Friday, July 30, 2010

Interview with Sarah Pinborough

Sarah Pinborough is an English writer who made her debut in 2004 with the novel “The Hidden”. Since then Sarah Pinborough published other five novels at Leisure Books, the publisher of her debut novel, “The Reckoning” in 2005, “Breeding Ground” in 2006, “The Taken” in 2007, “Tower Hill” in 2008 and “Feeding Ground” (reviewed on my blog) in 2009, a novel in the Torchwood series, “Into the Silence”, and a novella, “The Language of Dying”, at PS Publishing in 2009. On March this year Gollancz released Sarah Pinborough’s “A Matter of Blood” (recently reviewed here), the first novel in “The Dog-Faced Gods” trilogy, and will publish in September under the pseudonym Sarah Silverwood “The Double-Edged Sword”, the first novel in “The Nowhere Chronicles” trilogy. She was nominated for the British Fantasy Award, World Fantasy Award and Shirley Jackson Award and won the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story in 2009 with “Do You See”, published in the anthology edited by Ian Whates, “Myth-Understandings”.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Sarah, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
What stories made you dream of a writer career? Why an inclination towards the dark fiction?
Sarah Pinborough: I've always loved stories – and ever since I could write I can remember making stuff up, so I guess the idea of being a writer was always there. I don't remember a time – apart from maybe a year or so in my twenties, when I didn't write anything. It was either being an actress/film-maker or an author for me – I'm glad the writing won. I have too healthy an appetite for Hollywood! As for being drawn to the dark element of fiction, that's probably because I'm scared of just about everything and anything. I have recluse potential! I also have terrible nightmares, although now that I'm older I find that I enjoy them weirdly.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): What authors have an imprint and influence on your writing?
Sarah Pinborough: Too many! John Wyndham, Daphne Du Maurier, Roald Dahl, Stephen King, James Herbert, Kurt Vonnegut, Graham Greene . . . the list goes on. Recently I've been influenced by Graham Joyce, his slightly magical realism fantasy style had an impact on The Language of Dying, and John Connelly and Michael Marshall were big influences when I was pitching The Dog-Faced Gods trilogy. They made me see that there was a market for crime with a pinch of weird.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): It is said that no one is a prophet in their own land and it seems to apply to your case too since you have started your career in the US rather than your home land. What lead to your debut in the US? Did you try to be published in the UK at first?
Sarah Pinborough: I went to the States when I'd just started writing The Hidden and on the way back I picked up a Leisure Horror novel. I thought they'd be a great place for my book when I was done, and so when I finished it I sent it to Don D'Auria and he liked it. At that time no one in the UK was buying horror (or so it seemed on the bookshelves) so the US was a natural starting place. Six books later I finally came home as it were.

M(DW): You are a full time writer at the present, but how difficult is it for a writer to establish himself/herself?
SP: I don't think I have yet! I was lucky that the deals with Gollancz and doing the Torchwood books earned me enough to write full-time for a while (fingers crossed it lasts a while longer), but I wouldn't say I was anywhere near established. Finances and being established don't necessarily go hand in hand. You always hear stories about writers who get huge advances, don't sell through and then are dumped. I'd rather take small but secure steps up the ladder . . . although if someone wants to pay me a million pounds… ;-)

M(DW): How important is the research and documentation in an author’s writings? Is your research more thorough now that you are a full time writer?
SP: Ha! No... most writers hate research. Thank god for the internet. Both my trilogies are set in London so I do go and wander round the town (and tie it in with meeting up with friends) quite a lot, but that's about it. I try and get the facts right, especially now I'm writing more Crime fiction, but I'm not a research addict.

M(DW): You wrote fiction in different forms, novel, novella, short story. Which one felt more comfortable for you? Do some of the stories you want to write need more words than others?
SP: Novels are my most comfortable form. I only ever write short stories if I'm asked for one – wouldn't think about writing one for fun, and I've only written two novellas – The Language of Dying, and one for an upcoming anthology Zombie Apocalypse.

