Sarah Pinborough

On her website, Sarah Pinborough describes herself as:

… a horror, thriller and YA author who has had more than ten novels published thus far across that range.

To those of us who know her from her outlandish, hilarious and often controversial social network updates or her appearances at writing conventions, she is a warm, genial person who has time for just about anyone willing to speak to her (unless it’s another one of those crazy stalker-types!). Her work stretches far and wide across the fantasy spectrum, making some of her more recent stuff difficult to categorize (as you will soon find out). However, whichever genre you wish to bracket her in, there is one common denominator: the more she writes, the better she gets – summed up by a recommendation in The Saturday Times’ Book Section for A MATTER OF BLOOD.

So sit back and enjoy her great answers to some ordinary questions.


1. Sum yourself up in 10 words:

Me. There. I only needed one. Oh no. That’s ten.

2. During your days of teaching and writing out-and-out horror, you published your first novel: THE HIDDEN. Wannabe writers are going to want to know your writing process for this. Did you make notes before sitting down and writing or was it like a stream of consciousness that you just put down on paper as it came to you? When did you write it and how did you go about getting it published? Had you had anything published beforehand?

I’d had a couple of short stories published – literally two ;-), but I’d been scribbling forever and one day I came across a couple of pages of something I’d written a few years before but never done anything with or known where it was going and the story came straight to me. Not all of it obviously, but I knew who this woman was and what had happened to her. I wrote a bit then made some notes, then wrote a bit more, then made some more notes. It definitely wasn’t a stream of consciousness but it wasn’t as ‘planny’ as my stuff is these days.

3. If you were starting out today, would you look at publishing your first novel electronically with an eBook publisher? Or even self-publishing it, just to get it out there and letting publishers see your skills ahead of the slush pile? I ask this because you’ve come down hard in recent months on those authors who choose to follow this road. What angers you so much about a part of the industry that seems to be increasing exponentially?

No, I still wouldn’t. Not self-publish anyway. When I was writing The Hidden, my then husband said that if I couldn’t find a publisher then maybe we should publish it ourselves (he was a sales consultant and a good one) and I said no very categorically, even then. It angers me because people think that they can churn out rubbish and stick it on the net and somehow they’re Stephen King. It isn’t actually ‘part of the industry’. In many ways it’s no different from when I was a kid and I’d write a story, stick a picture on the front, tie it up with string and give it to my friends. It’s ego-massaging for hobbyists (and YES I know I’m generalising but…) The whole self-publishing route bothers me more when people haven’t even tried the professional routes of agent/publisher/rejections/learning because that smacks of an arrogance blended with a very thin skin. I’ve seen a lot of ‘Oh, I couldn’t be bothered with the waiting that comes with agents and publishers’ style comments from self-epubbed people on various social networks. They do themselves no favours if they want to be taken seriously. You need to be tough to succeed in this business. There are no short cuts. And, as an aside,  eBook publishers aren’t necessarily self-publishers so I wouldn’t lump those two together. If they pay and advance, professionally edit you and professionally cover design you and charge a price for the book that reflects the work that’s gone into it then I have no problems with eBook publishers.

4. Of you earlier horror work, THE TAKEN was best received critically whilst large numbers of readers felt a soft spot for BREEDING GROUND. Do you feel agree with these opinions or would you say there are better examples of your horror skills in those early books?

I don’t really think about it much. I think The Taken was the best of my 6 straight horror novels, but Breeding Ground is the one that divides the most. It’s my marmite book.

5. Of those earlier novels, I still feel TOWER HILL is your best work because of your handling of the male relationships – the dynamic between the two nasty bastards is one a lot of male writers would find hard to achieve. Does writing from a male POV of view come easily? You chose to make Cass Jones from your DOG-FACED GODS trilogy so I wonder if this is something you feel more comfortable doing.

Oddly, most people would say that Tower Hill is the weakest. I probably would. I write from the male POV a lot. I’m currently doing it again for Mayhem and Murder for Jo Fletcher Books, and my YA’s have mainly been male PoV and the new pitches are male POV so I must like it better. I think I’m better at writing men than I am women. I don’t really know why, but I guess I’m not a very girly woman. Shoes bore me, I don’t have kids, I’m very ambitious and marriage brings me out in hives. Oh crap. I’m a man.

6. I’m only going to touch on the ‘you’re a woman writing horror’ question briefly because I think it’s a little patronizing. However, there are those who will want to know if it has had an effect on your career. For example, I mentioned BREEDING GROUND’s success – was any of this because people were surprised a woman could write such nastiness?

I honestly don’t think about it and the whole subject bores me to death. I don’t think people are ever surprised that women can write nastiness. Take a look at the crime section in any bookshop. Lots of women are writing nastiness there.

