Q&A with Sarah Toll

Today I’m pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Merry Go Round. My post is written with thanks to Zoe O’Farrell for inviting me on the tour and to Sarah Toll for answering my questions!

Have you always wanted to write?

I’ve always liked the idea of writing, and had the notion at a young aga that I would like to write a book, however, I was a fidget-pants. Sitting still and concentrating were quite difficult for me. Gymnastics then became a real focus for my attention but it meant I buried the idea of writing. However, my imagination continued to chunk along in the background and in 2013 it re-emerged and I made time for writing.

What were your previous jobs? Have they helped you with your writing process?

My career has most definitely helped with writing and in fact was a starting point for me. I was a paramedic for a long time and when I began to write I wrote about my experiences in the Service, these pieces were non-fiction stories dropped into fictional settings. I then had a complete change of career and worked as a senior manager in IT for the NHS. This has also given me a lot of fodder, but I’ve yet to do anything with it. I’m now retired but have several irons in the fire and some wonderful life experiences all of which contribute to what arrives on the page.

What was your inspiration for Merry Go Round?

Gosh, that’s a good one and tricky to go into without spoiling the book for those who haven’t read it. I heard about someone who behaved like Nathaniel Deighton and I felt absolutely compelled to write about the situation. Around the same time, I lost a couple of dear friends to cancer whilst still coping with my own recovery from breast cancer. This maelstrom of emotions and imagination collided to construct Merry Go Round. It was written with a pinch of hurt, a few tears, some anger, frustration, a dash of spirituality -which helped me to believe in myself and my life’s journey- and the love of a few good friends.

How do you construct your characters? Do they have traits of people you know?

Unashamedly, yes! My characters have traits of people I know to a certain degree, although I use them so subtly (I hope). I’m able to draw on little tics, word patterns and behaviours as they help me make my imaginary friend more three dimensional. At Uni we did some work on character formation and I have a wonderful list of traits I assign my characters, for instance, what is the one thing they always carry, what would be in their pockets/handbag, what kind of underwear do they prefer, etc? It is a fabulous way to form characters, it’s almost as though I’m 3D printing them.

What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Oooo, well, it’s a bit of a hybrid of the two. I start off with a rough plot. Most of the time I have a sense of where I’m going. Then I become a bit of a pantser, I write getting as much down as possible. Once the word count rises, it’s then possible to review the work and plan how things are going to fit together, or go in the bin.

How did you research Merry Go Round? Did you enjoy it?

I loved researching Merry Go Round! I set the story in Welcombe, which is on the north Devon/Cornish border. It was a place I stayed in 1993 when walking the south-west coast path with ambulance colleagues. We walked it for charity to raise money for a local hospice. I adored the tiny cottage we stayed in, which was very ramshackle and was the inspiration for Lily’s less than salubrious home. I had to write from memory until I could revisit the area; 23 years passed, but I’d recalled it pretty well. The way I have described the roads, the streamside track and the various walks are all still true to life. The only fabrication is Tregellas, which is placed upon the site of the cottage I holidayed in.

I can’t say too much about Mya but the research I did for her was fascinating. All done online I joined forums and chatted to people who were willing to share their experiences. When it came time to research psychopaths, I took a similar approach which was fascinating and yet disturbing; it was terrible to see how people suffer at the hand of people who have psyco/socio/narcissistic traits, but equally terrible that they suffer too.  

Two little anecdotes to add. The year we stayed in Welcombe it rained so much that on the penultimate day we could not walk. We then stumbled across a local emergency (Bude, not far away, had flooded) and ended up manning the Cornish ambulances. The county could not get any crews to the area because of the flooding. This is how I came to know about Stratton Hospital, which Lily attends. And then, in 2016, when the first draft Merry Go Round was nearing completion, I returned to the area, staying in an Airbnb. At the time of booking, I hadn’t realised the cottage, Borrowers Cottage in Hartland, was where Mary Norton wrote The Borrowers, which felt wonderfully significant. 

Who are your favourite writers? Are you influenced by them?

I’m influenced by most writers; watching how they use words, structure sentences and plots. Patrick Gale, Joseph O’Connor, Richard Llewellyn, Kate Atkinson, Helen Fielding and Marian Keyes are among my favourites.

If you could invite three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why?

I’d invite Princess Anne, she’s such a character, really ballsy! Christopher Hitchens if he were still alive as he is a fascinating man of wit and philosophy and Hussain Manawer the poet.

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?

I’m sorry to say it would be JK Rowling. I struggle to see the appeal of her work (not limited to HP) and I don’t think we’d be a personality match… so we would probably get on like a house on fire and would become best friends, forever!!

Who would play the main character/s in a film version of Merry Go Round?

If I could go back in time to choose a leading lady, it would be Audrey Hepburn. Upon reflection, I see Lily as being like Holly Golightly. Colin Firth would play Adam and Sarah Lancashire Lou. That’s a bit of an eclectic mix but hopefully it would work.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I volunteer for Macmillan as a telephone buddy, course facilitator and Reiki practitioner, which is wonderful. Painting is another great love of mine, you’ll often find me wielding a paintbrush or creating digital art. Walking my dog, being out and about in the fresh air with my partner Keith–we live in a rural area and go on all kinds of mad countryside escapades–and I love nothing more than a good cup of coffee and a natter with my friends. 

 What is next for you?

I’m writing the sidequel to Merry Go Round. It follows the same time frame but recounts the lives and experiences of Lou and Adam. The reader will learn more about these characters; importantly, they will understand just how much collusion went on between the two whilst Lily was off being naughty and what happened to them on the dreadful day that she broke. I’m also writing and illustrating my first poetry pamphlet which will come out as an ebook later on this year.


Book? A Place Called Winter–Patrick Gale, tied with How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn.

Film? An Affair to Remember.

Band/Singer? KT Tunstall.

TV show? OO Struggling with this one as we’re not big on TV, probably Firefly.

Colour? Teal.

Place? Welcombe Mouth Bay.

Biscuit? Bournville fingers! Lush!


Merry Go Round is available from Amazon.

You can follow the rest of the blog tour here:

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