It’s an honour to introduce accomplished writer Sarah Hampson in today’s #WeWantToKnow feature. Sarah’s writing career spans four decades and she’s worn many different writing hats during that time — she’s written television commercials, magazine features, newspaper columns, a non-fiction book and, most recently, she published a children’s book. She has led a fascinating life and I was so pleased to be introduced to her (by her husband, Mark Raynes Roberts, a friend of mine and a crystal sculpture artist who I profiled in a previous #WeWantToKnow feature). It’s now my pleasure to introduce you to Sarah.
Sarah can trace her earliest memory of yearning for the writer’s life back to her pre-teen years when she vividly remembers meeting a friend of her parents who described herself as a writer, and something about this woman and her lifestyle resonated with Sarah. A feeling came over her in that moment that it would be a wonderful thing to call oneself a writer. Sarah was further romanced by the writer’s life after walking past an open window and hearing the sound of a typewriter, and she fell in love with all the other elements of the writing life, too. Sarah’s talent for writing matched her desire to be an author — she excelled at English Literature in high school and continued her studies at Smith College where it wasn’t lost on her that she was learning in an institution that taught some of the world’s renowned female writers, with alumnae including Sylvia Plath and Julia Child.
Knowing she wanted to be a writer but not knowing exactly what type of writer she wanted to be, Sarah took a job in marketing writing television commercials and she found success there, winning awards, and ended up staying in this field throughout the 1980s. However, writing television ads for products just wasn’t fulfilling her, and, in the decade that followed, shifted her focus to magazine writing. The catalyst for the transition came after reading an article in Toronto Life magazine profiling a baseball player for the Toronto Blue Jays and Sarah thought, “Hey — I think like that!” She pitched an idea to Toronto Life about the trending urban line dancing scene, and they loved it so much that they put the story on their cover, contributing to the magazine being nominated for a national magazine award that year, and propelling Sarah’s freelance magazine writing career. In 1998, The Globe and Mail invited Sarah to write a social column, which wasn’t the type of content she wanted to write about, but her resilience paid off because a year later she was asked by the paper to write the weekly profile column that she became known for, having interviewed over 500 notable people, including Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Leonard Cohen, Margot Kidder and Scott Turow, among many other people of distinction.
Nearly 10 years into her weekly profile series, Sarah was struck by an idea for a new column that she pitched to The Globe and Mail — she had gone through a divorce about 4 years earlier and her idea was to write about divorce as a contemporary right of passage to maturity for women, a topic that wasn’t really being talked about openly at that time (this was 2007), and this led her to write a new column cleverly titled Generation Ex (all the while continuing to write her profile series). Generation Ex was a huge hit and ended up landing Sarah a book deal, and in 2010 she published Happily Ever After Marriage: A Reinvention in Mid-life. (And what a reinvention it was! Sarah met Mark just as she was finishing the book, and they have been happily married for seven years now.)
Sarah enjoyed success with her non-fiction book, but she had always dreamed of being a fiction writer, so in the summer of 2016 she sat herself down and forced herself to start a novel. Despite having many ideas, she felt blocked creatively and needed to step away. Later that fall, she came across a piece on a photographer in New York City who had taken a series of portraits of pigeons that ennobled the species. This got Sarah contemplating on the problem with pigeons, and the juxtaposition of seeing them looking beautiful in the photographs while also thinking of them as a nuisance, and the concept for her first children’s book flowed from her. She submit her story to Kids Can Press and it was accepted just before the end of that year. Sarah’s children’s book, Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, was published in the spring of 2018, a sweet story that teaches children about acceptance and inclusiveness. Publishing a children’s book is another dream come true, as ideas for children’s books often popped into Sarah’s head back when was pushing her babies around in their strollers (Sarah is the mother of three now-grown boys).
Sarah is a prolific, award-winning writer who has had the chance to immerse herself in many different types of writing, and I’m sure that we’ll be seeing lots more from her. She has a substantial amount of experience to offer the next generation and does so via speaking engagements for journalism students — her advice for aspiring writers is that you need to have curiosity and you have to be fearless. She also strongly encourages that “when somebody passes you the ball, run with it” — that is, opportunities don’t always present themselves, so when they do be ready to run with them (she learned this from having at first turned down the offer to write that social column for The Globe and Mail, but look where it led her!). I’ve been writing professionally now for the last two years but I still feel so new at this, and I look at Sarah’s career with awe and I hope to achieve even a fraction of her accomplishments in my future. Sarah is an inspiration to me and it has been a privilege to share her story.
Want more? Here’s what #WeWantToKnow about Sarah:
I can't start my morning without…toast, fresh fruit and large cup of tea, brought to me in bed by my sweet husband.
I have a weakness for…a particular, late-afternoon slant of light that comes in the window in our living room.
Most people don't know that I…believe in angels.
Currently reading… Sofie & Cecilia by Katherine Ashenburg and The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer.
An important lesson I learned from a challenge I faced…is that resilience is a skill.
I want…the energy to write books into my dotage.
Thanks so much Sarah, for participating in #WeWantToKnow! I hope to see many more books in your future.