Sarah Pinborough is a critically acclaimed horror, thriller and
YA author. In the UK she is published by both Gollancz and Jo Fletcher Books at
Quercus and by Ace, Penguin in the US. Her short stories have appeared in
several anthologies and she has a horror film Cracked currently in development and another original screenplay
under option. She has recently branched out into television writing and has
written for New Tricks on the BBC and
has a crime three-parter in development with World Productions.
Sarah was the 2009 winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Short
Story, and has three times been short-listed for Best Novel. She has also been
short-listed for a World Fantasy Award. Her novella, The Language
of Dying was short-listed for the Shirley Jackson Award and
won the 2010 British Fantasy Award for Best Novella.
Mihai A.: Thank you
very much for the opportunity of this interview, Sarah.
“Charm”, “Beauty” and “Mayhem” published this year, the releases of the US
editions of “A Matter of Blood”, “The Shadow of the Soul” and “The Chosen Seed”
and the re-issue of “The Language of the Dying” by Jo Fletcher Books 2013
proves to be an extremely busy year for you. Does such a full year in your
career prove to be more demanding than the usual? Are you enjoying a moment of
rest or are you already working on your next novel?
Sarah Pinborough: No rest here! It's a round of edits, copy edits and
page proofs as well as trying to crack on with the follow up to “Mayhem” (“Murder”,
June 2014) and various other projects I've got on the go.
Mihai A.: Ever since
your debut almost 10 years ago you were a very prolific writer with at least
one novel released each year. Is such a rhythm taking its toll from your
inspiration? Do you feel burned out sometimes?
Sarah Pinborough: To be honest, I'm feeling it a bit this year. I keep
telling myself that I will factor in a proper holiday and a month with no work
at some point, but it doesn't pan out that way. Plus, I am a bit of a
workaholic so I find it hard not to write. And I'm also aware of how precarious
this business is so I never really relax.
Mihai A.: You have
four novels out this year with another, “Murder”, the follow up of “Mayhem”,
due to be released next year. Did you face strict deadlines for these works?
Did you sacrifice the quality of your writing in order to meet the deadlines,
now or sometimes in your career?
Sarah Pinborough: I hope I don't
sacrifice quality – I think as I progress through my career my books are
getting better. I have “Murder” out next year and another book for Gollancz “The
Death House” but I won't start writing that until I've finished “Murder”. I do
face strict deadlines but my editors often give me extra time. I'm a big
planner and so my first draft is normally (tidying aside) the one I hand in.
MA: After six
stand-alone and two Torchwood novels you published two trilogies, “The
Dog-Faced Gods” and “The Nowhere Chronicles”, and now a trio of theme related
novels, “Tales From the Kingdoms”, and a duology, “Mayhem” and “Murder”. Do you
miss writing stand-alone novels? Did you get used with the difficulty of
writing books that are strong individually, but also create a powerful and
packed story over more novels?
SP: Oh, I'm very much looking forward to writing a stand alone novel
after “Murder”! I love telling a more complex story over a few books but I do
miss the containment of one novel and not having to keep checking back to see
what you did in other books. That said, I'm very proud of both my trilogies.
MA: Not only that you
are a prolific writer, but you are also a versatile one, writing in different
genres and stepping over their boundaries. Is there a particular genre you
enjoy writing more? I understand that some day in the future you would like to
write a thriller or crime novel. Would you like to try writing in other genres
SP: I just like writing stories that have a dark edge. I've realised
over the past year or so that I like pulling things from different genres and
weaving them together. My first six novels were all straight horror novels and
I found that quite restrictive. I like to play around with different elements
although I don't tend to think in terms of genre when I come up with my ideas –
I just think of a story. And I have an eclectic mix of stories in my head.
MA: Your latest
novel, “Mayhem”, is a historical crime fiction with supernatural elements, set
in the London of 1888 the story gravitates around the Whitechapel murders and the
Whitehall mystery. What attracted you towards this particular period? Why did
you choose Dr Thomas Bond as one of your main characters?
SP: I chose Dr Bond because I found elements of his life and personality
(his insomnia for example) interesting and I felt I could weave them into my
story quite easily. He was also heavily involved in both the Jack the Ripper
investigation and the Thames Torso killings so he was an obvious choice as I
didn't want to focus heavily on the police investigation and therefore didn't
want to use one of the police as my central character.
