This week, we sat down with S.P. Dawes, the author of a number of hard-hitting and emotional novels that keep her fans coming back for more. In the interview, Dawes tells us about her life and her works, and how the world and the characters she has created in The Vine Series are interconnected with some of the other stories she has written. The Vine Series follows the story of Hayley and her battles in overcoming her past traumas in order to live a normal and fulfilled family life.
1. Tell us about yourself. Where do you live? What is your home life like? What have you done for most of your career and what can you tell us about your writing?
I am a mother of three, married to the love of my life for 18 years. I live in Newark-on-Trent, a town in the Midlands of England. I was a childminder/owner/manager of a business that employed other childminders and assistants to help care for children pre-nursery age and afterschool for those older for ten years. I am now training to be a talking therapy counsellor. I think my writing has progressed as I’ve moved through my training and made me be much more open.
2. You have written a number of books as well as a trilogy known as ‘The Vine Series’. All of them have been very well received by your readers. Can you tell us about your books?
In short, I can’t tell you a great deal without giving away the plots.
The Vine series was a story I had had in my head for a very long time, probably even since childhood. But it wasn’t fully formed back then and it’s changed many times to fit with what I wanted to convey. The Vine series is a story that seems to be very simple, but when the layers are pulled back, you realise that things are never what they seem. Truths are hidden, deceit is a currency, and protection comes at a cost. Depending where you are in the food chain determines how much you have to sacrifice of yourself.
Hayley is the heroine in this story, but she’s not a flake, or a damsel in distress. Neither is she a bull-headed sociopath that some authors seem to portray in order for a woman to appear strong. She is many things, like most of us. She is kind, quiet, reserved but wanting to belong without appearing to be desperate and needy. She also has an inability to ask for help, often relying on her own gut feelings and intelligence to get her out of problems. She doesn’t consider herself worthy enough for others to worry about and she’s learnt not to hand out trust like confetti because there’s always someone who sees weakness and will devour you.
I really wanted to ask the reader, what is weakness and what is strength? It’s subjective surely, and while one person sees ‘need’ as a manipulative tactic another may see it as a courageous act of trust. How we perceive actions often relates to our own perception, which in themselves are from our own experiences. Challenging these perceptions allows another narrative to take place and have the freedom it needs to be heard and so the Vine series is all about allowing a victim to be heard, not because she’s a victim, but because she’s a person, a survivor. A strong individual who took what others did to her and stood back up, as Rocky Balboa said. “It ain’t about how hard you get hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” Hayley is the epitome of getting hit and with the love she comes to feel from another, enables her to see herself through his eyes. This acceptance leads to fulfilment, which leads to change, but as with anyone’s life, the punches don’t stop coming just because you’ve found happiness.
This series was a rollercoaster of emotions for me and I hope the reader too. The Vine Cross is the very foundation of the story. The framework. You are told the story of a young woman and you feel for her, the detective in charge pulls at your heart strings and you think you know where this is heading; Happily-ever-after. The Vine Tree brings you back down to earth with a thump. Real and strong in emotion, the story really is no longer just a simple romantic suspense, or a crime thriller, but so much more than that. Characters, you thought you knew suddenly have oxygen in their lungs, and shoes on their feet. They come alive and wreak havoc. The Vine Coda is the finale, the final tie together, the closer and conclusion we often don’t find in real life but is required within a book to satisfy the reader. But satisfaction comes at a cost and the irrelevant suddenly becomes relevant as all the pieces are put together and suddenly you see the full picture and understand those parts that didn’t quite make sense at the time. (Triggers include physical violence and abuse)
Path of Redemption revolves around a widow with two sons and an ex-army veteran who left the army after losing people he loved. You first meet Callie on a blind date, and she makes a fool of herself in front of the very handsome man at the bar. It’s both funny and heart-breaking at times. But the characters jump off the page and have you fighting alongside them for their happiness. (Triggers include domestic violence)
Thicker Than Water tells the story of a timid woman whose self-worth is so low, she almost pulls it around in a bag behind her. Having always been the outcast, the person in the shadows, her friend pulls her into the light with the job of being her maid of honour. But doing so, puts her in the path of the bride’s brother. A suave and charismatic playboy, he’s so far out of reach to Imogen that she never envisions him looking at her once, let alone twice. Something catches his attention and he just can’t get her out of his head. But can Imogen trust someone when she’s never been able to before? (Triggers include narcissistic parenting disorder)
Fight For Me revolves around a widower with a daughter and her childminder who’s struggling marriage pushes her to the brink of despair. These two’s lives are catastrophic and coming together only seems to create more pain, but can these two get past the pain in order to heal? (Triggers include miscarriage)
