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Sarah Silverwood / Sarah Pinborough Interview

It Sarah Pinborough / Sarah Silverwoodwas 2011 when I first heard of Sarah Silverwood (criminally late I must add!). A friend of mine was telling me how he’d found a book that was ‘better than Harry Potter’. Of course, I looked at him with a raised eyebrow (remember when everyone was saying that?) and made my doubt clear. However, being a blogger and a book reviewer, I really had no choice but to pick it up and test that theory, did I?

That book was called The Double-Edged Sword and it was by an author named Sarah Silverwood, who I would later find out is a pseudonym for horror writer, Sarah Pinborough. What I can say is that The Nowhere Chronicles, the trilogy of books that The Double-Edged Sword belongs to, is an equally enjoyable, natural progression from J. K. Rowling’s work. It features a deeper storyline, characters that are just as vivid, and a narrative-style that will carry you through the books in just a couple of days.

Anyway, immediately after reading The Double-Edged Sword I dashed out and purchased The Traitor’s Gate and devoured that just as quickly. And actually, that turned out to be a mistake, because I had a 9-month wait until The London Stone was released…A tortuous wait for anyone who has read the first two. Well, the good news is that time flys! Today (July 12th 2012) The London Stone has been released – head here to buy it – and the even better news is that Sarah Silverwood – A.K.A Sarah Pinborough – has submitted to an interview with yours truly! Yes, indeed, the finest part of running this site is interviewing your favourite authors. So, let’s get to it!

Note: Sarah’s book is not available in the US. However, The Book Depository and Amazon UK CAN ship it to the US – it’s worth the wait!

When I think of Sarah Pinborough, I think of about two people. I think of Sarah Pinborough, the horror/thriller writer, and Sarah Silverwood, the Young Adult writer – two very different genres. So, when someone you’ve never met before asks, without knowing the answer, ‘what you do?’, I imagine your response would be along the lines of, ‘I write’. However, when that same person nods with intrigue and asks, ‘so what do you write, Sarah?’ how on Earth do you answer?

I normally try and avoid answering at all. Inevitably, I say ‘stuff’ and look awkward. I have a real problem with talking about writing or being a writer, and although I’m now 4 years into being a full-time writer I still miss being able to say ‘I’m a teacher.’ For someone who talks an awful lot, I’m very private about the writing and it makes me really uncomfortable when people ask me about it. Not on panels at conventions of course, because that’s work. But in personal conversation, like at parties or meeting new people, I absolutely dread it. If forced, I mumble ‘sort of horror. And crime. And some stuff for kids under a different name. Oh and I’ve done some tv.’ Then I hurry back to the bar or go and hide in the loo.

What amazes me about you as an author, Sarah, is that your voice in The Nowhere Chronicles feels utterly different to that of your voice in The Dog-Faced Gods:

“The orchestra of flies buzzed above the mutilated corpse. To the man watching from the doorway they looked like an unruly audience in the gallery cheering on their support.”

“Finmere Tingerwick Smith sat on the second step of the Old Bailey in the exact spot where he’d been abandoned in a small cardboard box sixteen years earlier. He sniffed, the icy November chill making his nose run.”

Is this difficult for you as an author? Writing a book aimed at younger adults in a voice that is easier to follow and holds back on the graphical content (at least, somewhat – people do bite their own tongues off!) and then going away and writing in a more literary voice – one where, essentially, your job is to shock and disturb your reader?

I’m not a stylist so changing the way I use language to suit the story comes quite easily to me. The Language of Dying is completely different (veers towards ‘literary’ whatever that means) in voice to either of the above, and I think Mayhem will be different again. I always just want to tell a story and I find the voice to each story comes naturally. I think I’m the kind of author who’s identifiable by their stories rather than their style.

We will return to The Nowhere Chronicles and The Dog-Faced Gods shortly, but I’ve heard rumours that you are also working on a new series of novels with Gollancz and another with Jo Fletcher Books. Firstly, could you tell us a bit more about these projects and secondly, as a side, would you allow me to come up with the pseudonyms for you? I have some wicked ideas!

Yes, I have a three book deal with Jo Fletcher, the first of which, Mayhem, I’m about to hand in. It’s set in the late 19th century (against the backdrop of Jack the Ripper) and although it is a fictional horror novel, uses real people and crimes from history as its core. I’ve taken some liberties with the personal lives of some of the characters, but the time line and events are mainly in place – I hope. Mayhem is the first of a duology, with Murder to follow. The third book is currently just an empty space in my head. I’m sure me and Jo will knock some ideas back and forth nearer to the time. What I decide to write may well depend on how well the first two do. I think Mayhem has been my hardest (to write) book yet – I had the same fear of it as I had when starting The Dog-Faced Gods. I figure that’s a good thing.

As for pseudonyms – I’m afraid there will be no more! Even Silverwood is going. I’m just Pinborough from here on in!