MA: In a historical
fiction like “Mayhem” is important to keep the known facts as accurate as
possible? How much freedom does the imagination get in the context of
SP: I've tried to stick as closely as possible to the facts of the
cases, although I have taken liberties with the personal lives of the 'real'
characters. I've used real newspaper reports throughout the book which gives it
an authentic flavour, and having decided to stick closely to the real timeline
actually made my plotting more complex. It's like having to put flesh on a
MA: You took a travel
in time with “Mayhem” but throughout your works the present and future were
treated at some point too. Which one proves to be more difficult to write and
which one is the most rewarding when finished?
SP: Historical writing is definitely the hardest because you are
constantly fact-checking and researching, so as well as worrying that there
might be a hole in your plot that you haven't see, you also have to worry about
getting the historical parts right. Especially when you're also using several
real-life people as your characters. I find them all rewarding. I'm very
pleased that people are liking “Mayhem” because it was such a different kind of
story for me and when I finished it I really wasn't sure if it was good or not
– although I think that is normally a sign that it's good.
MA: “Poison”, “Charm”
and “Beauty” are all retellings of the renowned fairy tales, but with different
approach. What gave you the idea to adapt these fairy tales to the modern
SP: It actually came out of discussion with my editor at Gollancz. We'd
both been watching “Once upon a time” on TV and loving how they'd played around
with the stories and she asked me how I'd feel about trying my hand at it. At
first I wasn't sure I could, but then inspiration struck and I could see all
three in my head. In many ways it was similar to writing “Mayhem” because I had
a structure to work to and play around with already in place. Everyone knows
the stories of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White, so I then had to
play around with the expectations. They were a lot of fun to write – far more
so than that I thought they would be – and I'm really pleased with them.
MA: I was talking
recently with my wife about the perspectives of the fairy tales at different
ages. When we are children we see the beauty of the stories, but as the time
passes and we grow some terrifying and frightening elements of the same fairy
tales are revealed. Do the adults need a reinterpretation of the childhood
fairy tales in the way you did it? Are these your favorite childhood stories or
is another you would like to rewrite from the modern perspective?
SP: Within the three stories I've woven in some of the other famous
fairy tales so I think I've done all that I can do with that genre now. I think
it's very hard to write them for a modern audience without addressing some of
the feminist issues that fairy tales contain and I hope I've done that without
beating people about the head with them. These interpretations are fun and
sexy...and a little bit dark. I hope adults will read them and nod and smile at
the more wry and cynical elements – as we do become more cynical as we grow and
fairy tale happy endings can sometimes not be all they were cracked up to be!
MA: Last year, your
debut novel “The Hidden” was optioned for film with Peter Medak set to direct
“Cracked”, as it is entitled the movie adaptation of your book. How did “The
Hidden” become optioned for movie adaptation? Which other of your books would
you like to see adapted into movies someday?
SP: Oh, that's a long story but it came about after a company had
optioned the “Dog-Faced Gods” trilogy. I had written a draft of an adaptation
of “The Hidden” and they read it and liked it. I'm now doing some more notes on
it – screenwriting is constant re-drafting – and I have another film – an
original though – called “Red Summer” also optioned. I'd like them all to be
made into movies. Then I'd be rich ;-)
MA: If I am not
mistaken you also wrote the screenplay of “Cracked”. Does the screenplay
follows the novel closely or is drifting a bit from the book? How important is
the presence of the author on the crew making the movie for a better adaptation
of the writer’s work?
SP: The screenplay is very different. Same basic premise but a lot has
changed. The two mediums of book and film tell stories in very different ways
and I think it's often a mistake to stick too closely to a text. Plus, it was
my first novel and I would probably tell the story differently if I was writing
it now. I don't think the author is necessarily important in an adaptation.
When you sell the rights to someone you're selling them the right to do
whatever they want with it – and create their vision from your story. Often
authors do not make good screenwriters. Other people can adapt your book better
MA: How is the
production of “Cracked” going? Do you know an approximate date when it would be
SP: I have no idea on that. We're hoping to shoot next year I think. A
lot depends on schedules.
MA: Together with the
screenplay of “Cracked” you also wrote an episode of the “New Tricks” TV series
last year, “Old School Ties”. How did you find the experience of writing for
movie and TV? Would you like to write again for movie or TV in the future?
SP: Writing for “New Tricks” was a baptism of fire in TV writing. That
is a really high pressured industry but it was a great learning curve. I like
writing films best, but I'd definitely like to write for TV again. I've got an
original crime three-parter optioned by World Productions and we're meeting
again in a couple of weeks to discuss some other ideas. It's just finding the
MA: Besides “Murder”,
the sequel of “Mayhem”, what are you preparing for the readers?
Thank you very much
for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure!