writing background and backdrop?
I began my professional life as an English teacher but soon moved into adult education as I did not enjoy disciplining teenagers and trying to convince them of the worth of Shakespeare! After completing a Master’s degree, I lectured post-graduate students at the University of the Witwatersrand, taught at a technical college and worked in community and psycho-social development throughout South Africa. Our country has a complex past and we face various problems such as HIV and AIDS, poverty, patriarchal systems (including polygamy) and xenophobia. In 2011, I embarked on writing my first novel and drew heavily on what I had learned in my working life and from interpersonal relationships.
Those are difficult issues and I commend you for tackling some of it through your writing. What you will tell the world when you become super famous?
Writing, like most jobs, is hard work. There are days when your work fills you with pride and delight and times when you face a crisis of faith in your ability. Dogged determination and passion are beneficial attributes for a writer. Writing has become part of my daily life. I am disciplined and release my creativity and complete my projects in order to gain a feeling of accomplishment. Weaving stories through the eyes of my vastly varied characters fulfils me.
What are your favourite books?
Ones that have good story lines usually involving a mystery or crime but that also have a lyrical component and use original figurative language. For a while I read a glut of Scandinavian crime writers and enjoyed the otherworldliness of their settings – snow and endless cups of coffee are foreign to this South African. Stieg Larson’s trilogy was remarkable. I have read so many great books and a few that come to mind are Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Wally Lambs’ I Know This Much is True and I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.
I Know This Much is True happens to be one of my favorite books of all time. So, do you see the need for all these sub-genres or do you think we’ve become over-specialized in our categorization of writing?
Emerging sub-genres interest me. A few days ago I googled ‘Steampunk’ to find out more about this style. I have come to realise how genre-driven reading currently is and how large followings are in the various categories. I try not to box my novels – they are gritty psychological thrillers and involve the supernatural in that they draw on myth and African magic. My books focus on multicultural aspects of local life and the aberrant human mind so putting them in one category is difficult.
I agree, and I also didn’t know what Steampunk was! Why do you write instead of ceramics, art or most anything else, and if not writing, what?
I really enjoy cooking. My mother is a trained cook and I grew up in a household where food was a central part of life and celebrations. I find cooking therapeutic and creative. Hold off on the ceramics and art though! I have no talent and don’t enjoy doing things I am not good at. As we only got television when I was 12, I was a child of the radio. I listened to stories and come from a rich literary background. Writing fiction seemed to be a natural progression in my life. At the moment, I need to write.
From where do your ideas come?
I have always been creative and always have an abundance of ideas. Concepts for my books such as the setting, a rough idea of a dramatic climax and resolution, and sets of disparate characters take root in my head. These are sometimes based on people I have known or a scrap of family history that allows poetic licence. Ideas are permanently brewing in my mind as I go about my daily life. I don’t write notes; I hardly ever forget an idea that comes to me. Unfortunately I don’t dream about my developing novels like some authors I know do.
Pantser or perfectionist who meticulously plots out their stories?
Perfectionist I wish! I’m not quite a pantser either. As my plots unfold, my characters are affected in their own way and make decisions and take action particular to their personalities and circumstances. I would love to meticulously plot a novel from start to finish but this, so far, has been impossible as I can only predict my character’s paths as they evolve or devolve, as the case may be.
Do you have a day job and what is your writing routine?
I don’t have a day job at the moment but do have family responsibilities. I try to write everyday but recently I switched my focus to include marketing my books which I have neglected over the past years. This year I plan to alter my routine somewhat to include a couple of hours marketing daily. I have the final book in my Sisters of Light trilogy to complete as early as possible this year. I have left my antagonist gasping her last in a walk-in freezer for more than a month due to the busy holiday season! Sometimes life gets in the way of art but a routine is a good way of ensuring this doesn’t happen.
Love the visual of that! Where is your favourite place to walk?
In a big bustling city like London or New York.
Do you think writing is a form of therapy and, if so, has it helped you work through anything in particular?
Writing is definitely therapeutic for me. It is a space of my own, a place to create and make sense of a world I control. An author I know put is well when he said, ‘I write to remember, I read to forget.’ Creating and escaping through stories gives me extreme pleasure (and at times intense pain!) My first novel, Tangled Weeds, was cathartic and allowed me to come to terms with life experiences such as a friend’s crack cocaine addiction, political instability in southern Africa and vastly different cultural practices.
Do you think writing can save the world and if so, why?
I create works for readers to engage with and internalise these stories hoping that this will shift people’s perceptions and make them more tolerant and inclusive. My books employ a partly ethnographic approach that aims to break down social taboos. Fast-paced crime-thrillers become a vehicle to make pertinent social issues palatable by wrapping them in the guise of fiction in the hope that sharing these experiences will promote understanding of my society, one that is still enmeshed in traditional culture and ethnic practices. I believe that stories that evoke emotions have a potent power to unite, heal and inspire.
Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for taking the time to virtual chat, Sarah and best of luck with your writing!