What's in a Page: Sarah Pinborough previews her creepy new novel Insomnia
Sarah Pinborough knows that sleepless nights can be scary. That's why she chose to give her main character the titular condition in her new book Insomnia, out now. The story follows Emma who is quickly approaching 40, the same age her mother was when she began having trouble sleeping. As she struggles with intergenerational trauma and balancing her work life with her family life, her situation spirals into a dangerous and daunting tale.
Insomnia is a natural follow up to her bestselling thriller Behind Her Eyes, which became a Netflix series in 2021. Fans of the latter might find a few well hidden Easter eggs along the way in the new novel. The author, whose work Stephen King has called "bloody brilliant," discusses her writing process, which book made her a forever reader (when she was just three!), and the importance of 8 a.m. candy.
What is the first thing—ever—that you remember writing?
My name. I was at an American school in Damascus and we had writing books with lines that looked like music sheets to make sure our cursive was perfect. I can even remember the first-grade classroom! As for fiction I used to make up little story books from as long ago as I remember, and also plays for my classmates to perform. When I was 13 at boarding school, I got about 43 pages into a novel which was basically a YA rip-off of Logan's Run. It's probably a blessing to the world that I stopped at 43 pages.
What is the last book that made you cry?
Sundial by Catriona Ward. I don't often want to read books that make me cry but I like it when the crying comes as a curveball because you've invested in the characters so much.
Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?
Lisa Jewell's The Family Remains. I loved The Family Upstairs so I'm really excited to see where she goes next with it. My TBR pile is so high at the moment with so many great advanced reader copies but I'm also planning my own next book so my reading always slows down when I'm doing that.
Where do you write?
I'd love to say I have some super stylish and sexy office somewhere by a beach, but I write on my sofa under a sofa blanket. I used to write in bed (I'm an early morning person) but now that I have my ridiculous dog Teddy, who is also an early morning person, we're in the park for an hour or so at 6 a.m. Writing comes after that.
Which book made you a forever reader?
Gosh that's hard to say. I was born a forever reader and my mum had me reading very young – I think I was three – and because we lived in countries without a lot of TV or movies available, books and comics (Asterix were a favourite and I got a Captain America one from a shop in Beirut that I treasured!) were a lifeline for the imagination. I was given Peter Pan for my sixth birthday and so I think perhaps that book was the one – mainly because it's stayed in my memories so long it must have had a big impact.
What is a snack you couldn't write without?
I'm not sure about write without, but live without it would be Pick n Mix (I think they call them penny candy in America?). I am in fact nibbling on a couple as I answer this. And it's only 8 a.m.! In my defense it was my 50th birthday a week ago and they were a gift and they need to be eaten.
If you could change one thing about any of your books what would it be?
Their sales. I'd like to be astonishingly wealthy! No, on a serious note, I'm not sure what I'd change. I've written a lot of books so to consider them as a whole and find fault is a bit of a headspin. Maybe making them slightly shorter. Primarily because then they'd have been quicker to write.
What is your favorite part of this book?
The night times. Anyone who's ever had a bout of insomnia knows that night feels like a whole different – and not pleasant – landscape when you can't sleep. All our worst worries and thoughts come to plague us in that exhaustion, so it makes for a fun time to put a character in.
What was the hardest plot point or character to write in this book?
This is the first book I've written in a long time that is told entirely from one character's point of view, so in terms of plotting a thriller that makes it – for me at least – trickier to see other characters behaving suspiciously etc. But it made the book pacier I think, so in the end was worth it.
Write a movie poster tag line for your book.
'In the dead of night, madness lies . . .' I can't even take credit for that, I've basically stolen it from the UK publishers publicity, but I like it because it is cleverer than it looks at first and when you've read the book you see why.
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