3. What were the challenges that came with the trilogy? Was it easier or harder than writing your standalones?
The challenges came with being able to manage every character’s views, background, thoughts, emotions, motivations and drives. Sometimes I would write things and then sit back and go, “No.” He wouldn’t say that. Or how would that affect the other people in the room? Sometimes I didn’t like my characters very much, but then sometimes I’ve not liked myself very much, and in order for the characters to be real, you have to be honest. The trilogy allowed me the time to explore the characters, the relationships and really portray genuine people in unbelievable circumstances that weren’t fanciful or mythical but actually opened up a world people rarely see.
The standalones, while they are complete in their own right, actually come from The Vine Coda. Characters who I wanted to explore and put flesh on the bones of. But they are also more romantic suspense than crime or thriller. Therefore, they can be a little more light-hearted, (although still hard-hitting issues) and they enabled me to flex my writing skills in this genre alone. As with the other books, they each have parts of myself and Thicker Than Water and Fight For Me, were incredibly emotional to write. People say write what you know, so I did.
4. Who are your favourite characters in your books? Did they develop in any way as you were writing their story? What is it that you like about them? As their personalities grew, did they do anything that surprised you?
Wow, that’s a difficult one. Like picking a favourite child, lol. But I can name what I like about them. Hayley is pretty much me in a nutshell. So, you’d expect her to have been easy to write, but the honesty thing, made her incredibly difficult to write, because I had to look inside myself much deeper for the fictional what ifs. I had to really expose every character trait, every flaw, every insecurity and then not jump to her defence. She doesn’t always get everything right and her reasoning is often skewed. But she has a heart of gold and only wants to be accepted. But firstly, she has to accept herself.
Jesse is a wonderful human being. A kind soul and a strong moral compass that is stretched to its limits, allowing the reader to see where his values actually lay. His frailty is exposed just as much, but the way he handles things are very different but you get to learn why. But his love for Hayley is unconditional.
Rob’s character transformed massively and was somewhat of a surprise to me, but with the issues he faces, the change in him is also obvious and poignant in understanding what stress and circumstance can do to people and that one bad decision can change the course of your life.
Eddie was the first Alpha leading man. Whilst he appears in The Vine Coda, his character isn’t really explored until the Path of Redemption. There you really get to learn about the man and I really didn’t want to go down the route of him being an Alpha arsehole, who thinks the world revolves around him and women should bow at his feet, urghh. No, Eddie is a gentle giant who is the epitome of masculinity without the need for misogyny. His character is a protector. A strong man with his own demons but someone who always puts those he loves first.
Imogen in Thicker Than Water is a beautiful soul. Timid and reticent, she cares for her mother who doesn’t deserve the love she receives, but Imogen is also lost, and in need of a life raft. She has to learn to stand up for herself and watching this person develop from a caterpillar to a butterfly in the space of a few hundred pages was delightful.
Fight For Me is a tearjerker, and it pulls every emotion out of you that you could possess. Sorry. Erin and George really do have to fight for love in this one.
Then there is the character who doesn’t have a book of his own, but does appear in short bursts and that’s Martin. I love his character, not simply because he’s funny and able to break up a scene’s tension with one sentence but because he’s Jesse’s wingman and later Hayley’s hero. He’s the glue.
5. The Vine series has a number of interesting titles (The Vine Cross, The Vine Tree and The Vine Coda). What do the titles mean?
The Vine Cross relates to the crux of the story. It’s the name of a sect that disguises itself in a church. Not the first time religion has been used to wreak havoc, but I wanted to make sure the readers understood it wasn’t the religion but how the people around it portrayed it to meet their own selfish desires.
The Vine Tree went further into the family trees and helped the readers discover the root causes. So the title seemed relevant.
The Vine Coda was picked because of what coda means:
- the concluding passage of a piece or movement, typically forming an addition to the basic structure.
“the first movement ends with a fortissimo coda”
- the concluding section of a dance, especially of a pas de deux or the finale of a ballet in which the dancers parade before the audience.
- a concluding event, remark, or section.
“his new novel is a kind of coda to his previous books”
This really was the finale, and was explosive in drama. It brought all sections together and completed the structure that the other two books started. The ending really is conclusive. The final dance.
