Behind her eyes: Author Sarah Pinborough talks about writing and her career, ahead of release of latest thriller Cross her heart
Friendly and bubbly, number 1. best-selling author Sarah Pinborough seems far too lovely to have plucked dark thrillers and tense horror from her imagination.
But then, as she points out, you never really know a person.
It’s this quirk of humanity which has provided inspiration for Sarah’s twisty and terrifying psychological page-turners that have seen her catapulted to the top of the book charts.
One in particular has seen a buzz that saw her land at the top of the Sunday Times and New York Times bestsellers’ chart and is now to be filmed as a Netflix TV series.
But novel Behind Her Eyes was far from Sarah’s debut.
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It was actually more than a decade into a successful cross-genre writing career spanning science fiction, young adult fiction and psychological horror which has also seen her write for TV.
She has also penned several spin-offs from the BBC Dr Who spin-off Torchwood and is currently working on a ‘pet project’ film script with a friend.
No wonder author Neil Gaiman once described her as a ‘literary chameleon of astonishing power and grace’.
Yet Sarah comes across as the girl next door, helped by her appearances at events including 2018’s Bloody Scotland crime writers’ festival where she took part in a Would I Lie To You-style panel show with, among others, Mark Billingham and Val McDermid.
She told a detailed story about wetting her pants in a car and not wanting to buy replacement jeans from Topshop.
The panel believed her lie - she’s that sort of person.
“Just call me AJ Finn,” she says wryly, in reference to the suspense novelist recently unmasked as a fantasist in real life.
It seems against type that she admits to being anti-social, preferring to head back to a hotel room alone with a pizza than network in a pub for hours.
“My publicist knows when I say I’m popping to the loo I’m going to bed,” she laughs.
“I find events like that quite claustrophobic though I think the crime ones are fun and Bloody Scotland was not too big.
"Because I’m bubbly people don’t realise how stressed I get!
"Am I going to make a prat of myself - again?
The answer’s yes...”
This will be Milton Keynes-based Sarah’s first visit to Lancashire.
Her upcoming Evening with Sarah Pinborough at Preston’s Waterstones is ahead of the launch of her latest book Cross Her Heart in paperback.
“This is a little mini tour for the paperback because Waterstones has been supportive of various of my books - which is quite nice especially if you get in the supermarkets.
"It’s hard for Waterstones to compete with the price point there but what they offer is a different type of book selling.
“When they get behind a book it can be really good so we can do some events in store."
She admits she was far from an overnight success with her work.
“For a lot of books it’s the cult of the debut.
"A first novel comes out and they hit the jackpot.
"But that wasn’t what it was like for me.
"Behind Her Eyes was my 23rd, maybe 24th, book.
“I started writing sci-fi and horror and I’ve changed and grown.
"Waterstones made a difference for me on a on a YA (Young Adult) book called 13 Minutes.
"The paperback was on all their teen books clubs.
"I know how lucky I was but it won’t be like that for each book so you want to keep friendly with the booksellers because they are always people who are passionate about the industry”.
Sarah’s writing began, like so many others, as a child but it took a while before she made it her living as an adult.
“It feels like a lifetime ago! Like anybody who is going to write a book you always have that storytelling gene.
"I always wrote stuff as a kid but when I was about 28 I started to take it more seriously.
"I was living in Devon and training to be a teacher -I really didn’t want to be a teacher.
"The wages were so low in Devon then I could be a secretary for £500 a month or train to be a teacher and the government would pay me £680,” she admits.
“While I was doing that I thought I’d write a horror novel so I sent out to a little paperback publisher in America. This was about 14 years ago. I taught for six years and published around six novels in that time.
"Then I wrote a couple of Torchwood novels before taking six months off to write something different - I wanted to write a sort of retelling of Paradise Lost stuck in dystopian Britain with some dodgy policeman.
"Actually Lionsgate Festival Film are developing it for TV - they’ve had the option around 10 years bless them - but it’s sort of found its time with Netflix and people making more interesting television.”
In total Sarah’s written 26 books in 14 years.
“The more successful you are the more time you spend doing other things.
"Now you have the hardback release, then the paperback, articles, the tour - the fear just changes as you are constantly trying to up your game.
"Then I needed to write two books a year just to pay the bills.
“The nicest thing other authors have said is it’s given them hope it can still happen for them.
"You do worry it will never happen.
"It’s all about the marketing, the spend - so many good books are written that don’t get the push.
“I still pinch myself.”
She said the moment she realised she has finally cracked the Sunday Times chart with Behind Her Eyes was a huge moment.
“I was walking my dog and it was raining.
"It was the day you find out if you were in the top 10 but it had never been in my thinking.
"Sunday Times top bestsellers were for other people.
"I knew this one had a chance and then my editor rang me and was pretending to prepare me for bad news and I was like, ‘Tell me!’
"Then she said, ‘It’s number two’.
"I sort of punched the heavens in the rain - then I turned round and saw two other dog walkers!
“The next week it was number one!
"Most writers - if they’re worth their salt - it’s like a balance of ego and complete self-loathing.
"But I think you need that.”
Although she is currently writing thrillers for Harper Collins she doesn’t let genre worry her too much.
Thrillers play to her strength nonetheless with a background in horror.
Like most writers, Sarah’s advice for would-be authors is don’t listen to too much writing advice.
And get on with it.
Meanwhile Behind Her Eyes, starts filming in May for Netflix - by the company behind The Crown.
But is she going to make a cameo?
“Obviously! Probably a background person in the cafe, gesticulating wildly in the background!”
Unfortunately, since the publication of this article, Sarah Pinborough's event at Preston's Waterstones has been cancelled