Sarah Pearse’s debut novel The Sanatorium, a Reese’s Book Club pick and an instant Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, is a gripping contemporary gothic thriller about a serial killer on the loose in the Swiss Alps. Detective Sergeant Elin Warner has taken time away from her job after a traumatic case has left he considering her future, when she receives an out-of-the-blue invitation from her estranged brother to join him at an isolated ski hotel to celebrate his engagement to her childhood friend…

Where are you now?

In my kitchen with the kids around me completing their work for home school.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

In my bedroom or office depending on how much childcare I need to provide – during lockdown, it has been anywhere I get the chance…

In terms of when, I am very much an early bird – my dream writing scenario is to wake up, go for a walk, drink coffee and then write, but during lockdown home school has put paid to that, so again, whenever I get the chance.

How would you summarise your lockdown experience?

Challenging in terms of my writing, but I have found a new routine and learnt to be a little more adaptable and patient – which is no bad thing for an author.

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

Hard to choose between two – coffee and a brisk walk! Both get the blood flowing ready for a long writing session.

Full-time or part-time?


Pen or keyboard?


How do you relax when you’re writing?

A long walk in between sessions.

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

A detective on leave. A creepy sanatorium turned luxury hotel. People go missing amidst a snowstorm that leaves guests isolated…

Who do you write for?

Myself and my family – and after the publication of my book, my readers too.

Who do you share your work in progress with?

My husband.

Which literary character do you wish you created?

Hercule Poirot – absolute perfection!

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

I’m sitting beneath the bent
live oak, wishing the plane blinking above me
was a satellite that would shoot images
of my older brother back down into my brain
so I could print them out
and paste them on the wall. I have to
keep looking at this one picture of him
to remember how his jaw was and which side of the moon
he parted his hair.
from ‘Satellite’ by Matthew Dickman

“… but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain


Cloudless skies, old roses coming into flower,
a breeze flicking through The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Toasted granary bread with damson jam,
a pair of goldfinches on the bird-feeder.

The whiff of fennel and rosemary,
the farmer’s quad bike leaving the field.

Two deckchairs in the shade of a weeping birch.
Everyone you love still alive, last time you heard.
Blake Morrison, from Shingle Street

Which book do you wish you’d written?

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

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

The Kingdom by Jo Nesbo. I loved everything about this book – the plot, the setting, how real the characters and relationship dynamics feel… a brilliant book.

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

Sixteen Horses by Greg Buchanan, Grave’s End by William Shaw and Missing Pieces by Tim Weaver.

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

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann – should have been essential research for The Sanatorium but I couldn’t get further than a few chapters (hangs head in shame!).

Which book/s do you treasure the most?

Hard to choose… A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, Shingle Street by Blake Morrison, A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Past by Tessa Hadley, The Iceberg by Marion Coutts, and the battered copy of the first book I remember loving as a child – Dogger by Shirley Hughes.

What is the last work you read in translation?

The Reunion by Guillaume Musso.

Which story collections would you particularly recommend?

Bad Dreams by Tessa Hadley, and any of the Best British Short Stories collections, edited by Nicholas Royle, published annually by Salt.

What will you read next?

One of the proofs I’ve been lucky enough to have been sent, or one of the books that I’ve bought recently: All Her Fault by Andrea Mara, Dark Matter by Michelle Paver or Underland by Robert Macfarlane.

What are you working on next?

The book that follows The Sanatorium, called The Retreat, also featuring DS Elin Warner.

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

Agatha Christie, Helen Dunmore, Enid Blyton, Tessa Hadley, Blake Morrison, Jo Nesbo and Sarah Waters.

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?

Something to do with skiing – possibly an instructor or maybe just a ski bum!

If you were the last person on Earth, what would you write?

This is a beautiful place – look after it.


Sarah Pearse lives by the sea in South Devon with her husband and two daughters. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick and worked in PR for a variety of household brands. After moving to Switzerland in her twenties, she spent every spare moment exploring the mountains in the Swiss Alpine town of Crans Montana, the dramatic setting that inspired her debut novel. Her short fiction has been published in a variety of magazines and has been shortlisted for several prizes. The Sanatotorium is published in hardback, eBook and audio download by Bantam Press/Transworld Digital.
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Author portrait © Rosie Parsons Photography