Sarah Pinborough is a critically acclaimed horror, thriller and YA author. 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 ADĂSCĂLIȚEI: Thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview, Sarah.
With Poison, 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.
M.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?
S.P.: 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.
M.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?
S.P.: 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.
M.A.: 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?
S.P.: 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.
M.A.: 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 as well?
S.P.: I just like writing stories that have a dark edge. I’ve realized 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.
M.A.: 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?
S.P.: 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.
M.A.: 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 historical facts?
S.P.: 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 provided skeleton.
M.A.: 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?
S.P.: 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.
M.A.: 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 times?
S.P.: 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.
M.A.: 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?
S.P.: 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!
M.A.: 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?
S.P.: 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. ;-)
M.A.: 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?
S.P.: 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 for screen.
M.A.: How is the production of Cracked going? Do you know an approximate date when it would be released?
S.P.: I have no idea on that. We’re hoping to shoot next year I think. A lot depends on schedules.
M.A.: 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?
S.P.: 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 time!
M.A.: Besides Murder, the sequel of Mayhem, what are you preparing for the readers?
S.P.: There is The Death House from Gollancz that I’ll be writing after Murder which is once again a different type of story – not a horror novel, more a rites of passage book, but you can read more about that here.
M.A.: Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure!
–This interview was conducted via e-mail in May 2013