From May to December 2015, I delved into the lives of 21 writers, finding out what made them tick, who would play them in a film of their lives and what advice they would give to their young selves. Now the Smorgasbord is back, rebooted and raring to go, with a fresh batch of writers lined up for the next seven weeks.
First up is Sarah Norquoy. I met Sarah in 2016 when I was invited to Stromness in Orkney, to give a talk at an Emergents workshop. I was working on the final draft of Boiling Point, and Sarah was experiencing extraordinary success with her blog, Norq from Ork.
Hi Sarah, Norq from Ork, has been incredibly successful. Why do you think it has struck such a chord with readers?
Thank you very much! I think it’s because I write about every day things in a simple and funny way. People can identify with what I’m saying and as you say, it strikes a chord. I didn’t set out to write that way, it was just the voice that emerged. That said, I also write about very touching and moving aspects of life which people seem to appreciate too. The posts that do the best are the ones where you’re tapping into an emotion that people can completely identify with, even if it’s something as mundane as loading a dish washer or cutting the grass. Also people enjoy seeing the scenery of Orkney which I often share. I have nicknames for family and friends which seems to be a real hit as well. I’ve always nicknamed my husband Orkney Beef and that dates back years to when I was completely nuts about him and he didn’t know I existed, so I just continued with the name. Then I thought up names for my children and people started to ask what their name would be or suggesting one for themselves. The whole blog is generally a bit of light relief, people know what they are going to get and they seem to like it.
Do your family ever get annoyed with you for writing about them?
They have never yet, but I’m very careful about what I write. If I’m unsure I will always ask permission first and if anyone doesn’t want to be involved then of course I would honour that. Usually they love it and encourage me in what I’m doing. I have a regular feature called My Week in Pictures and I discovered that my daughter and her boyfriend often try to get featured in it.
Where did you grow up, and how did it differ from life on Orkney?
I grew up in Sutton Coldfield on the outskirts of Birmingham, but I’ve lived in other places too and moved up to Orkney after 12 years in Cambridge. It is COMPLETELY different from Orkney in every way. We only saw the sea once a year on our family holiday and I always dreamed of living by the sea. Now I can see it from my sitting room, kitchen and dining room window and I never tire of it. I still have to pinch myself sometimes.
How did your blog evolve?
I’ve often been told how entertaining I am on things like Facebook and Twitter and many friends suggested I take it to a wider audience and write more. I’ve always enjoyed writing and often said I want to write a book, so the blog was merely a discipline to make me write on a regular basis. It quickly gained momentum and people enjoyed it and started signing up to read and follow up. I’ve loved it and am really pleased I took the plunge.
How did you feel about putting yourself, and your family, out there?
I’m careful about what I share and if someone doesn’t want to be involved then I would honour that completely. There’s much of my life that I’ve shared but there’s also much of my life that I haven’t. It’s a risk sometimes and I’m quite a sensitive soul so if someone said they hated me I think I’d cry! Thankfully that hasn’t happened and I hope it never does.
Have you ever regretted a post, or wished you’d pushed one a little further?
I haven’t regretted any but I have certainly felt like I’ve taken a risk with some and thankfully they have paid off. It’s not so much the funny stuff as the personal accounts like for example talking about the death of my brother. There are still a lot of things I want to explore like talking more about my life as a single parent. They were difficult days and I would like to think that sharing some of my experiences could help someone else who may be going through it. Sometimes I wish I was braver with my writing as I’m quite risk averse, but maybe I’ll get there yet.
Have you ever written, or considered writing, any kind of fiction or poetry?
I’ve written some short stories. I entered my first one in the George Mackay Brown Fellowship completion and won a prize, and I’ve had a short piece published in Living Orkney magazine. There’s book which is in the process of being written but it lives in my head a lot of the time..… I’m always, always, always writing in my head. The problem is that dreaded four letter word T*ME to get it all written down into something ready to send away. Gah….
Who inspires you?
I’ll try to stop this tipping into a load of gushing tripe but in all honesty it’s everyday people. The elderly who have lived through wars, rationing and tremendous hardship with stories to tell, people who show kindness, friends who have stood by me through thick and thin. People who have overcome adversity and keep going. My husband inspires me, and sometimes, I’m just inspired when I look in the mirror and remember I raised two kids on my own with a mountain of difficulties to overcome. It’s taken me a long time to say that.
What has been your best writing moment so far?
Seeing my piece published in a magazine was thrilling, winning a prize in the competition mentioned earlier, being messaged by someone saying they love my work and how much did I charge. But most of the time it’s getting an email or message from someone saying how a blog has touched them in some way or made them laugh. Being stopped by someone and told my blog really boosts their day, or made them smile or even cry. I’m always so touched that people want to make contact. A couple of posts I’ve written have had 900 views in a day. That was astounding but I don’t know why some go like that and others don’t.
What are your ambitions, writing wise?
I want to be published. The half written book I want to finish and publish, and I wold love to publish the blog in the form of a book too. The ultimate dream for me would be to walk into a book shop and see my book there and know a complete stranger chose to buy it.
Do you have any particular writing habits?
Not really, I tend to write the blog in the evening but I’m always jotting down ideas in note books or on my phone so I don’t forget it. I observe people and make mental notes and jot them down. Someday all these jottings will be worth a fortune I’m sure of it.
Who would play Norq From Ork in the film of your life?
Dawn French. I think she could do the funny parts of me perfectly and the the really difficult parts of my life sensitively. I asked her on Twitter once but she didn’t reply so I guess I’m going to have to think again.
A few short questions to finish with.
Okay, but I’m rubbish at narrowing these down to one so I may have to give you a few answers for each question. What you gonna do, fire me?
Heh, heh. I guess not. Favourite books?
The Outrun, The Time Traveller’s Wife, Rebecca, We Need to talk about Kevin, Stuart: A Life Backwards (warned you)
Not often I stick to one author but that said I know I’ve read all of Jonathan Tropper’s books.
Chinese noodles and crispy seaweed. Also, your money’s safe with me but not your chocolate.
I’ll keep that in mind next time we meet. Film?
I loved The Help also loved A Brief History of Time. Don’t make me choose. *sobs*
Quite an eclectic range. Right now I’m listening to Norah Jones in the car but another day it could be bangin’ tunes at full blast.
What are you reading right now?
3096 Days. The story of Natascha Kampusch and how she survived 8 years being held in a dungeon after being kidnapped aged 10 She finally escaped at 18 and her coping strategies to stay alive and sane, and her ability to write so eloquently about her experience, is remarkable. Now she really is inspiring.
Thanks Sarah. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you for asking me. It’s been an interesting experience.
Where can readers find out more about you?