Last March, I was at a writing retreat in the Irish countryside with Cassandra Clare and Holly Black. We were tucked up in armchairs on our laptops, and occasionally I lifted my head and said a crazy thing, as is my way.
SARAH: You know, it strikes me that we have not been ambitious enough about this retreat. I am looking on the internet, and castle rentals are quite reasonable.
CASSIE: Sarah, you are saying a crazy thing. We would need more people for a castle.
SARAH: More people, she says...
At this point we were interrupted by our landlady, who was apologising for all the shouting hooligans in the country lane in the wee hours on the night before.
SARAH AND HOLLY: Hooligans were there? Why how shocking! We heard not a thing, not a thing! We were virtuously asleep in our beds!
LANDLADY: look of polite bewilderment
CASSIE: look of sudden dark suspicion
HOLLY: WHO WANTS COFFEE?
But the idea was planted in my head. I could have a castle, I thought. All I needed was people to put in it.
I did not actually think anything was going to happen, as I have millions of crazy thoughts a day, and there are seldom results from them.
BUT THEN. I was at a convention in Oklahoma in July, talking to the lovely people who set up the convention.
CON PEOPLE: And there's Jennifer Lynn Barnes. She's your date for tomorrow evening.
SARAH: ... You guys do that? Wow, that's very - I'm not real sure how to tell you this, but-
JEN: *has curly hair, is very charming and as tall as Sarah*
SARAH: Thank you for my date!
Author dating was of course going in pairs around to tables with other lovely con-goers, and not anything more scandalous. But the convention people had rashly given Jen to me, so I kept her. And then I met Ally Carter. Now, Ally and I have the same literary agent, and when I was making a list of agents and adding Kristin Nelson at the top, I read Ally's book I'd Tell You That I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, and thought 'This is funny! Perhaps Kristin will also find me funny. I can only hope, and send hallucinogens with the manuscript!'
So I was predisposed to like Ally.
ALLY: Hi Sarah, hi Jen. Let's run away and get ice-cream!
SARAH: My instincts are never wrong!
ALLY (waves a spoon): I shall come to Ireland!
SARAH: YES. And you shall write with me in a castle!
SARAH: ... Yes? Really? Awesome! You don't think I'm crazy?
ALLY: Oh, you may well be crazy, but this is not the point. I am going to make spreadsheets. I am going to make this happen. Jen will come too!
JEN: Leave me out of this Ally... that girl has crazy eyes...
SARAH: Hooray, we're all going to a castle!
Next I was in New York, having brunch with three other people from my writers' group, debut2009: Sarah MacLean, Sarah Ockler and Sarah Cross. Yes, there were four people called Sarah at the table. We got around this by using nicknames. I was the General, as I appointed myself the leader of the Sarah movement to take over the world, Sarah MacLean was Lady Sarah as she writes Regency romance, Sarah Ockler was Oh Sarah, as her name begins with an O, and Sarah Cross was Savvy, as Cross = Pirates = Savvy. Makes perfect sense!
SARAH RB: Pass the salt. Thank you, Sarah.
SARAH O: No problem, Sarah. You need it, Sarah?
SARAH C: No thank you, Sarah.
WAITRESS: Are you guys making fun of me?
SARAH MAC: How's your pinosa, General?
SARAH RB: Lovely, Lady Sarah!
WAITRESS: ... Are you guys in a cult?
After brunch Lady Sarah and Oh Sarah escaped back to their normal lives, relatively unscathed by the traumatic encounter. I kidnapped Savvy and made her go around the city with me in the scorching sunlight sipping strawberry ice drinks and discussing many things. Occasionally she asked piteously when she could go home. Sometimes people do that. The trick is not to answer them, it keeps them guessing!
SARAH: Hey Jen.
JEN: How did you get this number? Lose this number.
SARAH: You should come out for brunch to meet my friend Sarah Cross. You two will like each other!
JEN: I fear any friend of yours. She might kill me. You have to promise to be there on time and protect me from her.
SAVVY: I fear any friend of yours. She might kill me. You have to promise to be there on time and protect me from her.
SARAH: I swear!
SARAH: arrives a careful twenty minutes late to find Jen and Savvy have bonded Excellent! Now, let's talk about you coming to our writing castle, Savvy.
After brunch, which term I use in the lesser-known sense of 'ten-hour adventure involving pirates, wolves and the exotic American dish of mac and cheese,' Savvy said 'I would love to come to the writing castle' or 'Anything you want, just let me go home.' Something like that.
SARAH: Cassie, good news! I have recruited three more people for our castle. You will like them!
CASSIE: I turn my back for one minute and you have dragged innocent people into your mad schemes!
SARAH: (beatific smile) Yes.
