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Sarah Pinborough started writing at age 5, and hasn’t had a case of writer’s block yet. The 38-year-old author knew at an early age that she was destined to tell her own tales. “I wrote and directed school plays,” she recalls. “I guess my early hobbies were all about story—it was always going to be writing or acting for me. The writing won.”
Recently, it won a second battle: Pinborough used to teach high-school English, but now she’s in her second year writing full time, delving into the realms of supernatural mystery, horror, thriller and crime. Now she has added young-adult books to the list. “I don’t write exclusively horror,” she notes. “I believe it’s not writers who label themselves, but bookstores. I just write dark fiction, as far as I’m concerned. People can call it what they will.”
She claims not to have had any special inspirations for her books (“I just write the stories that come to me”), but admits that her journeys to the scary side were a natural progression, since “all things dark have always terrified and fascinated me. I never used to sleep when I was a child; my mum says she didn’t get an uninterrupted night’s sleep until I went to boarding school, because I was always afraid of the things that came alive at night—the things that were always just out of sight.” She had read fantasy books like THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, and later such authors as Daphne Du Maurier, James Herbert and, of course, Stephen King, so, “The natural progression was to write something scary.”
The UK-born Pinborough is best known in America for her Leisure Books titles THE HIDDEN, THE RECKONING, BREEDING GROUND, THE TAKEN, TOWER HILL and FEEDING GROUND. But don’t look for any new Pinborough titles from Leisure anytime soon: She’s now contracted with Gollancz for two separate three-book deals—the young-adult series and the Dogs-Faced Gods trilogy—which will take up most of her time in the foreseeable future. She’s not complaining, and is grateful that Leisure gave her a start.
“I’m just finding my style, really,” she says. “I was very lucky in getting my first novel put out by Leisure, and never really went through the developing stage before I got published. I do believe my writing is much cleaner than it used to be. I’ve always been more concerned with story than style, though. That doesn’t mean I don’t want my writing to be good, I just want it to be subtle and there to support the story.”
FANGORIA: What are the challenges of being a writer today, especially a woman in the horror/thriller genre?
SARAH PINBOROUGH: The main challenge presented to writers currently, regardless of gender, is the recession. Things were tough in the market before everything crashed, and now it seems we’re plagued every day with stories of falling advances and lines being cut. However, 2009 was the best year of my career in terms of book deals, so it just goes to show that there are still editors at the major houses buying books and willing to break people out.
FANG: You are an attractive woman. Do you ever get sexist comments from readers? If so, how do you handle that?
PINBOROUGH: You’re too kind… I don’t believe I’ve had any overtly sexist remarks made to me. I get the odd ‘You look like you should write romance’ kind of thing, but it’s always meant well, and that all stops once they’ve read my stuff. I’m a very driven person and have a clear plan for where I want to go with my writing, and how I want to improve. When you’re very focused, the negativity of others—if there is any—tends to just wash off.
FANG: How long did it take you to write your first book, and how long does it take you to finish a novel now?
PINBOROUGH: My first book, THE HIDDEN, took about three months. If I’m writing a 90,000-word novel, I can still do it in that time or less. The current thrillers I’m working on take a bit longer, because the plotting is very complex and they’re coming in at about 130,000 words. I aim at 10,000 words a week. Sometimes I do slightly more, sometimes slightly less. I did a lot of traveling last year, which slowed me down a bit, but I’m back on track now.
FANG: To date, what was the book you had most fun writing, and why?
PINBOROUGH: I’d say I had the most fun with the YA book that will be out in the summer. It was great writing for a younger audience. I also enjoyed THE TAKEN because I liked that it started scary and turned into a kind of dark fantasy.
FANG: Did you ever assign your books to your students?
PINBOROUGH: Ha! No…
FANG: Are there things about the horror genre you like most, and anything you do not like?
PINBOROUGH: I’m not really a paranormal romance fan. If something’s dead and it’s walking around, you should be scared of it; you should not want to have sex with it. That’s wrong in too many ways. I like a vampire to be scary, ’SALEM’S LOT-style.
FANG: It seems there are not as many publications today where aspiring writers can submit short horror/thriller stories. Any comments about this?
PINBOROUGH: I’m not a big short-story writer, so the markets for those aren’t something I’ve ever really followed. I only write them if someone bullies me into taking a commission.
FANG: FEEDING GROUND is a sequel to BREEDING GROUND, is that right? Will there be a third? And will there be sequels to any of your other books?
PINBOROUGH: FEEDING GROUND is actually a kind of parallel story rather than a sequel. It stands alone from BREEDING GROUND. I did plan a sequel, but it was too sci-fi for Don [D’Auria] at Leisure, so I wrote a separate story instead. FEEDING GROUND is a good, fun monster romp. I was happy with it, because it was going to be my last “straight” horror for a while, so I wanted to pay homage to some of the creature-feature novels I grew up with, like THE RATS by James Herbert and SLUGS by Shaun Hutson.
FANG: Does it take a lot of time for you to come up with a plot? What is the process that you use, i.e. do you draft an outline or write off the cuff?
PINBOROUGH: It really depends on the book. I tend to have a beginning and an end and then a big empty space in the middle. From there, I’ll tend to brainstorm and have various “what if?” and questions dotted around, and then build it from there. I don’t do character cards or anything. The characters just arrive on the page and when they’re required.
FANG: Do you ever experience writer’s block, and, if so, how do you remedy it?
PINBOROUGH: Never had it. I get bouts of laziness, but not very often!
FANG: Have any of your books been optioned for film, and if so, when we might see them on the big screen?
PINBOROUGH: I’m currently working on a project that I can’t discuss just yet.
FANG: Are there any other genre types you want to tackle?
PINBOROUGH: I’m covering most of the genres I’m interested in. I’d quite like to try a straight crime series at some point. Eventually!
FANG: It has been said that horror is a dying genre, but that’s difficult to believe given the number of horror films and books released every year. What are your thoughts on the matter?
PINBOROUGH: Horror traditionally does well in a recession—or so I’ve been told. Horror films and books are two separate issues, though. A lot of teenagers will go and watch a good horror film, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to start reading. The [written] horror markets are slowly picking up, but we have a long way to go to hit the glory days of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
FANG: How do you think the digital age has affected both aspiring and published writers? Are there more challenges or opportunities for writers today?
PINBOROUGH: The digital age has made self-publishing easier—which isn’t such a great thing, because I’m personally of the opinion that if you can’t get paid for your work, you should go away and make it better because it isn’t probably isn’t good enough to be unleashed on readers yet. I know there have been a few notable exceptions to this rule, but in the main… On the plus side, things like POD have made it easier for small presses to survive, which in turn opens new doors for aspiring writers. Aside from that, I don’t pay much attention. I haven’t really done much research into e-readers and stuff.
FANG: Anything else that readers might be interested in learning about Sarah Pinborough?
PINBOROUGH: It’s a not-very-well-known fact that I used to run a table-dancing club in Soho, London when I was in my 20s. It was great fun!
For more on Pinborough and her works, see her official website.
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