Sarah J Naughton grew up in Dorset. After studying English Literature at UCL, she decided to stay in London. She has been a copywriter for an advertising agency and has also written two Young Adult novels. Her adult fiction debut Tattletale will be released in 2017.
With the ability to blend adult themes with children’s folklore and fairy tale, Sarah J Naughton’s brand of psychological thriller is definitely one to look out for next year. Will you be a tattletale?
Literature Works caught up with Sarah to discuss psychological fiction and the importance of reading.
- We’re seeing a trend for psychological thrillers featuring strong, complex female protagonists in publishing right now. Can you say, why do you think readers are so interested in psychological fiction featuring women?
Hasn’t it always been the case? Jane Eyre? Elizabeth Bennet? Cleopatra? Weak and feeble females are the domain of panto and 1950s Disney. The heroines we love most tap into ideas about our own identity: they can embrace the wild side that we must keep in check, and their flaws mirror ours – or make ours seem far less bad. It’s surely no coincidence that the most successful YA series of recent years feature strong and brilliant heroines in Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdene. We’re finally being portrayed, not as fainting, weeping tropes through which a male protagonist can show his qualities, but for our own talents and character.
- Tattletale blends together a girl’s optimism for a happy ending with a chilling adult truth. How much would you say your work as a children’s author inspired the novel?
I have never written fairytales. My children’s books are as dark, given the constraints on their readership, as Tattletale. But I would say spinning stories (you can call it fantasising or escapism) has played a big part of my life and helped me through difficult periods of my childhood. I’ve always been something of a Walter Mitty (or a Jody), and when reality became too difficult I retreated into my imagination. I only started writing stories as an adult, but I’ve been constructing them in my head for as long as I can remember.
- The Reading Passport is a project based in libraries. Do you have a memory of a book you discovered at the library?
We used to have an orange mobile library that parked outside the school gates every month. I can still remember the musty smell of it when we climbed the steps into the gloom. There were never very many of us. I seem to remember taking out mostly Stephen King and James Herbert. We were pretty hard up and there would have been no way my mum could have afforded to feed my voracious literary appetite without that library. The same is true of so many kids today. How anyone who believes education should be open to all and not just those who can afford it can think of closing libraries down mystifies me.
- Can you say, to what extent reading played a role in your decision to become a writer?
I agree with Stephen King that you can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader. By reading you’re inwardly absorbing the skills it takes to craft good writing. It’s a shame that children are taught to tick off the points they’re supposed to include in exams: fronted adverbials, multi-clause sentences, alliteration, similes, etc. This makes for truly dead, workmanlike writing and they’re all meaningless words unless you experience them living and breathing in a book. From a practical point of view, by reading you will gain an instinctive grasp for spelling, vocabulary and general flow. You’ll learn to see why one book is boring, and another terrifying, why one makes you cry and another leaves you cold.
- If you could offer one piece of advice to a writer looking to enter the psychological thriller market, what would it be?
Don’t be tempted to treat your reader like an idiot (despite the success of 50 Shades). The most successful thrillers, like Gone Girl, straddle the genres of literary and commercial fiction. Those that most annoy me are the ones where there’s an obvious logic flaw, like when the reader is expected to believe a character is truly helpless and trapped when any normal person would, say, go to the police, or record their persecutor’s threats. Sometimes the plot is exciting enough to overlook this, but that little flaw always nags at me.
Thank you Sarah!