Criminal lawyer turns her hand to coming-of-age novel

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Former Leeds solicitor Sarah Healey, who opted for a quieter life in Cornwall a few years ago, has had her first novel published. Yvette Huddleston reports.

There are plenty of people who dream of giving up the day job, quitting the rat race and finally writing that book; fewer who actually do it, but debut novelist Sarah Healey is one of them.

Healey, who grew up in Harrogate and studied law at Sheffield University, was a criminal defence lawyer in Leeds for many years before leaving it all behind and moving to Cornwall in 2003. “My work was very interesting and demanding, and when my husband and I started a family we decided we wanted a slower, rural life,” says Healey.

“Moving out of the city and giving up that hectic pace has enabled me to concentrate much more on writing. There are more important things in life than working long hours to earn lots of money.” Apart from writing, which she says she has always been interested in, Healey has also been home-educating her son, who is now 13. “My first priority is my son and I have always fitted my writing around him but now that he is older I have more time.”

Her debut novel Red Blue Green is set in a slightly down-at-heel small rural town and is a beautifully observed coming of age story, written in the first person, about the experiences of a 16-year-old boy on the cusp of adulthood over the course of one intense summer between school and college. His parents’ marriage – which is blighted by a family tragedy – is falling apart, his friends are drifting into crime and he is struggling to make sense of everything. “It’s really about being a teenager, on the brink of adult life,” says Healey. “And having that feeling that everything is changing and you are not in control of it. The boy is quite shy and he feels as if he is being carried along by events rather than through choice.” Healey says her experiences working as a lawyer in Leeds provided inspiration in creating the characters in her novel. “I worked with a lot of young offenders, so I drew on that knowledge of teenage boys at risk of going off the rails,” she says. “But there is also a bit of myself in the main character. I was very shy as a teenager and always felt on the outside of things.” The protagonist is never given a name and that, says Healey, was deliberate. “He feels quite anonymous and as though he is on the edge of everything, watching everyone else.”

He hangs around with his friends Daniel and Jonah and there is also a girl Alice, who is bright, quirky and always has something interesting to say. The boy is fascinated by her. “I really liked writing Alice,” says Healey. “She’s quite a strong character and she obviously really likes the narrator as well. She wants to make an emotional connection with him but he doesn’t know how to deal with that, which is one of the poignant things in the book.”

Landscape plays an important role in the novel although, perhaps surprisingly, it is not set in Cornwall and is actually inspired by Lincolnshire where Healey also lived and worked at one time. “Lincolnshire has a really open, flat landscape and industrial agriculture, so although it is the countryside it feels quite urban,” she says. “It seemed to fit with the atmosphere of the story.”

Healey has already started work on another novel, this time set in Cornwall. “Being published makes a big difference, I feel I can justify devoting more time to my writing,” she says. “I’m hoping this book is going to be the first of many.”

Red Blue Green, published by New Haven Publishing, £12.99.