Sarah Pinborough on updating Snow White with Poison

Author Sarah Pinborough on her “very different” updated fairytales

Author Sarah Pinborough
Author Sarah Pinborough

Acclaimed horror and fantasy author Sarah Pinborough is known for The Dog-Faced Gods supernatural detective trilogy, but she’s turned her attention to fairy-tales with a trio of novellas updating three beloved characters. Poison presents a new look at Snow White, and we talked to the writer about why fairytales are everywhere, the dangers of Twitter.

How did these updated fairytales come about, were you approached for it or was it your idea?

It wasn’t my idea. I had been watching Once Upon a Time and my editor was also watching it, and we would tweet each other about it. And she had gone into Gollancz and said “These fairytale things that are all taking off everywhere, I think we should maybe do some.” And so they all came up with my name. And so we had lunch and I was a bit “Ooh, shall I shan’t I?” and then I thought “Yeah, it’s money, I’ll do it!” (laughs)

It was strange because we were having these contract negotiations and my agent was being quite tough, and I still hadn’t actually come up with an idea of what I was going to do! I was like “Crap!” And I don’t write romance and I don’t write particularly female fiction, which sounds sexist but I write male characters more than I write female characters, etc. And then I suddenly started thinking about the story of Snow White and something just clicked in my head and I got my angle. I thought “Aah, OK” and from there I came up with the three outlines for each of them. And it’s gone from there.

And I’ve actually really really enjoyed it. And I’ve seeded some things in just in case they decide they want some more! If they work, if people like them! But all the people who are reading the proofs and the art seem to quite like it. But you know, the three of them are…the picture of the dragon thing that’s eating its own tail…

Ourobouros?

Yeah! So they’re kind of like that, so Poison is actually the second story, and then you go to the third one, and then you come back round to see how Poison started. So you can read any of them in any order and get the whole story you’ll just have a different sympathy with different characters depending on where you start, so I’m quite pleased in the way I structured it. Having developed trilogies where you have to read the first one and then the second one and then the third one which can be quite frustrating from both readers’ perspectives and sales perspectives. Whereas with these, you can pick them up and without spoiling any of the other stories still get the whole picture. So I’m quite pleased about that. But yeah they’ve been good fun, they’ve been good fun. And my editor just sent me a massive book of illustrated fairytales as a thank you, like a Folio Society thing, so I can read them and think “Ah, that’s what was supposed to happen in it!”

So they’re updated, are they modern day?

They’re not modern day, they’re proper fairytale setting but they’re very different, the characters are not how they are in fairytales. And there’s sex in them which I haven’t written for ages and that was quite embarrassing to write, my editor made me put more in. I didn’t want to update them because I’d watched Once Upon A Time and I thought I’d end up pastiching that, and I thought “No, I think I might just go with a kind of fantasy sort of environment.” So it’s much more traditional but not. So the themes and the characters are updated, but not the setting. I’ve gone with a quite a fantasy-esque setting.

Talking about Once Upon A Time, why did you think there’s this renaissance of fairytales?

I have no idea, it just seemed to come out of nowhere, didn’t it? I wonder whether it’s partly Hollywood likes to revisit, to use old material. And I think also people have got maybe a bit bored of the vampires, and a bit bored of that kind of thing, and yet wanted something that still has an element of fantasy that will appeal to women in particular. Because they’ve suddenly had about three films haven’t they? Plus Grimm, plus Once Upon a Time, and I know that Phillip Pullman’s just done a new fairytale book. They seem to be everywhere at the moment. I’m hoping I’m still on the tide, not chasing the wave frantically.

PoisonDo you find that once you’ve written something for a younger audience you want to write something for adults?