I heard elsewhere on the London Publishing Grapevine that you are working on a novel that has something to do with Fairy Tales? (We’ll come to questions on how on Earth you manage the workload shortly! I might also recommend you write some kind of productivity and time management guide – I’d buy it. ;))

It’s not a novel but three interlinked hardback novella re-telling three very popular fairy tales. All three will be out next year. In fact, I’m trying not to think about all the work I have to get done by next year. 😉 I’m really excited about these because I think I’ve done something quite interesting with them without making them unrecognisable. Dark and sexy. Grown up sexy.

So, this is all in the future. Coming back to the right now – you are anticipating the release of your third book in The Nowhere Chronicles, writing as Sarah Silverwood: The London Stone. Could you tell us a little bit about The Nowhere Chronicles and where the idea for the series came from.

A few years ago it was my friend’s birthday and she was pregnant so couldn’t drink, and she decided she wanted to go on a London walk called ‘the secret village of Clerkenwell’ where someone takes you round and points out weird and wonderful things and tells you stories about the area. I was a bit ‘meh’ but it was her birthday so went along. The weather was gorgeous and the walk was fascinating. Everywhere in the books came from that walk, (there really is an old folks’ home just for men in Charterhouse Square), and her brother and sister in law are called Christopher and Jo – hence the names of Fin’s best friends. (Those two have since had a baby and he’s called Fin!) The name Finmere Tingewick Smith came about because the pregnant friend’s husband had been driving through Milton Keynes and trying to come up with comedy names for their baby taken from road signs. Finmere Tingewick Smith was one such name, and I stole it. So that one walk with them on her birthday did me quite well financially! And gave me a story I’m really proud of.

Could you tell us a bit about what we can expect from this third book?
*Spoiler Warning – Only read below if you have read the first two!*

I like to think that I tie everything up from the very first pages of book one right through to seeing the Prophecy out. The Dark King is in charge and things get pretty bad in the Nowhere. I think I would have failed the readers if I didn’t have some of the characters crossing the river and going South so that is in there. As are the Magi. Everyone finds their destiny in this book – for some it is more tragic than for others. It’s a world I will miss.

Book two, The Traitor’s Gate, certainly felt darker than, The Double-Edged Sword, first book. From what I’ve heard, book three gets even darker soon. For you, is this a natural progression in a story – to get deeper and darker, or are you anticipating your readers aging as they read the series, or even something completely different?

To be honest, it’s probably a bit more technical than that. When I first wrote The Double-Edged Sword, Fin was twelve years old. Jo Fletcher, my (then) editor at Gollancz thought it would be better if he was sixteen so I aged the first book up a bit. So when I started The Traitor’s Gate I knew I was writing for older teens and adults really (I think the series works perfectly well for adults as it does for teenagers) so allowed it to naturally unfold more darkly. Although I have a leaning towards dark in my storytelling so who knows, it may have gone the same way even if Fin had stayed younger. It might not have been so complex though. Once I was past book one, I was also into my story and I not at all anticipating what readers will think. In fact, at that stage, I don’t even care what the reader will think – I’m just in the world and breathing those characters. I really wanted to write this story (in the same way as I really wanted to write The Dog-Faced Gods) and I’m really pleased with how it finishes. I hope others will be too.

So, The London Stone is really the last book then? How do you feel leaving a series you’ve invested so heavily in behind? Do you think you’ll be able to resist the temptation to return to the Somewhere/Nowhere one day?

I’m happy to leave it behind for now – three books in one world is enough for me (especially as I’ve also done it with The Dog-Faced Gods) – but never say never. There are parts of the Nowhere especially that I’d like to revisit, so maybe one day.

The Nowhere Chronicles

London seems to have a special place in your heart, Sarah; The Nowhere Chronicles, Dog-Faced Gods and the upcoming Mayhem are all predominantly set in our capital. And yet, you have only very recently moved there (another sign of your love for the City?). What is it about London that’s so attractive and inspiring for you, as a writer?

I lived in London from when I was 19 to 26 so this isn’t the first time I’ve been a resident. I used to live right in the middle by the post office tower. I love London because it has so much history. It’s full of stories everywhere you turn. It’s a tough city – it survives. It’s my favourite city in the world because everywhere you go you see old and new side by side, something that newer cities such as New York just don’t have. Although I do love NYC too.

July marks four years of you supporting yourself purely from your writing endeavours. Firstly, congratulations on a seriously impressive feat that shows how well-received and in-demand your books are. Secondly, how is this life as a writer? Is it how you imagined it all those years ago when you first started sending out manuscripts?

Ha! I think if writers realised how tough a business this is and how long a haul it can be and how constantly insecure financially most of us are they’d think twice about picking up the pen. 😉 There is that wonderful naivety in thinking you’ll send off your first novel and people will think it’s wonderful and you’ll be rich and famous by Christmas, and I think new writers should always have it, even though it doesn’t last. But it’s the struggle that makes you a better writer and it’s the struggle that weeds out those who can’t help but write from those who just want to be a ‘writer.’ Writing full time is great, but it’s also tough. Unless you’re earning big advances you have to get a lot of commissions to make a decent living. Well, you do if you spend as much as I do!

I believe you’ve written around seven novels in just over two years, without even delving into television scripts and film scripts you’ve been working on. And, we’ve already seen that you show no signs of slowing down, what with the Gollancz and Jo Fletcher projects you are working on. How the heck do you fit it all in? Do you sleep?

