Q&A with Sarah Pinborough

Well, it's been some time since we last did a Q&A, and we've been meaning to get Sarah Pinborough in as a victim volunteer for a while. At the time her novel The Death House was about to be released, it was all over Twitter, and I was champing at the bit to read it. On meeting Sarah at a GollanczFest signing, she said she would send me one for my birthday, which she very kindly did. When I read it, I was blown away, and I've been working my way through her novels ever since (Tales from the Kingdoms is something very, very special.) Now both I and plot bunny Maggie have also read 13 Minutes, and it's finally time to ask those questions.

PB - Do you have a set number of words or amount of time each day when you sit down to write? I seem to remember you saying you have a way of turning off the internet for a determined length of time.

SP - No, not really. I used to be a slave to the word count but not so much anymore. At the start of a book 1000 words is a good amount and by the end it's 3/4000 words a day. A good 1500 is a solid amount I think. People can get too caught up in speed. The thinking time is more important in many ways.

PB - You were a teacher, weren’t you? How do you think that experience has influenced your writing?

SP - I was a teacher for six years. I don't think it's really influenced my writing at all. Maybe it's made it slightly easier to write teenage characters but I think boarding school was a bigger influence on my writing YA than teaching. I've been out of teaching longer than I was in it.

PB - Does it take long to build up the momentum once you get going?

SP - The first third of a book is always the slowest for me because I'm sowing the seeds of the story and mystery and also getting to know the characters a bit. But I also know that I pick up speed as I go, so I don't stress about it anymore.

PB - Do you have a general writing process or does it vary from book to book? How do the beginnings of establishing a new project work for you?

SP - I like to have the ending in place so I know what I'm working towards, and I'm a planner. The whole book isn't planned obviously, but I have pages of notes and thoughts and ideas, and then I like to get the structure figured out – the shape of the story and which characters are telling it. I tend to plan in detail about 10,000 words at a time, then write them up.

PB - I remember once you asked on Twitter for women’s memories of their first touch of a penis (I know, I know…!) It was for 13 Minutes, wasn’t it?

SP - I don't think so. I think I asked men for their emotions and thoughts about their first sexual experiences – that was for The Death House. I didn't need to ask the dick question – I can remember that quite clearly myself! ;-)

PB - How many national and local papers did you subject yourself to reading to get the tone of each one right?

SP - None really. I think it's ingrained in us from reading lots of newspapers. You can easily tell the tonal difference between a tabloid and a broadsheet. Tabloids are easier to do than broadsheets really. You just have to hype up the hyperbole!

PB - When you started writing 13 Minutes, did you already know who had tried to kill Tasha or did the answer reveal itself as you wrote?

SP - As I said above, I always have the ending in my head, so I knew.

PB - How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?

SP - None. We're all starving artists so we just stare at the broken bulb and think how not changing it will save money on the electricity bill and then light a candle.

PB - Since truth is usually stranger than fiction… is there anything you’ve ever seen / heard / experienced that you’ve wanted to put in a novel but knew it was too weird for a reader ever to buy into it?

SP - It's less the strange stuff that you wouldn't use, and more the coincidental stuff. Odd coincidences happen all the time in real life, but if you put any in a book people will call you lazy or not believe that it could happen.

PB - What is it with teenage girls? (I ask this having once been one myself…)

SP - I think they're all almost psychopaths which makes them interesting. Boys too, probably but boys are natural pack animals – dogs. Women are cats. Teenage girls are just discovering what being a woman is all about and the pressures of that added to the narcissism of teenage years makes for interesting characters.

PB - Are you a cat person or a dog person?

SP - Both! My last pet, Mr Fing, who died at 22 was a fabulous cat. Now I have Ted, a fabulous dog.

PB - In The Death House, all the residents have their own way of dealing with the ‘dread’. Which character’s way most closely matches how you think you’d handle it yourself?

SP - God, it's been so long since I wrote it I can't remember. Probably Toby. Gloomy as fuck and feeling self pity until distractions come along ;-)

PB - Have their been specific books / authors that have influenced or inspired your own writing?

SP - All of them! Too many to mention really although the usual, Stephen King, John Connolly and Daphne Du Maurier spring to mind. And John Wyndham. I think the books we read when young are our biggest subconscious influences.

PB - We’d like to invite you to become an honorary plot bunny. Do you accept?

SP - As long as there's no weird induction!

No weird induction required, just an open invitation if you're ever in Brighton :-)

Thanks again to Sarah for using up some of her precious writing time on our silly questions! If you've enjoyed this Q&A and you want to thank Sarah yourself, I suggest buying some of her books.