Well the fairytales are for adults, they’re not for kids. I quite like writing for young adults. I mean I’m not doing any more under the pseudonym, but the books that I’ve got planned for Gollancz that I’d be writing hopefully at the end of the year called The Death House, all the main characters are teenagers but it’s dealing with some quite adult themes so I’m hoping to kind of mingle the two things together. I heard this new phrase yesterday called “new adult”, which I’ve never heard before, this new genre. Somebody said “Oh your fairy tales are new adult, I was like “I have no idea what that means.” I think it means people that are going out drinking and shagging, etc but are still young enough to be living with their parents.

Like newly adult?

Yeah, I guess that’s what they mean but I was just like  “Jesus, how many genres do we need?” So yeah, I’m hoping there I can get back to, because I do quite like working with teenage characters, because it’s quite easy to get jaded with adults. But it was nice to get back to writing some adult fiction. I don’t think I’m a natural YA author. I think maybe from being a teacher, I like kids and I can go to schools and do the visits and stuff but I don’t do school visits anymore. I did them when I needed the money but I don’t do them now. There are a lot of young adult authors who spend a lot of time in schools, and that just doesn’t appeal to me so much as the adult stuff. I think it’s just not my natural home. But I’m hoping that I’ll cross that with the next book.

Is anything happening with the film adaptation of Cracked? 

We’ve got another round of notes to do but the director was judging some film competition in Argentina and then he was working on some TV stuff in LA so it’s getting the two of us in a room together.  So we need to do another round of notes and we’ll see what happens, where the producers go from there.

Films are great but they are like a lottery ticket. Sometimes they get made, sometimes they don’t. But I’ve got a three parter TV pitch that’s just been optioned by World Productions who did Line of Duty and Bletchley Circle and that kind of thing. So we’re working on that at the moment, and I met a film producer the other day who wants to write a romcom with me. Which would be quite interesting because it’s not my normal subject matter! I like writing the films and stuff and it’s exciting when you’re sitting in a room with a director and they’re saying and they’re going to film it and stuff but until the money’s in the bank and they’re rolling I’m always cynical.

Is it still Peter Medak on Cracked?

Yes, and he is awesome, he’s great!

You’re very active on Twitter, do you enjoy interacting with your readers that way?

I was on Twitter before and then I quit for a couple of years, simply because it was taking too much time, but now I am quite active on Twitter. But I also don’t have a family and I’m not married, so I have more time to dick around on the internet and still get my work done. It’s great when people have read your stuff and they’re positive, but I kind of use it far more to network. For all my ridiculousness on it, I’ve made a good few contacts on it and keeping in touch with people you’ve met at conventions so that the next time you go you sort of feel like you know them so you can hang out at the bar and that kind of thing.

But I think Twitter is more useful than Facebook, in that strangers can find you, as scary as that can be. Whereas Facebook you’ll have to add someone, and 9 times out of 10 they’re someone in America trying to sell you a CHAP book of their own! You know, I’ve got a ridiculous number of Facebook friends and I speak to about ten of them. Whereas with Twitter it’s much more lively and engaging. But it can work two ways. Sometimes I’ve gone out got drunk and I’ve tweeted, and I think Oh God, what did I say? And you see people getting into fights and arguments, which I have also done. But these days, unless something really is important to me I try and steer clear of anything too serious on Twitter. It just isn’t worth it, it’s not worth getting yourself wound up over someone you’re never going to have a drink with or meet in real life, it’s just pointless.

And I try and limit it. I have a program called Freedom on my Mac, which turns the internet off for the amount of time you set it for, so even if you delete the program it still will not let you on the internet until that time is up, so it saved my career! My finger hovers over it for about ten minutes, I think “Oh, I’ll check the Guardian or I’ll check The Sun or whatever, and then finally I’m like “two hours of work!” or “one hour” and it’s astounding how much more you get done, when you’re not every five minutes clicking on a link! We’re all like internet slaves these days, and sometimes I miss the days when it wasn’t there, Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff. But at the same time it’s a good social tool.

Poison by Sarah Pinborough will be available on the 18th of April from Gollancz, and you can pre-order it for £7.49 at Amazon.co.uk