CASSIE: I must go with you to protect the innocents.
SARAH: That would be for the best.
SARAH: Holly, our annual writing retreat is going to be in a castle!
HOLLY: What annual-?
SARAH: Happened this year and will happen next year. Annual.
HOLLY: I cannot come.
SARAH: Oh. Can you come now?
HOLLY: ... No.
SARAH: It is our annual thing!
HOLLY: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
SARAH: Can you come now?
SARAH: Can you come now?
SARAH: Can you come now?
HOLLY: Yes. I mean, no!
SARAH: Hooray for annual!
We still needed more people for the castle, and also, it had occurred to me by this time that we were going to be out in the depths of the countryside, in darkest Ireland, in a spooky castle. Clearly, some sort of threat was going to present itself, supernatural or otherwise. My safety was at stake, and I had to assemble a crack team...
Holly's specialty was obviously going to be evil faeries. I felt I could leave them to her with confidence. Savvy's book Dull Boy is about superheroes, so I assigned her to defend us if supervillains of any sort attacked the castle. Jen's books are about many things, including mystical tattoos and cheerleader spies, but Ally was clearly in charge of spies. I knew that Jen was an expert with monkeys. So if our castle is besieged by any sort of monkeys, including the very dangerous breed of flying monkeys, Jen has to save us all.
Cassie has to handle angels and demons. One might say, Sarah, you could help her with demons, but I do not think that would be wise. Given the least chance, I would become distracted and stop thinking about a combating demons scene and start thinking about a making out with demons scene. Cassie is very task-oriented, and I feel it is a job best left up to her. I am only thinking of others. I do not want to let anybody down.
This still left me with a lot of threats hanging over my head. So I got in touch with Carrie Ryan.
CARRIE: I am working on my next novel and, of course, thinking up ways to combat the imminent and terrible zombie apocalypse. What have you done today to help avert the zombie apocalypse?
SARAH: Uh. So, Carrie, I wondered if maybe you wanted to come to a writing castle with me and some people I'm kidnapping.
CARRIE: Hmm. Difficult decision. On one hand, who will feed the dog?
SARAH: JP, your partner in crime and the fight against the zombie apocalypse, can feed the dog.
CARRIE: True. But who will feed the zombies I keep chained in the garden shed? Oh, I suppose JP can deal with them too.
SARAH: He is very resourceful. And we need your help, Carrie.
CARRIE: It is my sworn duty to protect citizens from the zombie threat. Okay, I'm in!
SARAH: That's great!
CARRIE: Who do you have dealing with the unicorn menace?
SARAH: ... Unicorns are going to be a problem?
CARRIE: Well, they're nothing compared to zombies, of course.
SARAH: I don't want to get into this argument with you again, Carrie.
CARRIE: Fair enough. Are you telling me we are not equipped for unicorns?
SARAH: I regret to say we are not.
CARRIE: Don't worry, Sarah. I'll get in touch with Diana Peterfreund. She is a woman who knows her unicorns.
That is the story of how Team Castle became equipped for zombies and unicorns.
CASSIE: Hi, Sarah. So, guess what? Robin Wasserman and Maureen Johnson want to come to the castle! Even though they know you, and you did that terrible thing with the fairy buns where Robin could see you. Isn't that great?
SARAH: Amazing! Robin wrote Skinned. She can protect us all from the robots.
CASSIE: ... I guess that she can...
Maureen chiefly writes books set in the real world, so I have appointed her to deal with all our real life problems. Such as this one.
ANGRY VILLAGER: Has anyone seen my handsome eldest son? I sent him down to the shops to get some orange juice.
SARAH: I'm sure he'll turn up!
SARAH and ALLY: are sitting on a large chest. Thumping is coming from the chest
ANGRY VILLAGER: I sent him off for orange juice two days ago!
SARAH: ... Maureen, please assist us.
MAUREEN: Sir, it is time for you to leave.
ANGRY VILLAGER: What are those noises?
MAUREEN: This is a castle, we hear strange noises in the castle all the time. That is only reasonable!
ANGRY VILLAGER: Your argument is compelling, but...
MAUREEN: The way out is this way.
MAUREEN: Ally, Sarah, this simply has to stop.
SARAH and ALLY: Stop? Stop what? We don't know what you mean...
So we have rented our beautiful castle for a week, complete with proximity to the Stone Age tombs and the cliff walks, for the second week in March. And we are one hundred per cent ready for the inevitable attack by either angels, demons, evil faeries, zombies, unicorns, robots, spies, angry villagers or monkeys.
What will I be doing while the others prepare to do battle with their destined enemies? I am glad you asked! I will naturally be supervising. It is a tough job, but somebody has to do it.