Good Reading : April 2008
APRIL 2008 ı goodreading 15 author profile dark and gloomy; it seemed to watch you all the time.’ Ooo-er. Sarah Rayne knows how to raise the hairs on the back of your neck all right. And yet she started out writing light-hearted, comic plays. ‘I’ve written since I was in my teens, starting with stuff I used to write at school for my col- leagues to perfor m,’ she tells me. ‘It was quite comic – my father was a comedian, a comic actor, and I think I inherited from him a wish to make people laugh. I was quite fortunate: it was a convent, and the nuns were very involved, they loved to encourage the girls who liked to do this sort of thing, they were all for it, so that was a good start.Then I did the usual Angry Young Woman stuff when Iwasin myteens.I had visions of writ- ing poetry and ter- ribly intense plays, and starving in an attic for my art. But I did eventually get over that. I think I was probably in my late twenties when I decided that if I was actually going to do anything about writing seriously, it was about time I got down toit.SoIset to and did it.’ At the time, she was working in a real estate agent’s office (fittingly, for a lover of buildings). ‘For quite a few years I juggled working in the office and writing books at night. I’d spend all day helping peo- ple to buy and sell property then come home and pound a typewriter until the early hours. I look back and I don’t know how I did it.’ Those early books were Gothic hor- ror novels. ‘I had a great time. I loved it,’ she says with relish. She wrote that type of book for nearly twenty years. ‘But eventually you run out of vampires and undead creatures to resurrect, and I began to think that I’d like to do some- thing a little bit deeper. Some elements of Gothic horror do still come out in my writing, but my agent restrains me. She gets halfway through and says, “Whoa! We’re getting too many cobwebs and young women going off into the forest!” So Ihavetopullbackabit.Iget quite carried away!’ Well, having spent my teens devouring the ‘Pan Books of Horror Stories’ serie (alongside my sister, who went on to read English literature at Cambridge), I see nothing wrong with that. But Sarah’s many current fans are very pleased that she switched to writing psychological thrillers ‘My agent suggested that I try writing a psychological thriller, although she used the word “crime” and I backed away in horror and said I couldn’t possibly – I was visualising Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, that sort of hing. And she said, “No no, I didn’t mean at sort of crime at ”. So I started to aft something out nd it was coming ong fairly okay and thought, yes, I can o this.Then after bout five chapters I ead an article in a Sunday newspaper about the Indian towers of silence, and it completely swept away what I’d been working on. That had never happened to me before. Once I’d started a book I stayed with it and carried on; I’d never allowed myself to be knocked off-course. But this time it was such an insistent plot, by about lunchtime I’d got the draft. So I did it, and it found a home with Simon & Schuster, which was great good fortune for me. Tower of Silence was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year award in 2005.That was a great honour.’ And more chological illers followed, turing terrify- gly psychotic llers. But the spiration wasn’t ways buildings. With each of my books, there’s been a defining moment when I’ve thought, oh God, there’s a plot there,’ Sarah explains. With A Dark Dividing, for instance, it was conjoined twins. It was born when I watched a TV documentary about conjoined twins. Among the case histories was one of two teenage boys. They were lovely boys, very articulate, and they’d been successfully separated a few years earlier. But after the operation they both apparently had almost identi- cal dreams, in which the original Siamese twins – Chang and Eng – stood at the end of their bed and threatened to rejoin them. And apparently in the dream they kept saying, “We could never be sepa- rated, so why should you?” By that time I was frantically scrabbling for a pen and paper, to write it all down!’The result is a delicious tale of two sets of twins, born eighty years apart yet linked by a tragic past. And yes, there’s a singular build- ing in this one, too: the imposing ruin of Mortmain House, standing grim and forbidding on the border of England and Wales. ‘The Roots of Evil came about because some years ago my brother researched the newly-released “Debt of Honour” registry for mention of our father, who had died in 1963 but had fought in World War I,’ says Sarah. ‘He was four- teen or fifteen when war was declared – one of those idealistic or foolish young men who lied about their age to get into the ar my.We found that someone with father’s name, age, regiment and place of birth was listed as having been killed But eventually you run out of vampires and undead creatures to resurrect, and I began to think that I’d like to do something a little bit deeper.