Don’t mention sleep…it and I are not the greatest of friends. Actually, I don’t think I work harder than most people, but I don’t have a family so I have much more control of my time. I also tend to work every day rather than take weekends off. It really is all I think about – now I think about it – which probably should concern me, but that’s just how my brain is wired. Now that I’ve moved to London though I have a much busier social life, which is great but slows me down a bit. I need to stop saying yes to every invitation!

In terms of UK authors – you have to have one of the highest attendance rates at conventions. I’ve seen you at pretty much every one I’ve been to, even the unofficial ones that crop up at random around London! Writing is obviously a lonely business and you said earlier that you don’t like to talk too much about writing in real life situations – are conventions then a bit of a relief for you? Getting to talk about your work and with readers and writers, people who go through what you go through on a daily basis?

I’m actually cutting back on conventions – I think because my life is much busier (as mentioned in previous answer) and I have so much on. But it is good to meet up with other writers and chat about work and the business, definitely. I really value my writer friends for that. We all have our ups and down and it’s good to share. I like to think we’re all a family really.

OK… every interview with a writer I’ve ever read asks: ‘What piece of advice would you give to new authors’. I’m not going to do that. A) Because you’ve answered that 100 times before, I’m sure. B) Because I promised you I’d be innovative with my questions. Therefore, I’m going to flip the question. When you first started writing: what was the biggest mistake you made and would advise new writers against?

I honestly don’t know. I’m sure I’ve made lots of mistakes but none are screaming out at me. In this day and age though the advice I would give is to not leap in with self-publishing simply because you’re too impatient to try the traditional routes. And if you ignore that bit of advice then make sure you PAY a cover designer and an EDITOR etc to make sure your book is as good as possible. And that’s not just an editor to check typos but to story edit you too. Otherwise, you’re just arrogant, unprofessional, and probably not very good.

We’ve talked a lot about your thoughts as a writer, but before we leave you to write some more I’d like to ask your thoughts as a reader. When you pick up a novel, are there certain things your look for and what kind of thing intrigues you? If you prefer, what is the recipe to a successful novel?

If I knew that recipe, I’d be worth a fortune. Everyone’s tastes are so different! I tend to lean towards genre fiction – preferably crime or something with a little weirdness in it. I don’t read a lot of horror or fantasy, although two of my favourites reads recently have been Justin Cronin’s The Passage and Dan Simmons’ The Terror. I also quite like historical fiction but mainly if it’s a representation of real events or people. I’m a sucker for the Plantagenets and Tudors. For me the writing should support the story and not overshadow it, and the characters are key. No magic there, just good storytelling. I just wish I had more reading time.

Based on this answer – could you give us a list of five novels that you think that our readers should check out (they don’t need to be fantasy).

Blimey, that’s a tricky one. The Passage by Justin Cronin, The Terror by Dan Simmons, Anything by John Connolly, Killer Move by Michael Marshall, and anything by Ray Bradbury. I realise I’ve not listed any women there. I do read a lot of crime by women though!

The fantasy genre has changed a lot over the past 10, 20, 30 years; becoming darker, more sophisticated and in many ways more real. Your books are a very good example of this. How do you see the fantasy genre developing over the next 25 years?

I have no idea. I don’t really read a lot of fantasy, although I think these things go in cycles. Maybe horror will have a resurgence, but I think maybe the pulpy kinds of horror novels that were so big in the 80s might still struggle.

Excellent! Well, we’re nearly done! This question we ask each and every writer before we leave them: Let us move 50 years into the future – Sarah is sitting at home, pretty tired after having written a ton of books over the years (at the rate you are going, let us just say 354 – give or take 2/3). You sit back and reflect upon everything you have done within the fantasy/horror genres (and perhaps even beyond them). What kind of things do you think/would you like to think people will be saying about you and your work at this point?

In 50 years time I’ll be 90. I’ll probably just be wondering where I’ve left my teeth rather than what people might be thinking of me! In seriousness, it’s not something I’ve ever given any thought to. I’ll be more concerned about my own reflections on my life. By that age, that’s probably all that matters.

Finally Sarah, I’d like to say thank you so, so much for taking the time to talk with me and answer my ridiculous amount of questions. Is there anything you will like to say before we leave you in peace?

Thank you for having me! x

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar Janie says:

    I got The London Stone yesterday!!! Sad its the last one.

  2. Avatar Paul Wiseall says:

    What a great interview!
    I really love Sarah’s stuff and to read that she has so many books coming out in the near future and that she’s living solely off of writing is fantastic all round.
    My only concern here is that I don’t believe not having a family can justify how she can find the time to be so prolific, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Instead, I think she has some kind of Bernard’s watch where she can stop time, or a team of magic typewriters or a Harry Potter time turner thing. 🙂

  3. Autumn2May Autumn2May says:

    Great interview! I love reading about authors who write series in different genres. The Nowhere Chronicles sound pretty cool, I may have to track them down. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  4. Excellent interview. Now I need these books in my life – *sarcasm* thanks a lot! 😉 Very excited to check these out!

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