Sarah Pinborough has written in a variety of genres, including horror, crime, YA fiction, and screenplays. Her recent novel, A Necessary End
, written in collaboration with F.Paul Wilson, has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. Her solo novel Mayhem
, an historical horror novel set in the Victorian Era. was released last month. Sarah answered questions posed to her by reviewer Dave Simms about women in horror, writing, and her two newest books. Read Dave’s review of A Necessary End here,
and look for our review of Mayhem
1.) Would you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m an author and screenwriter based in London. I’ve been writing novels for coming up on ten years and have written horror, crime, YA and cross-overs of all of them really. Oh, and some saucy fairy tale re-tellings. Not sure what else to say…that question always sounds like a dating site profile question.;-)
2.) In celebration of Women in Horror Month, who have been your biggest inspirations, past and present? What authors are on your bookshelf, and which women authors would you recommend to others?
Of women, Daphne Du Maurier was one I loved growing up. Currently I think Lauren Beukes and Sarah Lotz (her novel The Three comes out in May– I’ve just read it and it’s awesome) are really making waves with supernatural thrillers. Also Alison Littlewood’s stuff stands out. I also loved Sarah Langan’s Virus.
3.) How do you see the horror community now? Do you feel females command a stronger presence with the emergence of authors such as yourself, Alexandra Sokoloff, Rhodi Hawk, and others?
I don’t really ‘see’ a horror community per se as I straddle so many genres and so I just see a genre writing community. I think women have always had a strong presence in the field. A lot of editors in speculative fiction– in the UK at least– are women, and lots of women are doing well with their writing. I think people have a skewed vision of women in the horror genre, because for a long time the attendance at conventions was very male-dominated. That’s less the case now, and to be honest, lots of people have very successful careers without ever going to a convention. But the convention circuit and various Associations often only see that pond, as it were, and forget lots of people are doing very well who never attend or join. I spend a lot of time in the crime community and they’ve never had to address the gender issue because there are so many successful women working in that field and the festivals tend to be a relatively fifty-fifty split. Also, I don’t think editors pay any attention to gender when reading a pitch or manuscript. They’re just looking for a good story. But, all that said, I think it’s good that the horror genre is becoming more supportive of women’s writing and celebrating it. It might encourage more women to go to events.
4.) What is your writing process like? Do you use music or require total silence? Do you have a specific place or can you create anywhere?
I write in silence, basically because I’m so easily distracted. I prefer to write in the morning – often in my bed with a cup of tea. Then I do some exercise and whatever chores I have to do then do some more in the afternoon or some plotting in a cafe. Have a break for a movie or a book and then maybe do some more in the evening or work on something else. I’m quite a hermit really. I like social stuff but if my diary shows more than two or three things in a week I start to hyperventilate at losing my quiet space.
5.) With Mayhem, you tackle the legend of Jack the Ripper and Victorian London. Even though the novel is much, much more than just about Jack, what brought you to historical writing?
I had just finished The Dog-Faced Gods trilogy and I read Dan Simmons’ The Terror and that was what inspired me really. I loved the blending of fact and fiction in it, and I always like to try new things. The Victorian Era was a good place to work in because people have an image of it already, so you’ve half-way set your world up before you start. I started searching for unsolved murder cases and the Torso murders came up. When I saw that they were going on at the same time as Jack the Ripper I knew I’d found my case to work with.
6.) You’ve collaborated with F. Paul Wilson on the Stoker-nominated A Necessary End. Was this process more natural or much tougher than you imagined? Is there anyone you would like to work with?
It was tough for Paul I think, because I was working on several other projects, all with deadlines, and so he often had to wait a while and nudge me when it was my turn to write. It was great fun though and at one point, when our two main characters were having an argument, we went on Googledocs and basically riffed it out – Paul taking on the female character and me the male. The argument went to places we wouldn’t have got if one of us had just written it. I’m not a natural collaborator though because I hate that feeling that someone is waiting for you. But Paul has collaborated before so he was great to work with. I think I’d like to try collaborating on a script at some point, but that would have to be a week away in the same room with someone and hammering out a first draft, rather than too-ing and fro-ing over the internet.
7.) You entered the young adult fray with The Nowhere Chronicles. Do you see yourself continuing in this genre? How much of a departure was the effort from your “adult” books?
I really enjoyed writing those books and I’m really proud of them. I just wish, on reflection, that they’d come out under my name. I didn’t really see it as a departure – they’re as well-plotted as the Dog-Faced Gods, I think, and once you get in your stride with YA you’re not thinking of it as any different to any other novel – the main characters are just younger. My next two books for Gollancz are YA cross-overs I guess - The Death House and then a teen thriller called 13 Minutes Dead.
8.) You’ve been a teacher. How has that impacted your writing? Have/had your students read any of your work, critiqued it, or given helpful suggestions? Mine have always wished to be a part of the process and have been the most brutal, but helpful critics.
I was a high school teacher for a few years but I don’t think it’s impacted my writing other than help when writing teenage characters. Some of them read my early books and one student– whose name I used in The Nowhere Chronicles– read the first one before I sent it in, but I just wanted to see if it worked for a fifteen year old– which it seemed to. None of them critiqued me though– but then I don’t use Beta readers either.
9.) You’ve written straight up horror, historical horror, YA, and suspense/thriller, along with re-telling of fairy tales in dark, witty manner. Which genre has been the most enjoyable to write, or which title?
Gosh, I like them all. The fairy tales were fun because I got to be humorous in them. I like playing around with different types of story-telling but I don’t think I have a favourite, although saying that, I think thrillers with a hint of weird is what I like best.
10.) Screenplays have been added to your resume and an original television series is in the works. What can you tell us about them and how does the visual medium compare to novels and short stories?
The film I’ve sold is called Cracked and is an adaptation of The Hidden, my first book. I also wrote an episode of the BBC series New Tricks. The series is something different entirely but that’s under wraps for now. Screenwriting is an entirely different medium– primarily because so much of it is collaborative– producers and directors all have notes and changes. You don’t own it in the way that you do with a novel. I love it though and I think it’s helped my storytelling and dialogue in my novels. I like doing both.
11.) You began with The Hidden a decade ago. What’s the most important lesson you have learned about the genre, writing, and the publishing world, since that book was first contracted?
That’s really hard to answer because you learn as you go without realising how much you’re learning. I guess I’d say there’s nothing as valuable as a good agent, editor and copy-editor.;-)
12.) Is there anything else you’d like to share with librarians and readers?
Can’t think of anything! Just keep up the good work – we NEED libraries! And of course, we need readers!