I am really excited to welcome Sarah Naughton to Bookbabblers today. I loved reading The Hanged Man Rises last year and The Blood List is an absolutely fantastic read. Look out for my review of The Blood List, which will be up later this week.
1. Please tell us a little about yourself
I live in London with my husband and two sons and have wanted to be a writer since primary school although sadly my early endeavours (heavy on wimples and dragons) have been lost to the winds of time. For about ten years I was rather distracted by my career in advertising, but finally knuckled down to writing when my first son arrived to decimate my social life. My debut novel, The Hanged Man Rises was published at the beginning of last year and ended up being nominated for a few awards, including the Costa. My second, The Blood List, came out a couple of weeks ago and is starting to attract some nice reviews, which is a great relief. Those first few weeks after publication are a bit nerve racking, I can tell you.
2. Please tell us about The Blood List and your inspiration for the book
The Blood List is set during the witch fever of the 17th century. My hero, Barnaby Nightingale, finds himself accused of witchcraft, thanks to his apparently charmed life and the strange events surrounding his birth. I won’t tell you what happens at the end, but it all gets a bit grisly, involving torture, murder and a very, very wicked brother. I can remember the exact moment the idea came to me. I was watching a programme about mediaeval beliefs which described the fate of babies considered changelings. People were extremely superstitious in those days, and if a baby did not fit the narrow confines of what they considered ‘normal’, they would suspect fairies had stolen their real child and replaced it with a geriatric fairy or perhaps an enchanted block of wood. The symptoms they considered evidence of this we can now ascribe to conditions like autism, deafness or cerebral palsy. These ‘changelings’ would either be left on the midden heap for the night, in the hope that the fairies would replace them with the ‘true child’ (usually dying of exposure or attack by animals) or placed on a shovel then held over the fire (and usually scalded to death). Another method was to force them to drink foxglove tea, an anathema to fairies: but unfortunately also to humans – it would have burned out the child’s throat. With two young children of my own I found these fates almost unbearable to contemplate and I started thinking about how one of these babies could have be saved. That gave me the start of my story and, having researched the period, I realised that having such apparently magical beginnings would put you in real danger once the witch trials really got going.
3. What was your journey to publication like?
I had just finished the final edit of The Blood List when I heard that The Hanged Man Rises had been shortlisted for the Costa, so it’s all a bit of a blur really. Thanks to the efforts of my Simon and Schuster team it all seemed to run pretty smoothly, and I was very excited to see the cover at the end of last year. That’s always my favourite part of the whole process, and Paul Coomey’s designs are always fantastic.
4. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
I do think aspiring writers are absolutely bombarded with tips, and sometimes you have to just get on with it and learn what works and what doesn’t as you go along. Stephen King wrote an excellent and easy to follow handbook called ‘On Writing’, and I know several writers who have benefited from creative writing courses/classes (personally I didn’t), but otherwise I would just say, give your right brain some breathing space. Go swimming, walk the dog, make a toothpick model of Big Ben. You’ll be surprised the ideas that ping into your head when you’re occupied with something mind-numbingly mundane.
5. What are you working on now?
I’m in discussions over a book of a slightly different genre to The Hanged Man Rises and The Blood List. It has some of the same supernatural elements of the Hanged Man, but is set in the present day (at least partly), with an older heroine. I love it, and would be extremely excited to see it in print, fingers crossed. Aside from that I’ve got about 25 works-in-progress on my computer, all waiting for that vital spark of inspiration. Now where did I put those toothpicks…?