A fashion and interior designer for her entire adult life, Newtown resident Beth Kellar Uniacke has turned to fashioning words. Her debut young readers’ book, Sara the Desk Traveler, was released Wednesday, December 17.
“I actually started writing this story 17 years ago,” Ms Uniacke said Monday, January 20. “I was inspired by a desk we really own. I saw the desk at an antique fair, fell in love with it, and bought it for my daughter, Kristie, when she was just 8 years old,” Ms Uniacke said. As she sat at the 100-year old desk that first day, cleaning it, “I was mesmerized by it. I couldn’t help wondering about its past owners. The desk just took me to another place,” she said.
Although she had no writing background, she felt compelled to tell the story she saw in her mind.
“I started writing — the original manuscript is typed and handwritten, because this was before we had computers at home,” Ms Uniacke said. But raising a family and working meant that the book was put on hold, until this past year, when Ms Uniacke set herself a goal to finish the book and publish it.
“I rented a cottage in Wellfleet, Mass., in May, and locked myself in for two weeks,” she said. When she emerged, she had made such progress that she was inspired to continue working on the book.
Sara the Desk Traveler is the first of three middle grade books Ms Uniacke envisions about 13-year-old Sara, who is given an antique desk for her birthday. A locked drawer intrigues her, and soon a hidden compartment is revealed, containing a key and a love letter.
Opening the locked drawer, Sara finds herself transported back in time, to the 1860s. There she meets the desk’s owner of that era, 15-year-old Victoria, who lives with an overly protective mother and is in love with David, a young man of whom her mother disapproves. Victoria’s mother is prepared to send her daughter away from home to make sure that no heartbreak ensues.
While very different, the two girls form a friendship (after Victoria’s initial surprise at finding this odd, modern day young girl in her room) and embark upon foiling the mother’s plans, making sure that Victoria and David are brought together, and a number of other adventures between the pages.
As the weeks go by, Sara begins to weaken and homesickness takes over, as the girls try to find a way to make the magic in the desk work again. How Sara will find her way back to the 21st Century is the question readers want to answer.
Because the book is geared toward young readers, ages 8 to 12 years old, Ms Uniacke left historical details to a minimum when writing, although she did research period clothing, and “how they would get food and that kind of thing,” she said.
Other research took as much or more time as the actual writing of the story, said Ms Uniacke. She researched vocabulary for the middle reader age group, as well as sentence length, which she said varies for the different age groups when writing.
Illustrating The Book
Finding an illustrator for Sara the Desk Traveler was another process that consumed time and required research, said Ms Uniacke. CreateSpace, the Amazon self-publishing site that she selected, does have illustrators, but she was not satisfied with the options offered.
“I picked out my own illustrator, but then he was not ‘getting’ my vision. So it took a couple of times, but eventually I found an illustrator who ‘got’ it,” she said. It was one of many lessons learned along the way. “You think that you’ll find an illustrator easily, but they are very busy. I would recommend anyone writing a book [that requires illustrations] to think about it long before the book is finished,” Ms Uniacke said.
Choosing her own illustrator was a reason, as well, that she chose to self-publish. A well-known publishing house was interested, but discovering how much control she would lose over certain aspects of the book, she opted to go the self-publishing route.
“I originally thought the book would be for the Young Adult genre, teenage readers. But 17 years later [after first beginning to write], kids are so much more advanced. It was either change the voice or change the age group. I decided to change the age group, because I didn’t want to change Sara’s voice,” said Ms Uniacke. “I found I had to update Sara quite a bit in 17 years, to modernize her,” she said, “just like going from the typewriter to the computer.”
“The whole thing has been very exciting,” Ms Uniacke said.
So far as the second book in the series goes, she is not divulging any information, but said, “I already know what it’s going to be about.”
Ms Uniacke looks forward to introducing her book to local readers in person at a book signing through C.H. Booth Library. A February 1 program scheduled at the library has been postponed, due to flooding at the library that has temporarily closed the building to the public.
“Look for a rescheduled date and time, though, when the library reopens,” Ms Uniacke said.