Interviews with Writers

Women’s Fiction | Q&A with Sandra Danby, author of the Identity Detective Series

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I’m delighted to be hosting Sandra Danby in my hot seat today.  We’re chatting about her series, the Identity Detective, a series which focuses on reuniting people who have been lost through adoption.  Connectedness is the second novel in the series and published 10th May 2018.

Read an extract of Connectedness

I’ve really enjoyed Sandra Danby’s answers to my questions and know you will too.

Connectedness Sandra Danby

File Size: 3309 KB

Print Length: 342 pages

Publisher: Beulah Press (10 May 2018)

Language: English


To the outside world, artist Justine Tree has it all… but she always has a secret that threatens to destroy everything. Her art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.

A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore.

Available to purchase in digital format.


Hi Sandra,

Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.

Can you tell us more about the Identity Detective Series?

Yes, the ‘Identity Detective’ series features Rose Haldane, journalist and identity detective, who reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. And each new challenge makes Rose re-live her own adoption story.  Each birth mother and father, adopted child, and adoptive parent she talks to, reminds her of her own birth mother Kate. Each book in the ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In Ignoring Gravity it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother, her hopes and anxieties, her guilt and fear, and her longing to see her baby again. Now I am writing Sweet Joy, the third novel, which will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz, and how the now elderly woman is desperate to know her story before it is too late.


 How do your characters come into existence Sandra?  Do they have a bio?

Do you know the characters of Connectedness seem so real to me now, that I actually can’t remember their beginnings. So I looked back at my files. My identity detective, Rose Haldane, features in the first novel in the series, Ignoring Gravity, and I have an old Excel sheet listing where she went to school, her first job, her intense likes [fresh flowers] and dislikes [having unwashed hair]. With Connectedness I approached my new characters slightly differently, writing exercises and putting them into situations. I do have one Excel sheet for Justine though, detailing her art career from the first pencil drawings of birds in the 1960s to her first major collection ‘The Direction and Intention of Birds’. The majority of this was never used in the novel, but it informed Justine’s trajectory as an artist and helped me develop a clear idea of her style and inspiration. I actually wrote nineteen exercises about Justine, including ‘Justine’s headaches’ and ‘Justine’s private and public personalities’. Again, little of it made it into the finished novel but it helped me to round out her character. This approach definitely worked for me and I’m using it again for book three in the ‘Identity Detective’ series, Sweet Joy.

Do you have a theme for your covers?  Who designs them?

I absolutely love my covers and all the credit goes to Jessica Bell. I write about adoption reunion and the deep connections of family, so my first choice imagery is that of trees, roots and branches.

When I commissioned Jessica to create a new look for my debut novel Ignoring Gravity, I had two objectives: to refresh sales, and create a visual brand for roll-out across the next two novels in the series. I chose Jessica because of the recommendations I read on the ALLI members’ page on Facebook. I wasn’t disappointed. Jessica quickly grasped the themes of my Identity Detective novels and produced three initial visuals for Ignoring Gravity. I liked them all but chose one. She fine-tuned the design, always reacting quickly to my e-mails, explaining some of the principles of design and which ideas would and wouldn’t work and why.

Ignoring Gravity Sandra Danby

Completing her Book Cover Design Questionnaire was a key part of the process and helped me crystalize what I wanted. Jessica seemed to grasp my thoughts quickly and produced a family of designs that would work across the future series.

For the cover of Connectedness she superimposed the images of two women, one young, one older. When I saw it I knew it exactly portrayed the dilemma of my key character Justine Tree who juggles the past and the present. Twenty seven years after abandoning her baby, begins the search for her daughter.

Connectedness Sandra Danby

Panster or plotter?

Ah, thereby hangs a story. I am a journalist by training and therefore fall clearly into the plotter category. That’s how I planned and wrote Ignoring Gravity, it helped me through the challenges of writing my first novel. When it came to writing Connectedness, I decided to try to loosen up a little and let things flow. My first drafts were written from one viewpoint at a time, following my storyline. So I spent months with Justine, followed by months with Rose. My difficulty came when it came to meshing the two viewpoints together. The pacing did not work. So I spent months taking it apart and putting it back together again, re-writing and re-writing, and in the process shed 40,000 words. It was a painful learning curve. It taught me that I am a planner and that is good. It also taught me that I can write outside the box when I want to, but that ultimately any looseness has to be controlled if the novel is to work.

Which authors have influenced your writing Sandra?

Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series showed me how a detective story can be about more than crime. AS Byatt’s Possession is a favourite which I have analysed to learn how to handle dual timelines. I’ve learned a lot about period storytelling from Sarah Waters. About handling tension from John Grisham. About plotting and handling clues from JK Rowling.

Do you have a favourite book?

I have two, difficult to choose between them, both by Jane Austen. A predictable answer, I know, but I cannot lie and choose something else just because other people have chosen Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I love the wit, the observation, the sumptuous descriptions. Her characterization is sublime, from Mrs Elton to Mr Bingley, Lydia Bennet to Mr Collins.

Finally, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’m having a break from writing and am enjoying doing research for Sweet Joy. So that means reading about The Blitz, World War Two bomber pilots, curating exhibitions and textile design.  I have a visit to IWM Duxford coming up. So quite a diverse mixture! I’m at the reading books and writing exercises stage, which I find fulfilling. It’s good to think about something other than Connectedness and it is at this stage between novels that I most often write flash fiction and short stories. When my mind starts beavering away and ideas for new novels start bubbling up, I know I am ready to start writing the next book.

Thank you for being my guest.

Wishing you success with your writing projects Sandra.

Read an extract of Connectedness

Sandra DanbySandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted.

Connect with Sandra Danby

Twitter: @SandraDanby




I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 9+ years. My love of reading, crocheting, being out in nature and positive psychology are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school.

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