Writers Talking – October 2015 – Sallie Eden

Sallie Eden talks to Cornwall based writer and charity fundraiser Sandra Southall  

As readers of Writers Talking will already know, I’m a great fan of Cornwall’s Mobile Library service. Of course, it offers the obvious – a wide range of books to borrow – but the staff also offer something extra: information about new books and suggestions about what each reader would like. Despite the large number of customers they appear to know us individually.

Talking to Chris, one of our regular librarians, he mentioned Sandra Southall (who writes as Connie Teal, a name she plucked out of the blue), author of a series of four books about the life of Annie Bundy. Sandra’s husband is a frequent customer at one of the other stops and had mentioned in passing that his wife is an author. Knowing of my links with Roseland online and my obsession with books of all sorts, Chris put us in touch. I was going to say ‘the rest is history’, but I hope this particular story has a real future too, as Sandra explains below.

The four books are (in order)

Threads’, Yes, Sergeant Victor’, ‘The Other ‘Arf’ and ‘Careless Talk’, the first starting with a descriptive extract from a glorious poem by Benjamin Malachi Franklin, through to the fourth which covers a period when “some [people] feast and others famish, fate decides the cost, and there’s always a cost”.

Sandra started writing about nine years ago, having not really written much before that, but following the advice to ‘write about what you know ‘. Her inspiration was the stories her grandmother, Annie Baines, told of her life in the Nottingham area from the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century. Although not a biography in the literal sense, Sandra describes the books as a “woven story of the lives of family and friends”. Part social history, part family saga, in many ways the books are similar to those of Catherine Cookson, who described her own work as ‘historical novels about people and conditions [I] knew’.

When I interview authors most of them want to concentrate on their writing, which after all, is why I’m talking to them. Not so Sandra. As she says, “It’s not me or my writing that’s important. The books are intended to be Annie’s legacy. I want her to be remembered and talked about. She had a tough life, with few material possessions but she always had something to spare for others – a bone for a dog belonging to a poor family or a bag of rice or sugar for those in need. When asked, she would always say ‘they haven’t got much’”.

Reading the four books I was reminded of stories told by my own grandparents who lived in a similar era and who also faced the hardships of two World Wars; a strong generation, yet maybe also a wasted generation although, as Sandra writes, “Annie walks amongst us all”. That may explain the appeal of the books, as she goes on to say “we all have families, homes, jobs and so on”.

As to how and when she writes, Sandra says “I write mainly in the winter months, jotting down ideas and making notes as things occur, then I write a chapter at a time in longhand, first as a rough draft, then again in a slightly more refined version, before my husband Roger takes over and transfers it to his computer and then finally on to a memory stick. It’s very much a team effort, with a friend in France looking at the ‘prototypes’ and offering thoughts”.

Sandra has clearly inherited her grandmother’s sense of the importance of helping others, which is at the root of the reason for her writing. The books are sold to benefit ShelterBox. There are several reasons for that, “we live only ten minutes from their HQ in Helston and it’s a charity we wholeheartedly support. More importantly, the funds raised through sales of the books take Annie’s legacy across the world, to all the countries where ShelterBox is helping”.

“Annie never travelled; she never saw anywhere, so I wanted to get her out into the world. This was a way of doing that at the same time as helping people as she would have done. Through these books I feel Annie has travelled as far away as Somalia, Haiti and North Korea. ”

So what now and what next for Sandra?

“I hope to finalise the fifth book this winter and there’s a sixth and final book in the pipeline. That will take the story to the late 1960s when Annie died aged 86.” 

You might think that writing and fundraising made for a busy enough life but Sandra and Roger have a smallholding, and enjoy spending time with their son and daughter and grandchildren. In fact our interview date was delayed whilst Sandra did battle with her fruit cages and produced over 200 pots of jam.

Rather surprisingly, Sandra isn’t the real reader in the family, describing herself as more of a fan of the outdoor life. But, when he’s not doing the “techy stuff” on Sandra’s books, Roger is a keen reader; we all agree that we hope the traditional book will be around for ever – to read, as a way of pressing flowers, ready to release old memories, a comfort in bad times, something familiar or uplifting.

And, you read it here first: I hope we may be able to hear more from Sandra as a guest on a new radio programme (more of which soon). It won’t be her radio debut as, many years ago, she did a radio spot, reading from a diary, rather along the lines of the Miss Read village stories.

Like Sandra herself (she didn’t want to submit a photo, but in case you were wondering, she looks a bit like Katherine Hepburn, although she denies that) her aims are modest – to help Annie get the life experiences she deserved and to help ShelterBox “get practical help where it’s needed, providing shelter and emergency supplies around the world whenever and wherever there’s a crisis”. You can help by clicking on this link http://shelterbox.org/donate.php to donate directly or by buying Sandra’s books, available at £6-99 each, including postage

Polladras Publishers, Penrose Farm, Trew, Breage, Helston, Cornwall, TR13 9QN

Further details from southall273@live.co.uk

ShelterBox Trust is a registered charity (1096479) and a limited company in England and Wales (04612652, VAT registered 777524785). ShelterBox is a charity independent of Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation. Registered office is at Water-ma-Trout, Helston, Cornwall, TR13 0LW.

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