7. Do you miss teaching? Did you show your pupils – or the parents – your work? Do you think being an English teacher and continuously using the mechanics of the language helped to make you a better writer?

No, not at all. It’s a tough job. Rewarding but tough. I don’t think being an English teacher helped my writing in any mechanical sense but it probably helped when I was writing the YA stuff because being surrounded by teenagers all day gives you some insight into their thinking other than your own memories. Most of my pupils names are in my books somewhere. I’m terrible at thinking up names!

8. Your writing changed with THE LANGUAGE OF DYING. It seemed to mature before the reader’s very eyes – even Graham Joyce in his introduction tells us that you “shucked off the formulaic and predictable patterns of the genre”. The obvious question would be: what brought about this huge transformation? However I’d also like to know what you consider you might be doing if you hadn’t written LANGUAGE when you did? If perhaps you left it another 12 months or even tried publishing it earlier. Would there have been such a change in your development as a writer? And is LANGUAGE your most important work to date?

To me it wasn’t such a huge transformation. Until then I’d been contracted with Leisure and I couldn’t have written a book like that for them because it wasn’t what they wanted. To me it’s just a different kind of book rather than one that signals some massive turning point for me. As for writing it/publishing it at a different time, I couldn’t have written Language at any other time, because it was based on a real experience I had and it wasn’t a ‘career move’ book it was a cathartic one. I don’t really see how it changes what I write/have written/ would have written. I also wouldn’t say it was my most important work to date – it is perhaps my most literary, but that doesn’t necessarily give it importance. It’s a very personal book for me and I’m proud of it, but I’m also hugely proud of The Dog-Faced Gods and The Nowhere Chronicles. They’re all just stories to me. Seems to be other people who rate their worth ;).

9. THE DOG-FACED GODS Trilogy: a series of novels in the John Connolly mould that sits on the Horror shelves in Waterstones and WH Smiths but could easily be in the Crime section. Which should it be? Did you write an out-and-out crime series with supernatural and horror elements or a horror novel with crime? Do such things actually matter or are sales generated by them?

Actually, if you ask me, I wrote a SF series with Crime and Horror elements. 😉 I was very much influenced by John Connolly’s early Charlie Parker books when I started writing it and it’s definitely a Crime section book. The main character is a policeman for a start – and the first book especially has a lot of procedural stuff in it. These things do matter, obviously, as the Crime section is much larger in any book store than the Horror section, but so much depends on how much marketing spend is given to a book.

10. With DOG-FACED GODS, you have remained with the same characters over three novels; putting them through hell, manipulating their lives (like a god?) and telling them what to say. Are you going to miss them? Is there any chance of someone coming back later on – if not in a novel then perhaps a short story?

God, I’ve only just got rid of them. Maybe they’ll get a short story here or there. I’ve just been invited into an antho where a Cass Jones story might fit. And of course, if it ever does make it to TV then who knows…

11. You’ve recently written a script for NEW TRICKS. How did that go – and why NEW TRICKS? Why not something more horrific or more in touch with your Sci-Fi roots? As a writer of TORCHWOOD novels, would you like to write a script for a science fiction programme or is crime your preferred genre?

I love the way you make it sound so easy to get into TV writing. NEW TRICKS is the BBCs highest rated show – pulls in 10 million viewers a week , and it’s a crime show, so I wasn’t exactly out of my genre. It came about through part luck and a huge amount of hard work. Amanda Redman had read A Matter of Blood and we ended up meeting for a drink and she recommended me to the new Exec Producer there, Richard Burrell, who was really great and decided to give me a chance. It was a massive amount of hard work – there is no comparable pressure like that in novel writing I don’t think – but was a great experience. Hopefully, I’ll get more experiences like that. Sure, I’d do a Science Fiction show. Of course I would. Or a Horror one. I’ve also got a Horror film that I wrote based on The Hidden in development and we just got a great director attached so hopefully there’ll be more news on that soon.

12. Other than Connolly, Wyndham and King, who else do you see as an influence in your work? Do movies and TV influence you or are you someone who prefers to feed off literary works only?

Daphne Du Maurier and Michael Marshall I would say are also strong influences, and probably some James Herbert stuff too – we all seemed to forget him after King came along, but when I was a kid I read all his stuff avidly. Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons and Justin Cronin are all writers who have influenced me more recently I think. I’m definitely influenced by movies – I probably watch far more films than I read books these days – I love movies and always have. I love the old classic black and white thrillers and gangster films and also love horror movies -the Thing and the Alien films are among my favourite films, along with Chinatown, Gilda, The Godfather and White Heat amongst many, many others. Don’t really do RomCom – surprisingly.

