A lifelong passion for gothic novels led Sara Collins to give up a career in law and test her mettle as a fiction writer. We catch up with her in the midst of a whirlwind US tour ahead of publication of her hotly anticipated debut The Confessions of Frannie Langton.

Where are you now?

I’m in a hotel room in New York just coming to the end of the most wonderful tour of American booksellers arranged by my US publisher, HarperCollins. I’ve been to D.C., North Carolina, Boston, San Francisco and New York all in the past seven days!

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

In bed with my laptop propped on my lap (on a pillow). It’s the only way to avoid the intense back pain I get when I sit for long periods. I call it writer’s back.

If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?

It has to start with really good coffee. Then I read a poem, or several, which is like touching a live wire of creative energy. Then comes warm-up music: a good dose of Kendrick Lamar or Damian Marley, before switching to a quieter playlist for the writing itself.

Full-time or part-time?

Full-time, and I still can’t believe I get to say that.

Pen or keyboard?

Keyboard. And the notes usually start with the notes app on my phone. I try to keep notebooks but I never have them with me. I usually have my phone.

How do you relax when you’re writing?

The words ‘relax’ and ‘writing’ don’t really go together for me. I’m really neurotic while working on a piece, no matter how long it takes. I was anxious for two straight years while writing my novel.

How would you pitch your book in up to 25 words?

A Jamaican woman in Georgian London is accused of murdering a natural philosopher and his wife, with whom she’s been having an affair.

Who do you write for?

I believe you have to start by writing for yourself. If you write for some imagined audience it will become too restrained. Whenever I thought about someone else reading the book, there were things I’d instantly want to take out, but those are the very things that take the book where it needs to go. You really have to write the book you want to read, as Toni Morrison said.

Who do you share your work in progress with?

My work in progress is always an ugly mishmash of ideas and scraps that I begin to doubt I will ever be able to pull together. I only ever share it with my husband. He’s a good sounding board.

Which literary character do you wish you created?

Celie, The Color Purple. A masterpiece of voice.

Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
Mary Oliver, ‘When Death Comes’

Which book do you wish you’d written?

But then it would no longer be that book, it would be the different and no doubt inferior version I had written.

Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?

I loved André Aciman’s collection of essays, Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere and I utterly adored Call Me By Your Name.

What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?

How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs, Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison.

Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?

I know I ought to read Ulysses but I know I never will.

Which book/s do you treasure the most?

As physical objects, a first edition of Beloved which a friend bought for me, and a cloth-bound set of Brontës my UK editor gave me as a signing gift.

What is the last work you read in translation?

The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong, translated by Chi-young Kim.

Which story collections would you particularly recommend?

Collections I love are Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (I’m calling it a collection rather than a novel).

What will you read next?

I just bought Lanny by Max Porter.

What are you working on next?

I’m indulging another one of my obsessions by writing a novel about a suicide cult, set in the Caribbean in the eighties.

Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?

Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison (I hope they’d all get along). And James Baldwin, because everyone would adore him. V.S. Naipaul would be invited to join us, but only so we could give him a piece of our minds. He would not get any supper!

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?

Singing – if I could hold a single note. I’d be channeling Nina Simone or Etta James.

 

Sara Collins studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years in Cayman. In 2014 she embarked upon the Creative Writing Masters at Cambridge University, where she won the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize for ‘Recreative’ Literature and was shortlisted for the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Prize for a work-in-progress inspired by her love of gothic fiction. This evolved into her first novel, The Confessions of Frannie Langton, out now in hardback, eBook and audio download from Viking/Penguin.
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