For my very first Author Q&A we are meeting Sarah Neofield. This week Sarah is celebrating the release of her new book, Number Eight Crispy Chicken, but first lets introduce her properly with a bio.
Sarah Neofield grew up in regional South Australia before living in Japan for a year. Always fascinated by language, she completed a PhD in applied linguistics in 2010. She has written extensively on the topics of intercultural communication, how we communicate online, and language learning.
At the age of 30, Sarah resigned from her position as a university lecturer to travel, and since has visited over 60 countries. She blogs about the connection between language, money, and social justice at enrichmentality.com, and about reading, writing, and creativity at sarahneofield.com
Getting to Know You
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I wanted to be an author ever since I can remember. When I started school, my class was tasked with creating fabric representations of ourselves in the future for a quilt. I created a rather detailed rendition of myself as an author, painstakingly drawing in all of the individual pages in the stack of books my future self had apparently written. Unfortunately, one of the mums helping the class deemed it ‘too fiddly’ to cut out of cotton, and suggested something easier, like a checkout operator at Target instead.
As things go, I didn’t end up working at Target (which is probably a good thing, considering the only Target in my hometown closed down!). But I did end up writing a book. Several, actually. After completing my PhD in Linguistics, I wrote and edited a number of academic books, book chapters, and journal articles. While I still love research, my heart still lie with fiction, which was why, after a number of years of hard-core saving and investing, when my husband and I finally quit our jobs to travel the world, I returned to my first love, creative writing.
As for why I became an indie author specifically… Like many authors, I began by sending my manuscript out to publishers. I knew I didn’t want to send my work to a large publisher, but I became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of even a small publisher having control over my work as time went on. While I completely respect the work of those in the publishing industry, I wanted to write something a bit different. It was a feeling I’d experienced before, and I knew that I had to be brave and go down the indie path.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
Since quitting my job teaching and researching linguistics and computer-mediated communication a few years ago, I’ve been traveling the world with my husband, volunteering, sightseeing, and working on various projects. I continue to write non-fiction language-related stuff, and I maintain a blog about language and money at enrichmentality.com.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The goal of my writing is to influence people. To make them laugh, and then think.
My greatest joy is when someone tells me that my book made them laugh – or cry.
I hope to bring joy to others with my words, but more importantly, I hope to use humour to get readers to engage with the kinds of topics that are hugely important, but which we might otherwise ignore.
Sometimes the world’s problems can seem insurmountable. Like there’s nothing we can do, so why even bother.
That’s why hearing that someone read my book, and changed their mind even a little about, for example, treating our fellow human beings with compassion, brings me great joy.
The Writing Process
What is your writing process?
My writing process varies depending on the story I’m writing. Sometimes I begin with an idea in mind, and work out a plot from that. Other times, I’m more intrigued by a character or a place, and have to write the first draft to discover what it’s ‘about’ for myself. But always, I need a message of some description. A touchstone to come back to, and against which every decision I make will be assessed.
Usually, I write on my laptop, but if I’m travelling, I type on my phone (large chunks of Number Eight Crispy Chicken were written while I was actually stranded at the airport that inspired the story!)
All of my fiction is based in part on real-life facts and statistics, so my writing process inevitably includes a large amount of reading and research. I’d estimate that I read or listen to well over 100 books and articles and documentaries and podcasts in the course of writing a novel. The bulk of my ‘writing process’ is probably actually reading!
How do you get inspired to write?
Oddly enough, getting stuck in airports seems to be a common thread!
I was first inspired to pick up writing again after being stranded in an airport due to a cancelled flight. The resultant book was terrible, but it rekindled my love of writing.
The next time I was stranded in an airport, I started writing about the experience, and wondered what character might best benefit from being in that situation. And that’s when I hit upon the idea of an immigration minister, trapped in an airport.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
There is no such thing as an aspiring writer.
If you write, you are a writer.
Don’t aspire. Just do it.
You do not need anyone’s permission or endorsement.
Write, and you are a writer.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
In no particular order…
A Confederacy of Dunces. From the first page I was hooked.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This book opened my eyes to a whole new way of getting a message across.
Catch-22. No other book has made me laugh out loud in one line, and then cry actual tears in the next.
Slaughterhouse Five. What an illustration of absurdity and fragmentation?
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The first line alone never fails to make me smile.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Since I started travelling full-time, ebooks have become more important to me than ever. While I still love browsing bricks-and-mortar bookstores, most of the time I do so now, it’s to find books that I later want to download electronically! I’m extremely lucky that my local libraries (I have an obscene number of library cards!) back home let me access their catalogues via Libby, Overdrive and Cloud Library from anywhere in the world, and I’ve discovered lots of new indie-published ebooks through these apps, which has been fantastic.
I love the #bookstagram community on Instagram and find lots of wonderful books to read that way. I’m also a big fan of just browsing the pages of sites like Smashwords and other retailers to find out what’s new.
Then, of course, I have a select group of friends whose advice on books I trust implicitly, and I’ll buy pretty much whatever they say!
What books are on your reading list this year?
I’m going to be focusing on indie authors, and have a great list of books to check out. Envy, Finding Evelyn, Soul Bearer, Sorceress of Truth, The Black Orchids, The Little Red Boat, and Sentient Being are all on my TBR stack. I’m also looking forward to the release of Beacon City Confidential, and I’ve been putting together a new reading challenge – 20 independently published books and stories that include the numbers 1-20 in their titles in 2020.
Number Eight Crispy Chicken
Minister for Asylum Deterrence and Foreign Investment, Peter Ruddick, is en route to the remote Pulcherrima Island, the site of his latest privately-run, fast food chain-inspired detention centre. But chaos ensues when Peter misses his connecting flight and finds himself confined to the visa-free zone of the Turgrael airport, without a business lounge in sight.
Stranded in a foreign territory with nothing but McKing’s Crispy Chicken burgers to eat and nobody but a bleeding heart liberal, his seat-mate Jeremy Bernard for company, Peter’s misunderstandings of Turgistani language and culture result in his arrest on suspicion of terrorism, perversion, and espionage.
Peter has always had the power to get away with just about anything, but how will he sweet talk his way out of this one? What if he winds up – like those in his centres – indefinitely detained?
What inspired you to write Number Eight Crispy Chicken?
My books are inspired by my travels: not necessarily specific locations, but the experience of being an outsider, of crossing borders, and of learning new things.
Number Eight Crispy Chicken had two major inspirations.
Firstly, like Peter, I wound up stranded in a foreign airport. Much of what happens to him (minus the arrests!) actually happened to me.
Secondly, when developing a character to inhabit this world, an immigration minister seemed fitting… Frustrated by conversations with friends about immigration and dissatisfied protesting and donating, I wanted to see if I could engage people who usually avoid these topics using humour.
Is there going to be a follow up to Number Eight Crispy Chicken?
Yes! Although it won’t be a sequel, Propaganda Wars carries on in the same universe… and brings you even more McKing’s delights!