I am very pleased to welcome today Sarah Pinborough, author of A Matter of Blood (published 25th March by Gollancz), into the hot seat for a few questions regarding writing in general and the influences that define her work.
I have read the book and adored it - I did a guest review over at Book Chick City for Carolyn, which you might want to check out.
In addition, when I decided to ask Sarah if she'd be kind enough to stop by Floor to Ceiling books, Jason over at Kamvision let me know he was also conducting an interview. We have tried hard not to overlap on our questions, so I would urge you to head over to his blog and read the interview he did as well!
AMANDA: A Matter of Blood has hints of the supernatural, as well as being a crime novel, and it could also sit quite comfortably on the horror shelves in a bookstore - do you think the boundaries between genres are shifting right now?
SARAH: I don't ever really think in terms of genre - that's the bookseller's domain! If I had to pick a genre for A Matter of Blood, I'd pick Crime. I know some other people would pick Horror. I just write the stories that come to me and hope that people like them!
AMANDA: What was it within this story that encouraged you to write across genres as opposed to just sticking to straight up crime or pure horror?
SARAH: I would at some point like to write a straight crime series, but for this trilogy the crime element and the supernatural element are both fundamental to the story. Like I said, I don't tend to think in terms of genre at all. My YA trilogy, the first of which comes from Gollancz in September under the name Sarah Silverwood, is probably more traditional fantasy. Adult fantasy doesn't appeal to me to write - probably because I loved fantasy as a child and a teenager and then haven't read much as an adult. Writing it for young people works best for me.
AMANDA: Since we're speaking about them at the moment: you moved publishers to Gollancz for the publication of A Matter of Blood - how are you enjoying your time with them?
SARAH: My move to Gollancz was a massive step in my career and it's been brilliant. My editor and I really click and she's definitely helping me up my game. They have a great team there and really believe in what they're doing and in their authors. I'm very lucky to be there.
AMANDA: When you pitched to Gollancz, did you worry that A Matter of Blood would be a harder sell because it did straddle genres? Or was it snapped up? [as it should have been!]
SARAH: I actually sold the trilogy to Gollancz on a three paragraph pitch (one per book) and an eight page sample! I had lunch with Jo Fletcher and talked her through my ideas for it and luckily she, and the rest of the purchasing team, loved it. It was a dream sale for me!
AMANDA: Let me ask you a little about the writing of the book. I noticed in your acknowledgements you mention Michael Marshall Smith, and, as I was reading A Matter of Blood, I thought there were definite echoes of his style (in the guise of his thriller pen name Michael Marshall). Did he offer any guidance in the writing of your novel?
SARAH: He was definitely an influence in this book. I was getting bored of writing straight horror and wanted to try something different and more challenging. I'd read Mike's The Intruders and John Connolly's Every Dead Thing, and I suddenly realised you could combine the Crime/Thriller genre with elements of the supernatural and commercial publishers would go for it. He didn't offer guidance as such, but I did show him my pitch and the first few pages to get his take on it. He's always been really good on email advice. I'm very lucky to have a good network of much more experienced writers than me around to draw on, and thankfully they're all very patient and helpful.
AMANDA: While we're talking about factors that might have influenced your writing, I notice that you speak about boarding school on your website as a time of horror! How much did this experience and the fact that you travelled a lot as a youngster inform your writing?
SARAH: All things considered, boarding school was a pretty terrible time - the first eight years anyway! Although it did teach me to be independent and I made some very good friends there, I could have done without things like being locked in a room at the bottom of the house and forgotten about until 2am when I was 8 years old! For my sixth form I went to a school in Scotland, The Edinburgh Academy, which I loved. It's hard to tell how much these things influence your writing. The travelling has given me plenty of sensory memories to draw on, and at school the lack of TV etc certainly had me writing stories at a young age. I blame, if blame is the right word, my education for my rebellious and anti-authoritarian streak. Those things may have been there to start with but they were certainly strengthened by my experiences as a child. Perhaps they've influenced the kind of characters I choose to have in my books. I think we can safely say that Cass Jones has a clear anti-establishment streak even if he is a policeman!
AMANDA: So, if it isn't too cheeky to ask, do you currently have a day job, and how does that affect the writing if so?
SARAH: Thankfully I no longer have a day job and haven't for the past year and a half. I wrote my first five novels however as a teacher and that was hard work. I would try and write a thousand words in the evenings but it didn't always work. Sometimes I would wake up at five and write for an hour before getting up.
AMANDA: I shudder at the thought! Now that you're a full-time author, do you have a specific writing routine?
SARAH: I'm much better writing in the mornings than I am in the afternoons. I tend to have a cup of tea at about half seven and check my emails and stuff and then if I'm in a book I try and get 1500 to 2000 words done by about half eleven. At the start of a book I'm slower but once I'm in the zone that's usually do-able. In the afternoons I either work on something else in a coffee shop or plan out what's going to come next. I'm a big planner - I have notebooks full of scribbled sequences and spider-diagrams, mainly with notes surrounded by question marks!
AMANDA: Finally, also while on your website, I noticed your page on the MUSE collective - can you tell us how this came about and what your involvement is?
SARAH: It came about because Sarah Langan, Alex Sokoloff and I were on a panel together in World Horror Toronto and we realised that we were all on the same wavelength and all doing similar things. It was a breath of fresh air to have other women in the field to talk to who were working at the same level and who weren't writing paranormal romance or 'obvious' horror. We all really clicked, and even when we're madly busy with our own projects, we always check in with each other once a month or so. MUSE has slowed a bit because Deborah LeBlanc has been replaced in the line up with Rhodi Hawk. We've written four interlinked novellas, with kick-ass heroines, and a nicely quirky premise. As soon as Rhodi has finished up her quarter (which will be any day now I think) and we've made sure we're all consistent, it'll be going out to publishers. Hopefully they'll like it as much as we do!
AMANDA: Sincere good luck with the project, Sarah, and thanks so much for stopping by at Floor to Ceiling books today!
Go check out Sarah's website, and if you're attending World Horror Con this coming weekend then look out for her! And why are you still here reading when you should be hurrying off to buy copies of A Matter of Blood?!