Without passion, all the skill in the world won't lift you above craft. Without skill, all the passion in the world will leave you eager but floundering. Combining the two is the essence of the creative life.
~Twyla Tharp
Sarah Sheard | Writer

Sarah Sheard, Writer and Therapist
I have written and published three literary novels. I am currently drafting my fourth. By literary, I mean that they seek to tell their own stories in a way that can’t readily be reduced to formula or niche-labeling. Each followed and created the unique shape their story demanded of them.

That said, of course I’m merely continuing the conversation literary novels have been having with one another since writing began and certainly since I began to read novels in order to understand the worlds inside people.
sarah's writing
fiction/novels
Almost Japanese
Summary: Emma discovers that her new next door neighbour is a dazzling Japanese orchestra conductor. Things Japanese soon begin to transform Emma and estrange her from her own world.
more about Almost Japanese
The Swing Era
Summary: A compelling story of a woman bound to her family by all the familiar complicated ties of love and obligation — and by a history of family madness that entrapped her lovely willful mother and now haunts her own life.
more about The Swing Era
The Hypnotist
Summary: Drawn together by mutual friends and a shared love of art, Signe, a talented photographer, and WIlliam, a psychiatrist, construct a private and passionate world of two. Driven by a need to penetrate the mystery of this man, Signe tries to crack the code of his carefully guarded world of hypnosis and psychotherapy.
more about The Hypnotist

journalism
Sarah's Views

Writing at Home
“Writing at home is hard. It's, like, a focus problem. The path to the desk is paved with great distractions. There's that rental video due back so maybe you should watch it right now.”
Read entire Writing At Home article
Angels and Devils
“We all have them in our psyches, competing for space.  Sometimes the devils are in charge—say, at 3 a.m., in that dark night of the soul.  At other times the angels take over and guide us through hours and hours of the most difficult work.”
Read entire Angels and Devils article
Rejection
“Rejection stings like hell. When we were kids, it was a matter of life and death to be liked — by family, teachers and friends — but we quickly found out that the world could be cruel and scrambled for ways to toughen our hides.”
Read entire Rejection article

book reviews

Wrong About Japan
Book by Peter Carey
Read entire Book Review
Be Near Me
Book by Andrew O'Hagan
Read entire Book Review

book review
Leonard Woolf: A Biography
by Victoria Glendinning
Hardcover $36.99, 498 pp
Published by McLelland & Stewart
ISBN 0-743-24653-5
(Review originally published March 10, 2007, The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada)

Victoria Glendinning has done a brave thing. She has plunged her back hoe into the already well-composted midden of Bloomsbury and levered out a shining new portrait of Leonard Woolf. Brave too, because Woolf published his own highly readable 5-volume autobiography. What new material could she possibly unearth?

A long-lived bunch they mostly were, but every Bloomsberry is now long-withered and gone— and likely their grandchildren too. Almost too much has been published about this group of mostly minor artists — major exceptions being Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Maynard Keynes, T.S. Eliot and Morgan Forster. Indefatigable letter-writers, they worked nonstop with pen or paintbrush unless interrupted by madness or death, yet the more that’s exhumed of their voluminous correspondence to one another, the more imaginary they tend to become.

Glendinning has brought out from behind the sun of Virginia Woolf, the moon of Leonard, a carapaced, darling curmudgeon with a gift for unconditional love, an astonishing capacity for work, and some wondrous contradictions to his nature.

She amply reveals his leonine side. He roared — through his pen, mostly. He was a political propagandist, semi-Marxist, and Fabian, a lefty but not entirely a pacifist, a literary publisher, cofounder with Virginia of Hogarth Press, journalist, stubborn campaigner for justice and reason over the bloody irrationality of two world wars, co-designer of The League of Nations (forerunner of the United Nations) an opponent of Zionism despite being a Jew, anti-colonial despite his seven-year posting in his mid-twenties as a colonial administrator to then-Ceylon where he rose to Assistant Government Agent, collecting revenue, supervising hangings, and circuit-travelling throughout a ten-thousand mile district of Ceylon.

He had a self-admitted ‘dangerous passion for efficiency’. The day Virginia drowned herself, he faithfully entered his car’s mileage, as always, in his diary. He disliked judging but woe betide any fool irrational enough to short him on a mail order or promote a half-baked notion of how the government should proceed or a publishing house be run.

