Five on Friday with Sarah Burton

Today I’m delighted to feature author Sarah Burton, a writer of many talents ranging from biographies, children’s fiction, humour, non-fiction and adult fiction. Her first novel, The Strange Adventures of H, was published by Legend Press in 2020 and has been an Amazon bestseller, shortlisted for the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Novel Crown and the audiobook won an Audiofile Earphones Award. Her latest publication is a guide to fiction writing (co-written with Jem Poster), The Book You Need to Read to Write the Book You Want to Write was published yesterday.

Sarah is currently writing: a novel about an evacuee, uprooted from London during the Blitz to rural Wales. Working title: Tomorrow is a Lovely Day or It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow

Sarah also teaches creative writing for the University of Cambridge, where she established the Master’s programme, Guardian Masterclasses and the British Library’s Learning Live. She also offers, with Jem Poster, one-to-one creative support for writers through Between the Lines (

Over to Sarah:

Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?

All my choices are uplifting because although I love plenty of pieces of more reflective music these are the songs that have kept me going when things get tough.

Ain’t Got No, I Got Life – Nina Simone – I love how this song begins with everything she hasn’t got and then turns itself around to everything she has got. So you can wallow in your misery a bit at the beginning, but then you just have to turn it around with Nina.

Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive – Aretha Franklin – I grew up knowing the Bing Crosby version but Aretha adds that certain something that makes it more than just a song. I also like how it encourages us to imagine ‘Jonah in the whale’ and ‘Noah in the ark’ and just how depressed they must have been but it all turned out OK.

Mr Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra – this never fails to make me want to jump up and down.

Three Little Birds – Bob Marley – because Bob makes me believe every little thing’s gonna be alright (even when it’s almost certainly not true).

Happy – Pharrell Williams (no explanation needed!)

What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.

Writing materials


Specs – I can’t read or write without them and have often thought that in the days before there were spectacles I would not have been able to read anything after the age of 30.

Cheese (especially Welsh cheese)

Cheese grater – Honestly, how did anyone ever manage without them? (The grater pipped at the post my vegetable peeler and potato masher – other indispensable labour savers it’s hard to imagine life without.)

Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?

Set up a pension

Don’t start smoking

Your time is valuable – spend it wisely and don’t allow others to dispose of it for you

You don’t have to have a plan, but it helps and you can always change it

When you’re older you’ll have much more fun than you imagine

Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you

I used to sing in a women’s barbershop quartet

I wrote a song for Roger Daltrey

At the age of 10 weeks I was the baby in a Nativity play at Risinghill School (reputedly the first comprehensive school)

I have made about a dozen patchwork quilts

Although I have lived in the countryside all my life I am afraid of sharing space with large quadrupeds. I love walking but fear of having to enter fields containing horses or cattle clouds this pursuit. Sheep are fine (which is just as well in rural Wales). I have no idea where this comes from and whether it’s related to being small (at 5’ nothing I’m technically a pixie).

Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.

Conquer above-mentioned fear of quadrupeds.

Write a play in which all the characters are ghosts.

Publish my children’s adaptation of The Canterbury Tales.

Write a companion volume to The Book You Need to Read to Write the Book You Want to Write. We didn’t have room in that book for exercises.

Write another Samuel Stewart book. I wrongly assumed Samuel had peaked with The Complete and Utter History of the World; he now wants to write An Exhausting Guide to the World and Everything in it, God help us all.

Many thanks for joining me today and first I’d like to wish yourself and Jem all the best with the new book. It looks like an invaluable guide to would be writers. Can I also say that this is the first time I’ve featured a (technical) pixie! I’m with you on pensions, one of the things you often appreciate the value of when it’s too late to rectify it and yes growing up doesn’t mean saying goodbye to fun (especially if you’ve got that pension to look forward too). I’ll admit to not being a connoisseur of Welsh cheeses, maybe I should rectify that and try something other than Caerphilly. I’ve always fancied giving patchwork a try, but I did fail ‘O’ level needlework – twice – so managing to make a dozen quilts deserves respect. I hope you get to tick off some of your goals, that workbook sounds a great idea.

