Sarah Pinborough comes to BookPeople this Saturday, February 18th, at 3 PM to speak and sign her new genre-bending tale of psychological suspense, Behind Her Eyes, a novel already internationally renowned for its insane twist ending. Pinborough was kind enough to answer a few questions before the event.
- Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz
“I think the main theme is the destructiveness of love. I wanted to write about how it’s not always the positive force we hope for and it can do as much harm as good if the wrong people fall in love.”
Molly Odintz: You’ve worked in multiple genres, and without giving anything away, Behind Her Eyes is a genre-bender as well as a mind-bender of a read. What’s your most-preferred genre to work in, and what advice would you give writers interested in telling stories across genres?
Sarah Pinborough: I don’t really think of story in terms of genre, but I like writing stories that are puzzles, and most of my books have been mysteries of on sort or another. I like making the reader have to put a jigsaw together, whether that crime with sci-fi or horror or fantasy or straight thriller. As for advising writers who like to cross-genres, I’d probably say that the important thing – for me, at least – is to have a dominant genre. So, it might be crime with a hint of sci-fi, but it adheres to the rules of crime. Or horror with romance – then it would be primarily horror, but with gothic romance elements. I think where it is most likely to fail – not always, but most likely – is if it’s a 50/50 split between genres. I prefer just adding hints of other genres rather than over-loading. But that’s just me!
MO: Behind Her Eyes can be read cover-to-cover, and then reread with a completely different lens. Did you know how the book was going to end when you started it? Was it difficult to adhere to a primary narrative, while also embedding a complete reversal of the reader’s expectations?
SP: I definitely had the ending there before I started writing. I can’t imagine writing a book like this without the ending in place! I always know what I’m aiming at when I write, even if I don’t know what happens in the middle, I invariably have the beginning and ending fixed in place. When my UK editor read the outline, she said, ‘Oh my god, I love this but it’s going to be so hard to write.’ I was very ‘yeah right’ at the time, but only when I started writing it, did I realise how careful I had to be, and how hard it was to be true to the characters and the story and yet still hoodwink everyone.
“I like writing stories that are puzzles, and most of my books have been mysteries of on sort or another. I like making the reader have to put a jigsaw together, whether that crime with sci-fi or horror or fantasy or straight thriller.”
MO: You’re an incredibly prolific writer, yet you’re poised to reach more markets than ever before with Behind Her Eyes. What’s the country you’re most excited to see your work translated and marketed to?
SP: Ha, all of them! Gosh, I don’t know. But my mother is hugely excited about China for some reason. She’s told all her friends. It’s as if all the other deals were just froth! I think it will be interesting to see it in Russian and Chinese and Korean simply because the language looks so different.
MO: As a follow-up, if you could pick any (preferably small) country or linguistic group to worship you as their favorite English-language writer, who would it be?
SP: Hmm.. I’m not sure. Maybe the Inuits. I’m not sure there’s a massive translation market for the eskimos but that would be cool. Literally;-)
MO: Behind Her Eyes seems to me to brings together the classic themes of mental illness, status anxiety, and fear of the subconscious, mixing a gothic tale right at home in the 19th century with mid-20th century fears of suburban imprisonment and betrayal by our own minds. Would you agree, or are these fears too timely to relegate to a distinct historical era?
SP: I wouldn’t really say the book had a theme of mental illness. Addiction perhaps, but not mental illness. I think the characters are disturbed people, and filled with secrets, but I think the main theme is the destructiveness of love. I wanted to write about how it’s not always the positive force we hope for and it can do as much harm as good if the wrong people fall in love.
“What I wanted to explore in the novel was actually the dynamics of women when embroiled in an affair. It’s always struck me how fascinated women are with each other – wives become fascinated with mistresses and vice versa in a way that doesn’t happen with men – from what I’ve observed anyway.”
MO: Who are some of the writers who’ve inspired you in your crime fiction?
Oh my gosh, so many! John Connolly, Daphne Du Maurier, Gillian Flynn, Donna Tartt to name a few.. but there are so many, often newer writers who I’ve just read one book by thus far and really enjoyed.
MO: Behind Her Eyes got me thinking about the transformative aspects of female friendship, and the difficulty in distinguishing a friend trying to help from a friend trying to create a mini-me. What did you want to explore about female friendship, versus competition, in the novel?
SP: What I wanted to explore in the novel was actually the dynamics of women when embroiled in an affair. It’s always struck me how fascinated women are with each other – wives become fascinated with mistresses and vice versa in a way that doesn’t happen with men – from what I’ve observed anyway. The man almost becomes a pawn in that dynamic and it becomes all about what does she have that I don’t have and I won’t let her win. I wanted to take that slightly further by having them become friends and add another layer of deceit to all the relationships. I think that part of the problem women face – especially young women – is that competition and friendship go hand in had to a certain extent. When you get older, you realise what a waste of time all that is and that women should be supporting each other, but when you’re young there’s a conditioning that seems to kick in. It did back in the 90s.. maybe it’s changed for young women today. I hope so, but I think there is still competition within friendships.
MO: Your works have been praised by many of the most prominent authors in the horror, scifi, and crime fiction world, including Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Harlan Coben and Joe Hill – how does it feel to have support from so many folks at the pinnacle of their genres?
SP: I may let them all out of my basement now that they’ve said nice things;-) No, on a serious note it’s very overwhelming, and I want to print them all out and frame them and hang them on the wall. It’s very easy to get caught up with the ‘business’ of writing – because after all, we all need to make a living – but those moments are real touchstone moments. As much as I love all these people, the Stephen King blurb was just a brilliant brilliant moment. I was actually shaking when they sent that through to me, and the link to what he’d said in the NYT. I actually got a bit teary!