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An Interview with Sallyann

By Sali Mustafic

Sallyann Sheridan

Sallyann at Lyme Regis Seafront

Audio Page
  I had the priviledge of meeting one of our most inspirational authors recently.

Sallyann Sheridan writes novels and self-help books as well as running courses in the UK and Europe. Sallyann's recent novel If Wishes Were Horses is set in and around Lyme Regis, Beer and Honiton. I enjoyed it so much that I read it in a single weekend; but it's not just one of those books you can't put down because you want to know what happens next; it's surprising and thought provoking; exploring ideas about why people act the way they do and how easy it can be to misjudge a situation.

I was particularly keen to meet Sallyann because whenever our paths have crossed at writing events I have been struck by her optimism and enthusiasm for life in the face of what most of us would consider significant difficulties.

if you lived most of your life in a wheelchair and needed someone with you pretty much all day, every day, would you fill your life with challenges such as travelling to India alone, running creativity workshops or writing a novel? Sallyann has done all this and more.

She says "you don't need to be a writer to experience the magic that comes from writng things down". Our conversation revolved around a rather philosophical idea, that it is our way of being in the world that makes the difference rather than what we can or cannot do.

She speaks of her body as being like a vehicle or an overcoat, saying "it's not who I am, it just happens to be what I turned up in". She lives in it but it is not her. Of her spine she says "it is a miracle that it holds me up at all". I was intrigued and asked where she gets her inspiration.

It seems that everything inpires Sallyann: House names suggest stories; when a sniff of oxygen in A&E promted thoughts of her spine and the miracle of it holding her up, she wrote a poem to it; she practices seeing every day as a new opportunity accepting what is with gratitude.

I have a strong belief that creativity contribiutes to wellbeing and when I read the opening words of another of her books, The Magic Of Writing Things Down, I felt that she might agree with me. Our conversation was all about the very real difference creativity has made to her own life and how she encourages others to be creative in order to transform their own experience.

Sallyann is full of true experiences of the difference creativity can make. She describes writing as a liberating force. She runs courses and workshops in a variety of settings and, in one example, mentions a woman in a refuge who said, "I can't write" and then picked up a pen just before coffee break. Twenty minutes later she was still writing. After the event people said that they saw the woman "grow visably taller". Writing had allowed her to gain a different perpsective on her experience and the physical result was immediately visable to everyone in the room.

Sallyann encourages people to give creativity a go and spending an afternoon with her gave me a huge boost of energy and optimism. She suggests that spendimng a little time writing, painting, singing - or any other creative activity allows us to bypass thinking about things we miss, who we might wish to be, what could be different, and engage instead with curiosity in the exploration of possibilities. In this way it becomes possible to think, feel and view life more positively, let go of the past, and create a compelling future.

It is Sallyann's eternal optimism and ability to live in and embrace the moment that I will remember from our conversation.

Look out Sallyann's Residential Writing Courses, Creative Writing Days and Theraputic Writing Days in the UK and Europe and don't be surprised if you meet me there too!

Sali Mustafic

Sali Mutafic

An author interview with

  Sallyann's debut novel If Wishes Were Horses received great reviews and a nomination for a Guardian Literary Award. As well as novels, Sallyann writes non-fiction and teaches her literary craft to would-be writers across Europe and further afield. Anyone who meets Sallyann is struck by her cheerfulness and she has always been unstinting with her professional advice. I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed for Devon Link...

Did you always want to write?
Not consciously. I have always been an avid reader and as I grew older I realised writing was something I was quite good at. I began to look at the craft of writing in the hope that I could become a better writer.

How old were you when you started to write?

I produced my first book around the age of eight or nine. At 17 I began to write sales letters for a company and found I had a flair for writing. Later I became a freelance copywriter and non-fiction author before turning my skills to fiction.

Do you think you would have been a writer were you not disabled?
Yes. It's difficult to say but I am so inspired by words and books that I can't think of doing anything else.

I've always been struck by your positive outlook; to what do you attribute that?
I feel I have always been good at acknowledging what is. There is no point kicking against things you can't change.

I don't see myself as having a disability - my body is just the vehicle I turned up in and I make the best use of what I've been given.

When you research a book do you visit the locations?
In the main, I write about places I know, but I will still research details to ensure I get it right. Sometimes I visit the location or, if it's about a time gone by, I use old photographs and the internet to check details.

Do you use a Dictaphone to take notes or do you prefer longhand?
No. I hold a lot of the information in my head before I write. This level of detail remains until the book is written straight onto computer. For If Wishes Were Horses I researched facts during writing. I'm a head writer, I go to sleep plotting and often wake up plotting!

You travel extensively, how helpful do you find different countries when it comes to your mobility?

Some countries are easier than others, yet I never let this influence my choice of destination. I have to trust that who and what I need will be available to me. Otherwise listing all the reasons why not to

go would stop me from doing anything. When I went to India alone for a month, I had no idea how I would wash my hair, bathe my feet or who was going to help me around. But despite quite a few 'Oh my goodness what have I done?' moments, the joy of that trip will stay with me forever. Without wishing to minimise the amount of thought anyone with a physical challenge needs to consider, the more you do something, the better you become at it. I always mix a degree of organisation with a huge amount of trust. Uncertainty often fuels the joy of life.

Have you started another novel yet? If so when can we look forward to seeing it in the shops?

I've just started writing my next novel and aim to have it finished in early spring. I am also working on other non-fiction projects including re-releasing my audio relaxation programme as a download from my website plus an E-book to accompany it.

How long does it take to write a novel and how much time do you spend each day working on it?
The actual writing doesn't take me too long, as its conception, outline and some of the plotting I do in my head beforehand. If Wishes Were Horses took me a couple of years from conception to completion but I was working on other projects at the same time. When I write, I tend to become so involved that everything else takes second place. It's not the getting started that's difficult; it's the knowledge that once I start everything and everyone else falls to the wayside!

Thank you Sallyann, I thoroughly enjoyed If Wishes Were Horses and look forward to reading your next book.

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