Sarah’s Books

(NB This post features Affiliate links from which I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases)

The Book You Need to Read to Write the Book You Want to Write by Sarah Burton & Jem Poster

Have you ever wanted to write a novel or short story but didn’t know where to start? If so, this is the book for you. It’s the book for anyone, in fact, who wants to write to their full potential. Practical and jargon-free, rejecting prescriptive templates and formulae, it’s a storehouse of ideas and advice on a range of relevant subjects, from boosting self-motivation and confidence to approaching agents and publishers. Drawing on the authors’ extensive experience as successful writers and inspiring teachers, it will guide you through such essentials as the interplay of memory and imagination; plotting your story; the creation of convincing characters; the uses of description; the pleasures and pitfalls of research; and the editing process. The book’s primary aim is simple: to help its readers to become better writers.

The Strange Adventures of H

Orphaned young, H is sent to live with her doting aunt in London. H’s life is a happy one until her lecherous cousin robs her of her innocence, and the plague takes away the city and the people she loves. H is cast out – friendless, pregnant and destitute – into the rapidly emptying streets of London under quarantine.

Forced to fend for herself, she is determined to gain back the life she lost. H will face a villain out for revenge, find love in the most unexpected places, and overcome a betrayal that she never could have foreseen. Weathering it all, can H charm, or scheme, her way to the life of freedom and independence that she longs for?

The Complete and Utter History of the World by Samuel Stewart Aged 9

When his teacher sets the class a History project, Sam cannot choose which bit of History he prefers, so decides to do ALL OF IT. A very funny, ironic child”s-eye view on the history of the world, complete with his own illustrations

How to Put on a Community Play

A useful, how-to guide for staging any play

A practical handbook for directors, producers, local community groups, youth theatres, amateur players, universities and colleges, students of Community Theatre/Theatre Studies and others wanting to stage a successful community play.

Drawing on a wealth of personal accounts, and useful historical background information, How To Put On A Community Play is full of detailed advice concerning the preparation, planning and execution required to achieve success.

Including essential tips on:


the rehearsal process

administrative hurdles

technical headaches that must be overcome

This is an invaluable guide to the myriad tasks and decisions facing any community play organiser.

The Miracle in Bethlehem

‘Once upon a time, perhaps two thousand years ago, or maybe only yesterday, a man stood under a tree and waited. As he waited, people began to arrive: old people, young people, children, parents with babies, and even a couple of dogs. They settled on the cool grass under the shade of the great tree, all around the Storyteller, for that is who the man was. Once a year, everyone gathered round to hear him tell this story.’ The storyteller’s tale is one we think we all know: the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of a very special baby. But do we know it? This unique retelling weaves ancient nativity legends — now largely forgotten — into the familiar narrative. Its short chapters make it ideal for nightly Advent readings or bedtime storytelling. Children will rediscover the wonder and sparkle of this great story by hearing it from some less common angles. Even parents will find it both moving and surprising, and may see the traditional narrative through fresh eyes.

A Double Life : a Biography of Charles & Mary Lamb

The little known story of the inseparable brother and sister, lights of the Romantic circle, privately haunted by madness

Wordsworth thought that if there were such a thing as a good man, it would be Charles Lamb, while Hazlitt believed Mary Lambto be the only sensible woman he knew. The couple’s literary reputation rested partly on the famous Tales from Shakespeare. And yet there was an unhappier side: Charles was an alcoholic and Mary, in an attack of insanity, stabbed their mother to death.

This fascinating account reaches to the heart of early nineteenth century London, meeting its eccentrics and its literary giants. It also visits the city’s darker corners, where poverty stalks rented rooms and madhouses conceal terrible abuse.

Imposters : Six Kinds of Liar

In SIX KINDS OF LIAR Sarah Burton considers the impostor both as an individual and as a social phenomenon. Three principal examples are treated as case studies: the story of Dr James Barry acts as a springboard for a discussion of the women who live their lives as men; the tale of Chief Buffalo Long Lance allows the author to explore racial imposture; and Waldo Demara’s many lives gives rise to an examination of the pyschological profile of the compulsive liar. Sarah Burton investigates HOW impostors (particularly lawyers, doctors and teachers) succeed and WHY they feel compelled to change their lives so dramatically. She also examines their romantic appeal, and challenges us to examine the impostor in us all.


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