M(DW): You do not believe in the genre labels, but do you think that some fiction is underappreciated because of these labels? At some point in your career did you have to limit your writing to certain boundaries for some reason?
SP: Leisure have a clear idea of what they and their readers want in their books, and although I always understood that it can be very limited in terms of crossing boundaries or trying something different, so for the six books I did for them I was very clear that I was writing what I guess would be called straight horror – although I never went near a ghost or vampire or werewolf ;-).

M(DW): I understand that a part of your characters are named after real people. Did some of your personality or that of these people are transplanted into your characters?
SP: I often name my characters after people I know because they like it – but the characters and the real people are rarely similar. I'd find it very hard to write them if they were. I never consciously use any part of me in my characters. That would be weird!

M(DW): I know that your works also feature personal experiences and in a recent interview of yours I read that “The Language of Dying” is also a preserver of memories. Does the presence of your personal experiences in your fiction make the stories stronger? Is your fiction also a sweetener for your memories?
SP: I've used short stories as a way of preserving memory far more than novels (The Language of Dying is an exception in that it is only ever one breath away from the truth throughout), especially to document places I lived as a child that I won't ever go back to. For example, The Bohemian of the Arbat (Summer Chills, Constable & Robinson) was set in Moscow in the 1980s and Our Man in the Sudan (Humdrumming book of Horror Stories/ Mammoth book of Best New Horror) was set in Khartoum where I lived also.

M(DW): It seems that you changed a bit your register lately, with “The Language of Dying” and “A Matter of Blood”. Did you need a change in your writing process? Does a writer progress in the career when the author experiences new elements and genres in his/her writings?
SP: I think I just found my own style eventually and became more confident in what I was doing. I was very lucky in a lot of ways to get my first novel picked up by Leisure, but I have therefore had to grow up as a writer 'in print' as it were. I'd quite like to go through those early books with a red pen – although I dread to think how much I'd cut out! Plus, I've realised that I don't actually read a lot of straight horror – I like it in movies and in short stories but not in novels. It was a clear signal to me that my time as a horror novelist was probably over – for now at least it's time to try other things.

M(DW): “A Matter of Blood” is set in a near future, a grim outcome of our present global economic situation. What makes you see our future in dark colors? Since “Feeding Ground” has a few science fiction elements, do you consider writing a SF novel some day?
SP: Yes, I quite like the idea of Sci-Fi. In fact, my next trilogy is likely to be a crime in a much more science fiction setting. Still dark of course!

M(DW): “A Matter of Blood” features one of the strongest characters I’ve encountered in my readings, DI Cass Jones. Is it more difficult for a female writer to build a strong male character than for a male writer? Or is it a sole matter of talent?
SP: It's hard to say because I only have my perspective on it. I find it harder to write female characters, if I'm honest. I'm not a girly girl, so I'm not into shoes and shopping and romance and most of my friends are men. I do write women, but when I think of a main character they invariably pop up male. I'm not sure there's that much difference between male and female motivations – we all want the same things – we just go about them differently I suppose.

M(DW): Cass Jones is not the only character of your fiction who is deeply flawed and that makes your characters truly human. Why do you think that we don’t see more such characters in fiction? Are the writers afraid to give a human face to the flawed or negative characters?
SP: My characters are deeply flawed because I am, I guess! I find damaged people far more interesting in real life too, so it's a natural progression that I write about them. Lots of people out there do it well, though. Perhaps when writers are starting out they veer away from the human angle (the internal conflict we all have every day between right and wrong) or go for obvious little personality tics and traits as a guise for it rather than the more deep-rooted issues, but most of the books I read have got these kinds of characters in them. I just always take the angst to the hilt. I'm not sure there is a truly likeable character in the whole of A Matter of Blood (although I like them all!). Even Cass Jones can be an arrogant bastard as one of my friends pointed out!

