FantasyCon interview: Sarah Pinborough

The UK’s cheeriest horror writer talks FantasyCon, economic collapse and Torchwood tie-in novels

English writer Sarah Pinborough is a FantasyCon regular; reinforcing the status the Brighton-based literary sci-fi spectacular has within the community. The eagerly anticipated second book in her dark urban horror trilogy of the Dog-Faced Gods, The Shadow Of The Soul was released in April on hardback and Kindle, and the paperback is coming in December. As this year’s Mistress of Ceremonies, she’s in a perfect position to explain just what it is that makes the event so darn good.

You’re a bit of an event pro – what do you think makes FantasyCon so special?

Ha! It’s weird to have someone call me an event pro. It’s only in the past year that I’ve realised I’m not the new girl anymore, although when I go to the Crime Conventions like Harrogate I still am. FantasyCon is special for me because it really does feel like being with family. I remember my first FantasyCon in 2005 in Walsall – which apparently was terrible – but I loved every minute and it was great to meet so many other writers who liked the same things as me. I’m really looking forward to being Mistress of Ceremonies this year because it makes me feel as if I really am accepted into the family now. Soppy as that sounds!

The Dog-Faced Gods series is very much rooted in our world – how much of it has been inspired by the mood of the last two or so years?

I started planning it two and half years ago not long after the first of the high street banks started folding and there was a real feeling of shock about companies that had seemed so reliable and we’d felt were safe with our money suddenly looking like houses of cards. It was when the word recession was being bandied around more and more and there was a real sense of ‘how did we get into this mess?’ It was also the time that, for me at least, I realised how interlinked the world’s economy was. I’d been naive about that before. The whole of the series was rooted in a kind of ‘what if this situation went to its worst outcome in the next couple of years’. I know that some people think I should have set it further in the future, but I didn’t want to change too much and although by book three you could argue that the series is clearly science fiction, I didn’t want to set it up that way.

How did you wind up writing Torchwood fiction?

I had just quit my job and decided to take six months or a year to try and write something I actually wanted to write in order to stretch myself and get a better deal. The book I was planning to write was A Matter Of Blood – which I ended up luckily selling before I’d written it – but at that moment I had very little money in the bank and was panicking a bit. Mark Morris emailed and asked if I’d be interested in writing a Torchwood book, as the editor at BBC Books had asked him for some authors to approach. I said yes and then pitched three ideas, from which they picked one which became Into The Silence. Since then I’ve written a few short stories for them and a new Torchwood novel Long Time Dead which is due out next month.

Do you think a lot of stigma associated with tie-in novels has been lifted?

No, not really. I think it depends on what you’re writing. I wouldn’t write tie-in for any other TV series other than Doctor Who. I might be tempted to write a novelisation of a movie, but I think people still don’t necessarily see it as ‘proper’ novel writing.  They’d be wrong though. It’s actually quite a skill to successfully write for someone else’s characters, especially when they are so well-known and loved. I’ve certainly enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.

You’re rather lovely, does it ever feel strange looking at reviews of your books, or interviews with yourself in gore-filled horror magazines?

Ha! That’s very nice of you to say so…I’ll go and explain that to all the dead bodies in the cellar…JOKE! I look at reviews to see whether people liked the books or not, or whether I feel there are valid criticisms that I should take on board, but because I live in my head I’m never surprised about the dark stuff. As for interviews, I don’t really read them after I’ve handed them in because I always think I should have said something cleverer!

How did teaching impact on your work? Did it give you a greater understanding of the power of direct communication or just a general schooling in humanity?

I’m not sure teaching has impacted my writing that much. It was a job, it was fun at times, but that’s about it. I liked the kids, though. Maybe it made my Young Adult stuff as Sarah Silverwood happen, but I think I would have written something for kids or teenagers anyway. I was only a teacher for six years.

Since you started writing full-time it looks as though everything’s been going really well for you – have things worked out the way you hoped they would?

So far, so good! It’s always scary to say things are going well, because you feel as if you’re tempting fate, but I work very hard and I’m moving into doing more screenwriting as well as novel writing because I think you should never have all your eggs in one basket, and on top of that I love the change in discipline from time to time.

You’ve got Dog-Faced Gods and The Nowhere Chronicles (as Sarah Silverwood) on the go. How do you balance writing two trilogies at once?

With difficulty! In an ideal world, I would have written one straight through and then the other, but as it turned out it was one book of one, followed by one of another, which means I’ve had to make massive brain shifts between the stories. I’m on the last of the six now though, so it’s all worked out okay in the end. It’s hard to believe that they’re both nearly done. Only seems like yesterday that I started them!

FantasyCon 2011 is held September 30-October 2 at the Royal Albion Hotel, Brighton – get your tickets here!