6. Your books are mostly written in the romance and suspense/thriller genre- What is it that makes you want to write these genres? Are there any common themes or traits that you love in particular?
My writing mixes many genres, and so it’s not easily marketed because of it. I am particularly interested in crime thrillers and learning about the motivations and drives of others. I firmly believe that no one is born evil, but that people can do evil things and whilst they do not always have valid excuses, there are normally reasons and identifying these enables others to understand, so that we can ensure people get the help they need before they do things they can’t take back.
I love suspense books, because I enjoy being held inside a book, feeling the feelings of the characters, wanting whatever it is they desperately want and screaming at them because you can read between the lines.
I enjoy mystery, working out the plot, deciding for yourself where you think it’s going, putting the pieces together to make sense only for the author to spin everything you think you know, on its head.
And I love romance, getting that warm feeling of comfort, the embraces, the laughter, the playfulness, the joy and the deep need to protect, value and maintain.
And so, all these elements are in my stories, working together, to build a picture of a real person, with real emotions, real back stories and real issues. I want people to relate with the characters, and whether they agree with how they handle things or not, I want them to see and feel what the characters do, broadening the reader’s mind. Feel something deeply that they may never have felt first hand, but through the written word can empathise.
I write difficult issues to shine a light on them, but also to show victims as more than the traumatic experience that hurt them. People are people. Full of life, thoughts, preconceptions, judgements, morals, cultures, values, strengths and weaknesses. We are not one thing, and we are not defined by someone else’s actions. People also aren’t saints just because they feel pain. Or villains because they did something wrong. When I write I want to show the human side, warts and all.
7. When did you realise that you wanted to be an author? What was it that made you put pen to paper?
I loved writing stories as a kid and my teacher said he always loved reading my stories because he could never predict where they were going to end up. Writing is my way of escaping. It’s also my way of processing and more of a therapeutic process for me. But I enjoy living inside the heads of other people. Seeing the world through different lenses.
8. Where do you write? Do you have a writing area or desk? Do you have to write within a strict schedule or do you just write when inspiration hits?
No, I sit in the front room, with the television on, my hubby in the room, trying to delve into characters while being asked what we’re having for tea the following week. Any moments I have to descend deeply, I keep for when I’m in the house on my own, so I can cry or do what needs to be done in order to write the words while fully immersed.
9. Are you a plotter or a pantser (i.e., do you carefully and meticulously plot each scene and character interaction or do you write by the seat of your pants, just to see what happens)?
Pantser all the way. Even when I try to plot, the characters take me in a different direction, so now I just write until I feel I’m onto something real. It means I delete a lot, lol. But my notes are huge, because there is often a lot going on and I need to keep up with everyone’s stories and motives.
10. What is your favourite thing about being an author? Do you have any moments you are particularly proud of?
My favourite thing is bringing characters to life, by using experience and information I’ve gathered to help show what’s behind the mask, and closed doors. We’re not always privy to people’s lives but by learning we naturally become more tolerant, more empathic and for me, that’s the world I want to help leave behind. But I also want someone in a similar situation to read it and feel they’re not alone. That even though they may not know someone personally, they know someone understands.
11. What’s next for you? Do you have any work in progress or planned releases? Can we expect to see further books by you soon?
I’m finishing my counselling diploma at the moment, so I simply don’t have time. But once that’s finished, I want to write one that’s been stuck in my head for a while and needs to be told. But it’s emotionally charged and I need to be able to handle it.
12. Can you share one of your favourite quotes from any of your books with us. What does the quote mean to you?
“I think he broke me.”
“He might have tried, but the woman in front of me isn’t broken. Maybe a little hurt, a little apprehensive, and a little less confident. But she’s also a survivor. Strong, resilient and continuing on, regardless of what they put her through. They may have tried to break your spirit; even made you believe they had. But you’re still there, behind all the pain and the walls you’ve built to protect yourself. They didn’t break you. He just made you fight and build a fortress to stay alive. I’d say that makes the woman in front of me remarkable and anything but a victim. It makes the woman sitting in front of me pretty damn amazing, that she never gave up.”
This quote means everything to me. It speaks volumes about the human spirit. It’s ability to grow, protect, and love.
The entire works by S.P. Dawes are now available worldwide on Kindle and in paperback. We cannot recommend them enough to those who want a dark and suspenseful read or a little romance in their lives.
The Vine Cross is the perfect place to start. Pick up a copy at Amazon or check out the reviews on Goodreads.