13. Readers of this site will have a fair idea of who they like to read – past and present – but of today’s new breed (those writers whose work has appeared in the last 10 years) would you recommend?

I would probably be better on the receiving end of recommendations rather than giving them because I have so little reading time these days I don’t experiment much, but I’d suggest people try Justin Cronin’s The Passage and don’t be put off by the length!

14. As a confirmed vino drinker whose exploits tend to find themselves plastered over the social media sites, you’re probably the best person to ask this of: what’s the best hangover cure?

Another drink. OR a day on the sofa under a blanket watching movies with a huge McDonalds take-away. Because I am THAT classy.

15. I think it’s fair to say you reveal a lot of yourself on sites such as Facebook and Twitter but do you ever wonder if perhaps you’ve gone too far? I don’t mean that you’ve insulted someone you hadn’t wished to, but more because of the repercussions you’ve experienced by deluded stalkers. After all, not many people have received photograph’s of a fan’s genitals or been subject to some of the foul abuse you’ve received because you’ve put someone in their place. It’s apparent that not everyone can see the joke so why do you insist on putting yourself in that position where you can even feel scared by what someone can do?

To be fair to fans, it wasn’t one of them – it was another writer. He really should have known better. No, I don’t worry about it, because it’s only part of who I am – very much a public persona – an exaggeration of my more gregarious character traits. I also think the internet / social networking is very transient and ego-centric – everyone’s too busy thinking about their own next update to dwell too long on mine. Also, social networking has been good for my profile, so I won’t knock it. I use it as a tool. That’s about it.

16. You’ve been described as controversial and foul-mouthed because you swear a lot and have a rather robust opinion towards the head of the Catholic Church. Do you seek out the controversy as a means of sticking two fingers up at the stuffed-shirt brigade or are you simply trying to enlighten? Going slightly further, are you actually giving a voice to those who daren’t speak for themselves but are happy to agree with you – thus making you a role model?

Ha! As with most things I don’t think about it that much! I was rebellious at school and have been ever since I think. I have issues with the Pope for the same reasons so many people do and I’m a humanist so I can be quite scathing about organised religion, but recently I have toned that down somewhat because I have some good friends who have Christian beliefs and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Plus, they’re the kind of people who make me think the Pope could take a look at them to see how it really should be done. I think that there are/have been occasions when I’ve publicly said things that others have been thinking and it’s made it easier for some, but I’m sure there are plenty of other times when people wish I’d keep my opinions to myself. They’re out of luck there, obviously.

17. Do you get annoyed pointless celebrities in the bestseller charts with books they haven’t even written? What are your feelings towards publishers blatantly ignoring genuine talent for the sake of a quick buck?

I don’t get annoyed at it at all! Those celebrity bestsellers create the revenue for publishers to take chances on less commercial books and new writers! I don’t think that publishing something they know is going to sell means that they’re ignoring genuine talent.

18. As the MC for last year’s Fantasycon, how important is it for wannabe writers to attend conventions? Is the process of making contacts just as important as the writing?

I think conventions and societies are great for all writers, new, middling and otherwise. I don’t know where I’d be without all the writery / readery / publishery friends I’ve made since nervously going to my first World Horror and first Fantasycon back in 2005. I always come back from conventions inspired to work and they’re a great place to make good business connections, but more importantly, to make great friends who understand all the trials and tribulations of storytelling. They can be really scary when you first go – especially when going on your own – but these days that’s where social networking can help. People chat in forums and on Twitter and feel like they know each other a bit before finding the bar together. Takes the edge of the ‘newbie’ fear.

19. You often write on FB about your frustration with the whole writing process. There are occasions when you find it almost impossible to get motivated or even wish you had chosen a different career (sacrilege!). Who do you turn to during those dark times? Is the process of putting these thoughts out on FB a cry for help or are you telling wannabes that even the hardest of hard workers sometimes fears the blank page?

Ha ha! I would NEVER put a cry for help on FB! To be honest, I don’t find it that hard to get motivated. I get bored sometimes or have far too much work on and that can be a bit over-whelming when life gets in the way (like the past 6 weeks with my endlessly glorious 40th birthday celebrations combined with selling my house), but I never wish I had a different career. No writer ever does, I think. Even if you don’t like writing very much, the compulsion to do it over-rides that. I’m a workaholic. I like working. Just not on the immediate project whatever that may be. And I’ve never feared the blank page. Been mildly annoyed at, yes, but never feared it.

20. What’s your guilty pleasure?

I don’t believe in guilt. I just like pleasure.

21. Finally, what question do you wish I had asked and what question are you glad I didn’t?

I wish you’d asked me about my future plans for work and I’m glad you didn’t ask the old chestnut of ‘where do you get your ideas from?’

To find out what Sarah’s future plans for work are, visit her website at:


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