M(DW): Speaking of female authors there are some very strong feminine voices within the horror genre, but they seem to be a bit neglected. Do you believe that horror fails to properly acknowledge the women writers within the genre? What makes women such strong horror story tellers?
SP: I hate getting caught up in the 'neglected female voice in horror' debate – we had too much of it last year – primarily because I never think in terms of gender. I have, however, just written a novel in collaboration with Sarah Langan, Alexandra Sokoloff and Rhodi Hawk – three very strong and successful female voices in the genre. The book rocks. It is interesting that women write Horror and Crime so successfully. It goes to show we're not all sugar and kittens.

M(DW): Although “Breeding Ground” and “Feeding Ground” share the same basic story and are related, is it more correct to say that “A Matter of Blood” is the first novel you write in a series? How different is the approach for a series of novels than the one for a stand-alone story?
SP: Well, technically A Matter of Blood isn't the first in a series, but the first in a trilogy, so it's more like planning one really long book. There is an arc within each but then the over-riding arc of the three books, which you wouldn't get in a series where the main character tends to remain static. The main issue when writing a trilogy is to make sure each one is satisfying in itself but also pays off a third of the over-riding story. It's certainly been harder on the brain than writing the straight horror!

M(DW): Not only that “A Matter of Blood” is the first novel in “The Dog-Faced Gods” trilogy, but you also will release, under the Sarah Silverwood pseudonym, “The Double-Edged Sword” the first novel in “The Nowhere Chronicles” series. Did you start to enjoy writing series of novels? How do you manage to handle the writing of two series of novels at the same time?
SP: Ha! It was more business sense than anything. There is a security that comes in signing for a trilogy that you don't have signing on one book! But yes, I am enjoying them – in a weird and twisted and brain-fried way – and will probably do the same again. There may well be more stories in The Nowhere Chronicles after this trilogy, but featuring different characters as the leads. I'm enjoying the world I've created there.

M(DW): Why the choice for a pseudonym in the case of “The Double-Edged Sword”? Considering that “The Double-Edged Sword” is a young-adult novel can the use of a pseudonym be seen as delimitation from the other part of your career?
SP: Gollancz wanted me to use a pseudonym for the YA so I did. I'm not sure if it's to separate the two brands within the same publishing house or because my adult fiction is very adult in terms of content. Either way, I was happy to have a different persona for the YA.

M(DW): How different is the writing for an adult audience than for a younger one? Does your experience as a teacher help you in writing “The Double-Edged Sword”?
SP: When I first started writing The Double-Edged Sword I was aware I was writing for younger readers, but by about thirty pages in I'd forgotten and was just writing a fantasy novel with younger main characters. The think I do like is that – although the book is very dark in places – you can be more quirky with YA. Kids look at the world differently than adults and they're not as cynical. My experiences as a teacher probably did help as I spent six years around teenagers and had got used to all their crazy behaviour and the way they approach things. Teenagers are great fun – they're full of all the promise of the world and have very little doubt. Their fears are different to ours. In many ways, they're more interesting.

M(DW): You won the British Fantasy Awards for the Best Short Fiction last year. Did this award change your career in any way? Does winning of such awards make a personal goal for you?
SP: Everyone likes to win awards or be nominated for them – you just can't help it! I don't think that award helped me particularly, but the year before when I was on the short list for Best Novel, that brought me to that attention of Gollancz who then asked me to pitch to them, which led to both the trilogy deals I now have.

M(DW): You are certainly focused on your two series at the moment, “The Dog-Faced Gods” and “The Nowhere Chronicles”, but are there any ideas pushing in the back of your mind for a future novel? Any other future plans for your writing career?
SP: I think once I've finished 'The Dog-Faced Gods' I'll be writing a dark SF/Crime trilogy – more news on that later!

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been an honor and a pleasure.


Alex said...

"I never think in terms of gender."

People not thinking in terms of gender is a great excuse for ignoring the casual misogyny in publishing. Like people who 'just don't see' race.

If we refuse to think about the different ways different people are treated, we'll never change anything. Easier to keep heads in the sand?

Mihai A. said...

Alex, I tend to agree with Sarah Pinborough. It seems that the publishing is affected by mysogyny in this case, but I don't look at the writer's gender. I am interested in her/his work. I think that things can change too, after all in the last three years Sarah Langan won 2 Bram Stoker Awards.