Sarah Pinborough Talks Words, Writers Block and Inspiration

Everyone has a story to tell; each one of us writes poetry – some, without even realising. That stream of consciousness that runs in our veins? It’s poetry waiting to be written. We believe in the power of words, and that power is what urged us set up PoetsIN.

It’s because of those inner streams, that we are bringing you all a regular interview feature, Writer Profiles. An interview with a writer. This week we’re talking to the awesome YA and adult thriller, fantasy and cross-genre novelist and screenwriter, Sarah Pinborough.

Sarah has published more than 20 novels, written for the BBC and has conquered a lot of territories with her highly acclaimed psychological thriller, Behind Her Eyes.


Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Sarah Pinborough and I’m a novelist and screenwriter, and have been writing full time for nearly ten years now – which is scary! How time flies! I have written horror, sci-fi, young adult novels, fairy tales and also, more recently, thrillers.

What is your relationship with words and how has that evolved?

I was always a talker and reader from a very early age, and I started writing stories as soon as I could write really. As a child I was very scared of the night and so stories were a good way to put all the scary stuff into stories. They were terrible stories though, but I was young! I was also a teacher for six years and that is all about communication. Oddly, I’m terrible at actually talking about my own emotions – I much prefer the written word or subtext for that, which isn’t easy for the people close to me.

Behind Her Eyes (the first book of yours that I read and was blown away by) has sold to nearly 20 territories. How does that feel?

Actually nearly 30 now! Yeah it feels nice. Obviously these things never feel quite the same as you expect them to. I was on tour in America when we got the hardback Sunday Times number one spot so I didn’t have anyone to celebrate with and it just felt surreal, and even after the paperback went to number one as well, I still have moments of ‘has it done okay?’ which is ridiculous. But the more you succeed, the more you have ‘the fear’ I guess.

What was the inspiration behind the book?

It wasn’t a normal genesis for a book, in that I was writing books for two other publishers when I was approached by HarperCollins who said they’d like me to write books for them. So I went away to come up with a thriller pitch, and only had a week or so to think of something – which was quite stressful. I knew I wanted to write about an affair and the dark side of love, and I wanted to add something unusual. As I dream very vividly I decided to make dreams feature in the book but I still didn’t think I had anything really special. So in a panic that I was throwing away a really good chance, I went to the pub! I got a glass of wine and then, suddenly I had a light bulb moment and the ending came to me. After that, the rest came quite easily.

Wine and writing – best friends since forever
How long have you been writing, what’s your favourite style and why?

Well, Behind Her Eyes was my 24th book, so I’ve been writing a while. My first six books came out when I was teaching and then I went full time in July 2008. I’m not sure I have a favourite style – I like trying lots of different things, hence I’ve written in such a range of genres. I do however like a story with a mystery at it’s core – whether that’s in thrillers or a ghost story or a fairy tale or if it’s a book for teenagers. I like a puzzle.

I personally write my best stuff when in a rage, heartbroken or fighting depression. Are you affected in similar ways?

That’s a difficult one – No I think I write fiction best when it’s the only thing filling my head. I perhaps read more when I’m feeling emotionally upset. I have, however, used fiction as a way of working something through after the event. The Language of Dying was written after the death of my father-in-law, who (although I was no longer married to his son) came to live with me for his last months. It was quite a traumatic time and when it was over I wanted to write something to get it out of me as it were, while also recording it. So I think I use writing sometimes as catharsis after an event. And I used to blog about world situations that bothered me, but I haven’t done that for a while.

A cathartic write
Many writers love to read. What is your favourite book and why?

Is it possible to have one favourite book?! I don’t think most readers can narrow it down to ten let alone one! There are books from my childhood like Peter Pan, The Magician’s Nephew, The Midwich Cuckoos, and then Rebecca, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Sooo many Stephen King novels. God the list goes on and on. I have always liked stories with a sense of a hidden world about them. The mysteries we can’t see. I still like to believe that one day I’ll find Narnia in the back of a cupboard. I guess that sums up finding the world a hard place and needing to escape into a more magical one.

Stephen King features as a favourite
What quote inspires you the most. Why?

Ha, I don’t really do inspirational quotes. When I see them on facebook or something I’m pretty sure a fairy dies for everyone person who shares them. I much prefer a Dorothy Parker style comment than something that’s supposed to make me feel better about myself. I always think those inspirational things are so smug. Maybe the Nike slogan is my favourite actually. ‘Just do it!’ but said in a Dorothy Parker tone without an exclamation mark. Basically, ‘oh just get on with it.’ I think we’d all be a lot happier (me included) if we stopped worrying about things that might happen and just got on with stuff.

Writer’s block, real or a myth?

I can’t comment for anyone else. I’ve never had it. I’ve had plenty of times when I don’t want to write but I’ve never not been able to.

As a Sunday Times Bestselling and New York Times Bestselling author, do you now feel a pressure to deliver to a public hungry for your books?

No more than usual. Every writer wants the next book to be better than the last, but ultimately you just write for yourself. The story that interests you or stretches you. To start second guessing what other people want can only lead to madness. And probably failure.

Finish this sentence…Words are the epitome of

…being human.

What’s next for Sarah Pinborough?

The next adult thriller comes out in May and is called Cross Her Heart (out in the US in Sept), and I’m slowly starting the one to come after that.

Sarah blogs on and has much more information about her and her books on her own site here and you can find her on Twitter here.