This month I’m really honoured to be chatting to the lovely, and very talented Sarah Vaughan. Sarah is the author of four novels, including her current international bestseller, Little Disasters, which was released as a paperback on the 4th March and is also my book of choice for this month’s book review, which you can read here. Sarah’s critically acclaimed third novel, Anatomy of A Scandal (read my review here), is at present being filmed as a Netflix series with an all-star cast including Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery, and Rupert Friend, which I for one can’t wait to see! Fingers crossed it does the book justice. If the cast is anything to go by, I’d say that’s highly probable.
Welcome Sarah, thanks for being my guest today. Can you tell us all a bit about yourself? I understand you used to be a news reporter and political correspondent on the Guardian?
I read English at university then did a regional newspaper journalism course and joined the Press Association as a trainee. After 20 months I was working on the Guardian, first as a news reporter, ultimately working on stories like the murder of Sarah Payne and the Soham murders, and then as a political correspondent – joining just as we went to war with Iraq under Tony Blair. I left the lobby after my first baby, and left the Guardian to freelance, in 2008, after my second was born. But I hated freelancing and the week that I turned 40 and my youngest started school I started my first novel, The Art of Baking Blind. It was bought in a pre-empt 13 months later.
Having read English at Oxford as a student, I assume you’ve always had an interest in writing? And if so, what writers have inspired you?
Absolutely. As a teen, I remember reading Jane Austen and DH Lawrence and trying to tease out what they were doing with language. I also devoured Agatha Christies and some Daphne du Maurier (I read Rebecca at 13 but, as with my reading Jane Eyre at nine! failed to understand the darkness of it all). As a writer, the list’s endless but I’m always interested in anything new by Kate Atkinson, Hilary Mantel, Elizabeth Strout, David Nicholls. I’ve also learned from writer peers writing clever psychological thrillers such as Lucy Atkins, Susie Steiner, Louise Candlish, Erin Kelly, Sabine Durrant, Eve Chase.
Although a difficult subject matter, I thought your fourth novel, Little Disasters, was brilliant, wonderfully written. However, for me, out of the two, Anatomy of A Scandal is probably my favourite. Not by much, I hasten to add, but at the time of reading it, with global movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp taking place, it felt, and still does, very socially and politically poignant. How do you feel about this story being turned into a Netflix series? The cast looks amazing. Have you had any input or say in the casting or the filming?
There is absolutely no negative to having your novel filmed by Netflix and I have loved the process. I’m very lucky in that I’m an executive producer so have felt very in the loop re casting, though I’ve no creative control, and have been able to offer feedback on various drafts of the scripts. Filming started at the start of November and will continue into the spring, but because of covid I haven’t yet been on set. Beyond wanting it to be filmed in the UK, I haven’t had any input into that locations, but they are incredible. It’s being part produced by the team behind The Undoing and I think it will look equally visually stunning.
And finally, the question I love to ask all writers! For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, what advice would you offer?
It’s a real cliché but read. Read in your genre and out of it and read thoughtfully. What is Austen saying about Mrs Bennett there? How is she doing it? How is Mantel getting us inside Cromwell’s head? I’d also pick apart a novel in the genre you want to write. Where are the peaks and troughs, the cliff-hangers, the twists? How does the author make you want to read on? Are there plot holes? Are the characters consistent and psychologically credible? I’d also recommend John Yorke’s Into the Woods, which I read before writing Anatomy. Don’t show it to anyone too early – you don’t want your confidence crushed; be persistent; be diligent; keep going. And good luck!
Little Disasters is on sale in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, and all independent bookstores.