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Meet the Northumberland Author Whose Books are Illustrated by Sarah Farooqi

Meet the Northumberland Author Whose Books are Illustrated by Sarah Farooqi
June 2024
Reading time 2 Minutes

To ensure her Lindisfarne-based novels remain as local as possible, author Kimberley Adams asked Northumberland-based artist Sarah Farooqi to design her book covers

Living North learn more about Love Lindisfarne and its sequel Love Beyond Lindisfarne.

Tell us a bit about yourself. 
I was born in Corbridge and have lived in Northumberland for most of my life. I worked in the voluntary sector for various charities and for many years worked in Tynedale where I managed a project to provide play and learning to remote communities. I roamed the countryside on a double decker playbus called Purple Myrtle –  and could actually write a book about the escapades of getting the huge vehicle to the tiny remote hamlets we visited! I’ve worked across the whole of Northumberland in various roles, and it was such a privilege to support communities in our fabulous county. I’m sure my first-hand knowledge of Northumberland had a lot to do with my subsequent writing career and choosing locations.

How did you get into writing?
I had my first short story published when I was a teenager, writing for teen magazines. I then progressed to short stories for women’s magazines which I wrote when I was a student to try and earn some extra income. Then came a long hiatus when work and life got in the way. Around the time of Covid I joined Northumbrian Writers, and to this day still do a weekly class. The support of my peer group was invaluable and it gave me the confidence to share my work and try my hand at all kinds of writing (I have decided however I’m a lost cause when it comes to poetry!). My tutor Claire gave me the details of a competition. Penguin were looking for the next big Christmas book and I decided to enter my story which at that point was called A Northumbrian Castle Christmas. I got through to the finals, but didn’t win. But that gave me a boost and I decided that I had to continue and somehow get the story published. That book was to become Love Lindisfarne.

What can you tell us about your books and the inspiration for them?
My current books are all comedy based. I try to be all literary and serious but by page two they seem to descend into humour – and I just go with whatever comes as I type. I have been asked many times why I chose to write about a real location – Love Lindisfarne is fictional, the characters and story are made up, but the location is of course real and I try hard to keep settings reflective of what they are really like. No matter how hard I might try to imagine a fictitious place to set a love story, I couldn’t come up with anywhere as fabulous as real settings right here on our doorstep. I’m surrounded by beautiful locations and in the main North Easterners are naturally funny and warm – inspiration is really all around me. My story in The Book of Witty Women, an anthology of comedy stories written by women comedy writers, is based in urban Newcastle and it’s the humour of us Geordies that shines through in that tale – it’s about a nana and her granddaughter and the inspiration for those two characters I’m sure I found in a coffee shop somewhere – so never sit next to me!

What can you tell us about Love Lindisfarne?
Love Lindisfarne is as it says, a love story, but not only a story of love between the two main characters, but a love of the setting too. It’s about a woman who arrives on the island from London after a breakup with her boyfriend. Ellie comes to look after rescue animals and has no clue that Lindisfarne is an island, or any idea of how to take care of the animals in her charge. She is welcomed into the community by the warm-hearted residents – my stories tend to feature intergenerational friendships and I enjoy introducing a cross-section of characters. Ellie meets Zen with the coffee bean eyes and it’s love at first sight, but there are a few hurdles to overcome first. Love Lindisfarne is set at Christmas and as is the way in the real world, the weather has a huge part to play in the story!

Why was it important to you to choose a local artist to design your cover?
From the initial idea for the book, I envisaged the type of cover I wanted. Mostly these days, publishers use digitally designed covers which whilst colourful can be quite similar. I’m a new writer, no one knew my name, and I wanted to ensure that Love Lindisfarne would be noticed in a hugely busy Christmas rom-com market. Incidentally, I was advised not to make my first book Christmas-based because of the number of releases it would be up against, but I just wanted to tell my story! I’m a bit of a maverick going against the norm I suppose. In order to be noticed the cover had to stand out, and I knew that working with an artist as passionate about Northumberland as me was the way forward, so I went for old school, original artwork which is virtually unheard of these days!

Why Sarah?
In my career I co-ordinated the Northumberland Art Tour so my path had already crossed with Sarah and love her work. Sarah was top of my list of three local artists to approach so I was so pleased when she agreed. She hadn’t done a book jacket before and was really keen to explore something new. Her work is just beautiful, and she’s so easy to work with, and between us we very quickly came up with the concept for the cover. What was important to me was that the cover should shout out the location of the book, and that everything featured in the image can be found in the pages. There was no decision to be made over who I wanted to produce the image for Love Beyond Lindisfarne, the sequel, and once again, Sarah has excelled with the most stunning representation of Bamburgh beach – as sunny and bright as the first book is wintery and warm. The minute these covers hit the internet I was left with no doubt that I had chosen the right path by using real artwork and Sarah – the covers have been an immediate success and have helped give the books of a new writer such an unbelievable boost. I’m still kind of reeling from it all really.

How have readers been reacting to your book?
I’m new to writing, against advice I released my first book at the busiest time of year, I’m self-published under my own imprint called Shy Bairns Publishing (my mantra throughout all of this has been ‘shy bairns get nowt’ and it’s true – the world of publishing can be brutal) so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Then from the minute Sarah’s beautiful cover hit the internet traction started and the book began to sell steadily. I wanted to work with other independent businesses across Northumberland and quickly built up a wide network of stockists including book shops, cafés and gift shops, and the book consistently sold out wherever it went. Online on Amazon the book was flagged as having one of the highest rated review scores, predominantly five stars, with at time of writing 170 reviews, and most of the feedback has been wonderful with a huge love for Northumberland shining through. I feel like one very lucky new author that’s for sure.

What’s next for you?
Two books this year. The comedy collective as mentioned and of course, the second Lindisfarne book, Love Beyond Lindisfarne. I hadn’t really planned to do a sequel however demand was there and as I loved the characters so much it seemed fitting that I continued the story and let people visit Northumberland in the spring! There’s even more drama in this one, but we do get to visit some lovely local landmarks – like Bamburgh beach as featured on the cover. Then after that, who knows. I’d love to do more on my urban Newcastle comedy story – I think Nana Mary and Donna might be going to an '80s weekend in Skegness with the local Knit and Natter group and getting up to all kinds of mayhem… or maybe there might be a third visit to Lindisfarne. I have no idea and I quite like having the freedom to choose.

Find Love Lindisfarne in local bookshops now. Its sequel, Love Beyond Lindisfarne, was published 23rd May 2024, and is available at independent retailers and from Amazon.

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