Glendinning’s thesis heavily weights his Jewishness as the chief shaper of his melancholic fatalism, his outsider’s nature, as exemplified by his personal motto: Nothing Matters. True, he came by his melancholy through family predilection. A string of suicides and eccentricity ran through the Woolf family (as well as Virginia’s) but he himself was reluctant to admit his life had been in any way circumscribed by being a Jew. ‘I have always been conscious of being primarily British and have lived among people who without question accepted me as such ... [Anti-Semitism] ‘has not touched me personally and only peripherally’. He disliked any denominationalist, be it Catholic, communist or Jew, whose fixed views prevailed over reality. His own wife, however, both on the page and in conversation made numerous disparaging references to Jews.

Much has been written about their marriage, including quickly-debunked theories as to Leonard’s influence and control over Virginia. What’s unquestionably reiterated here was his utterly unconditional, selfless devotion to her and his tireless vigilance over her, without which, it is certain, she would have died decades earlier. Theirs was an extraordinary marriage of true minds — if not, perhaps, bodies. It is strongly hinted that their marriage was never fully consummated, due to Virginia’s phobic disinclination. She was also considered too mentally unstable as to risk pregnancy. Leonard, an earthy and lusty man, unhesitatingly waived his entitlement to sexual fulfillment and fatherhood in exchange for the extraordinary intimacy of heart and mind offered by Virginia.

Little is revealed of Leonard’s feelings about this sacrifice nor of the impact on Leonard of Virginia’s later affair with novelist Vita Sackville-West but in his bleak anthology, Leonard tellingly quotes Tolstoy: ‘Man survives earthquakes, epidemics, the horrors of disease, and all the agonies of the soul but for all time, his tormenting tragedy, has been, is, and will be — the tragedy of the bedroom.’

His second great love affair, with Trekkie Ritchie, a married woman with whom he fell in love, two years after Virginia’s death, and shared amicably with her husband until death, 26 years later, was similarly chaste. Leonard, hugely attracted to women’s minds and bodies, had a perverse gift for choosing women who were sexually unavailable. The man who promoted rational thinking always, was a romantic at heart, who tenderly loved who he loved, no matter what.

One reads a biography, not so much to collect dry facts about a long-extinguished life but to taste the actual person on one’s tongue; to imagine what it would be like to sit for an hour in their company, slip inside their skin and visit the world through their eyes. Among the details that best convey Leonard are those of his relationship to animals. His life was measured out in dog lengths: a series of spaniels, terriers, mutts, fancy cats and a marmoset, Mitz, who rode on his tweedy shoulder. He adored gardening and the photos reveal a fit man who never gained a pound. His face grew long and craggy but his hair stayed full and his tanned arms never lost their sinuous grace. He was strict with himself, highly disciplined intellectually and indulgent of the women he loved. He welcomed the younger generations who flocked to him because he could be counted on to be honest. He wrote daily to the end of his life despite concluding shortly before his death, that the state of the world ‘would be exactly the same if I had played pingpong instead of sitting on committees and writing books and memoranda.’ In his long life he must have ‘ground through between 150,000 and 200,000 hours of perfectly useless work.’

Perhaps he was right that Nothing Matters. Yet Hogarth Press co-publisher Peter Calvocoressi protested: ‘Leonard Woolf was the only man I have ever met who seemed to me to be right about everything that matters.’ When one of his female friends nudged him about his motto at the end of his life, he both reiterated and reversed himself, characteristically. ‘Nothing matters and everything matters.’

Victoria Glendinning is the award-winning novelist and literary biographer of Trollope, Swift, Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, Rebecca West, and Elizabeth Bowen. She has brought this admirable, principled and singularly appealing man exquisitely to life.

Back To "Writing" Main Page


Tools Just For Writers
coaching and therapy
Therapy is simply being in a quiet, airy room with an attentive and actively supportive/challenging listener for an uninterrupted hour.
More Therapy Details...
workshops
Writing Mentor
I offer specific and supportive feedback on the substantive issues of structure, character development, style and pacing.
More Writing Mentor Details...
Writing Around the Bend
Strategies for Handling Writers' Issues Creatively
More Writer Workshop Details...
Riverdale Area
Workshops Network

Workshops are also offered through Riverdale Area Workshops Network. Please check their calendar for Sarah’s upcoming workshops.
The Riverdale Area Workshops Network