Sarah Pinborough has death on the brain with new thriller and is setting her sights on writing for the big screen

Ahead of her 20th novel, ‘13 Minutes’, Sarah Pinborough takes time out in LA to talk to David Barnett about teen angst, fine wine, and writing for movies

David Barnett
Sunday 28 February 2016 19:05 GMT
English Horror And Fantasy Author Sarah Pinborough
English Horror And Fantasy Author Sarah Pinborough (Rex Features)

Sarah Pinborough has swapped London for Los Angeles… at least temporarily. She calls her month-long sojourn a holiday – “I haven’t had one in a long time, not one that goes beyond three nights away with the girls, and I’ve had a good year work-wise” – but obviously there’s a not-so-hidden agenda … this is Hollywoodland, after all.

“I have had some meetings here about film rights to my next book,” admits Pinborough. “But mainly it’s just catching up with friends and working in the sunshine instead of the cold.”

That next book is Behind Her Eyes, a psychological thriller with “a twist that will knock your socks off”, according to HarperFiction’s deputy publishing director Natasha Bardon. But that’s not out until spring 2017; Pinborough is currently all about 13 Minutes, her Young Adult thriller just published by Gollancz.

The novel is Pinborough’s 20th, counting her YA fantasies written under the name Sarah Silverwood, and her novels for the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood.

It’s about a teenage girl who is pulled from the icy water and revived after being clinically dead for 13 minutes. The only thing is, she can’t remember how she got there or what happened … or who was responsible.

Cue a tense thriller in the vein of Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars books, which have assumed a life of their own off the page of monstrous proportions thanks to the television series which is loosely based on the novels and is running in the UK on Netflix.

“As with all novels, the final book is quite different to the original idea,” says Pinborough. “It started out as a TV pitch that was optioned by World Productions, but in that version it was a policewoman investigating a serial killer who was dragged from a river after being dead for 13 Minutes.

"That had a very ‘is it or isn’t it’ supernatural feel to it when strange things start happening to her. We never managed to place it however, but the initial concept stayed with me.”

Pinborough was contracted to Gollancz to write two YA thrillers, the first of which was last year’s The Death House, set in a near-future world where children who are considered genetically imperfect are locked away.

Pinborough says: “After I wrote The Death House I was drawn back to this set up. Once again, in the original outline there was far more ‘weird’ involved, but when I was starting to research modern life for teenage girls, I came across lots of stories of friendships gone wrong.”

In particular, Pinborough was drawn to the horrific case of Skylar Neese, a West Virginia teen who went missing and was ultimately found to have been murdered by two girls who she thought were her best friends.

“13 Minutes isn’t a retelling of the awful events that happened to her, but her story and others like it were definitely the launch pad that turned 13 Minutes into a straight thriller,” says Pinborough.

Gollancz is the imprint of Orion Books that mainly publishes science fiction, fantasy and horror, and though 13 Minutes has nothing – as Pinborough puts it – “weird” about it, she does have a pedigree in the genre world.

Her first books were out-and-out horror, in the early Stephen King or Dean Koontz mould. She’s also written urban fantasy, Victorian horror, rather saucy revisionary versions of classic fairy tales, science fiction ….

“My mother always says I’m flighty!” laughs Pinborough. “I have written in a lot of genres, that’s true, and I’m not sure it’s always served my career well. Also, it makes it difficult when people ask which book of mine to start with because most of them are quite different. I started off writing straight horror because I had grown up like so many of my age devouring Stephen King books and you always start out emulating your heroes to some extent.

"But I also loved reading John Wyndham, Sidney Sheldon, Wilbur Smith, Jean Plaidy and many more. It would appear that I just love writing many different stories.”

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Pinborough was a teacher in a secondary school. Did that give her an insight into how teens think for 13 Minutes?

“Oh, there’s a teenage girl inside all women,” she says. “It comes out mainly when we walk into a room filled with other women and immediately feel self-conscious. I do anyway. I’m always convinced I’m going to fall flat on my face or something.

"I’ve always wanted to be the elegant cool woman in a room, but I’m invariably the unintentionally comical one. But yes, teaching probably did help remind me how teenagers can think – although I’ve been out of teaching for seven years or so now, which is pretty much a century in terms of how teenagers live and how trends move forward. That’s why I avoided any contemporary slang in 13 Minutes. It dates too quickly.”

Pinborough has also written for television – you’ll find her credit on episodes of the crime show New Tricks – and she has a hankering to write for the big screen. “I do like the collaborative process of script-writing and it does teach you to keep your storytelling tight,” she says. “Film scripts are great fun to write. I imagine that my preference is probably writing novels but film scripts come a close second.”

So, could a permanent move to La-La Land be on the cards? California definitely has its advantages, she says. “No one barges through you in the supermarket like they do in February in England when we’re all grumpy.

"A dose of sunshine seems to put everyone in a better mood. As I sip my tea in the sunshine I could definitely see myself spending a month or two each year here on a regular basis.”

Tea? Isn’t this the woman who was offered a job as an ambassador for wine? “The fact that I’m a wine ambassador still makes all my friends laugh,” says Pinborough. “I tweeted something about wine, as I am wont to do, one evening, and I got into a Twitter conversation with Cape London Wine. They then messaged me and asked if I’d like to be a brand ambassador for them, as they thought books and wine were a good fit. I couldn’t disagree.”

With 13 Minutes garnering rave reviews and next year’s effort, Behind Her Eyes, already getting film industry attention, where – wine aside – does Pinborough see her career going?

“I’d really like to have had a book that’s a really big hit even if that’s the only one,” she says. “Of course, I say that now, but my naked ambition would kick in and I’d want them all to be bestsellers after that.”

She pauses. “And I’d like an original film to have been made.” More pondering. “And maybe some TV. Basically, I want to write all the things. I really need to stop wanting to rule the world.”

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