SARAH DIAMOND'S BOOKS
An Interview with Sarah Diamond
author of The Beach Road and Cold Town
| by Fiona Shoop
|Sarah Diamond is one of the
hottest new talents around. Following in the footsteps of
psychological crime novelists such as Minette Walters and Ruth
Rendell, her character-driven work shimmers with a lethal blend of
desire, delusion and obsession. She explores the dark, often seedy
lifestyle of her tormented characters in a way which few novelists
have been able to capture and with an experience beyond her years.
In a revealing interview with Fiona Shoop, she discusses how hard it
is to be a writer and reveals her own obsessions.
Much has been made of your age. At 25, youve published two
critically acclaimed novels, does this place pressure on you both to
get better and live up to your early success?
It doesnt really bother me. I know for a fact Im a
much better writer now than I was at twenty, and the further I go,
the more I learn I cant imagine myself regressing as a
writer. As far as that early success thing goes, living
up to its the last thing on my mind. Ive had a few nice
reviews, but nothing to write home about I want to do a hell
of a lot better than that in the future.
Do you get annoyed that youre heralded as a young author
instead of just a good one?
I dont know, really. Sometimes, its flattering and
sounds really cool, other times, it comes across as a bit
patronising. Like theyd think I was rubbish if I was thirty
but theyre being kind and making allowances, on account of my
Your work is very dark, does this reflect your own cynicism to
Realism, maybe. Theres a poem by TS Eliot that refers to the
skull beneath the skin, and that kind of sums up my writing
the surface can be painted and airbrushed and who knows what, but
the stuff going on behind it makes it real. It annoys the hell out
of me when I read characters and situations in chick fic, because
theyre just so incredibly superficial the sweet,
scatty, loveable heroine, the thin, glamorous bitch - oh please.
Anyone whos really known anyone like that cant have
known them at all well. Is it hard for females to succeed with
psychological crime novels or do you think that this is their forte?
Its hard to generalise, but I think women are better at subtle
suspense than men. I always think of male writers as being more
interested in action for the hell of it - shooting lions, detonating
bombs and riding off into the sunset with an adoring supermodel. If
Im in the right mood, it can be fun to read that kind of thing
but theres no way I could write it.
Which writers do you most admire?
I think Stephen Kings God what was I just saying about
it being hard to generalise! The Stand is one of the best books ever
and Rose Madder is just incredible. Im also crazy about Ruth
Rendell, especially the non-Wexfords theyre great in
themselves, but Wexfords such an irritating, self-righteous
bastard. Hes the sort of guy who writes letters to the Daily
Mail about immigration. I cant figure out why nobodys
killed him yet!
Which writers have influenced your own writing if any?
Apart from the ones above maybe not the ones youd
expect. Graham Greene, definitely. Before I read Brighton Rock, I
thought there were only two genres The Unbearable Lightness
of Being, or Hollywood Wives. It was a real revelation that you
could do story and style at the same time. Patrick Hamiltons
Hangover Square was another real influence. Actually, the more I
think about it, I cant believe what I said about male writers
earlier. Please ignore it!
How much of your work is based on your own experiences?
Too much. If you want to know how much, Ive never done any
research the closest Ive got was when I was writing The
Beach Road and got a holiday brochure from Thomas Cook so I could
see what Florida was supposed to look like. Apart from that, its
just bits of my life, tweaked and amended. The Beach Road was very
much based on my schooldays like Jane Sullivan, I also moved
schools in my early teens and it was a nightmare. Mind you, it wasnt
much better before that. If theres one thing that never fails
to cheer me up, its knowing that Ill never have to go
back. Cold Town was also pretty personal but in a different way
it was all about this nightmare winter I went through a few years
back. There were redundancies looming at work and writing was going
appallingly. I came out of my office in Soho Square one night, and
got the idea there and then.
You focus very much on emotionally-driven, almost obsessive
characters, does this echo your own characteristics, those of
someone close to you or do you just like writing them?
Thats a tough one. I suppose I am quite obsessive, or Id
never have stuck with writing for so long last week, I
figured out Id worked every weekday evening for the last three
months. My main characters tend to reflect me, and I dont have
much of a middle ground. Im either totally passionate about
something, or I couldnt give a damn.
Theres an anger in your work combined with characters on
the edge of society, is that how you feel or are these the most
interesting characters to develop?
I think both. I could never write about a real insider who was
secure and successful and a pillar of the community Id
hate their guts, I couldnt help it. The only way I could
handle a character like that is if they were hiding dark secrets
which came out as the novel progressed which, now I come to
think of it, is kind of what my third books about.
Possibly a defunct question but one Im sure youre
always asked where do you get your ideas?
I dont have an awful lot to do with it, really - they just
turn up on their own. For some reason, the best ones tend to arrive
on winter evenings. They seem to like the weather.
How do you combine working full time with writing?
I just write in the evenings. I used to do weekends as well, but it
started pissing me off too badly - I never had any free time to do
anything else. These days, my Saturday and Sunday nights are
How hard do you find it to write?
Indescribably hard. Ive got into this ritual when I get
home from work Ill put my dinner on, tidy up, change
into something comfortable and eat. Then I have a cigarette before I
start the evenings writing. When Im on the brink of a
tough chapter, it feels like I should be smoking it up against a
Tell us about your writing style I understand that you
write your initial drafts longhand?
I do indeed. Whenever I see a chapter of mine typed up on a
computer, it looks like the final version thats not to be
changed it has a kind of professional feel that can be very
misleading. If I type straight up, I can have flat, dodgy prose
staring me in the face for months on end and not even notice
anything wrong. When I write longhand, everything automatically
looks awful, so I have to work harder to polish it up.
Why did you choose to write crime?
The funny thing is, I didnt. I had no idea I was writing
crime till my agent told me, and I was quite surprised. I always
feel a bit of a phoney when I tell people Im a crime novelist
there hasnt been a single policeman in either of my books to
date. Actually, theres going to be one in my third, but he
doesnt really count he arrests one of the main
characters for drink-driving and then vanishes.
Do you have any plans to write a non-crime based novel?
I cant see it happening. Everything I write is going to have
a murder in it somewhere or at least an attempted one. Theres
no way I could do a romance, for example they make me want to
throw up. And I tried writing a comedy when I was at university, but
it depressed the hell out of me and I gave it up by page ten. I
think Ive raised the bar scarily high in my own mind, when it
comes to drama if I did a novel that revolved round is
Susannahs husband going to leave her for his mistress? I
just wouldnt be able to relate. All the time, Id be
thinking, for Christs sake, it could be worse. You could be
getting beaten to death with a heavy object, grow up and deal with
Whats been your most rewarding moment since starting The
Theres a bookshop in Covent Garden called Crime in Store, and
a few months ago, a mate of mine e-mailed to let me know they had a
stack of Cold Towns in the window. So I went along to see for myself
and there it was! I really wanted to take a photo, but the manager
might have seen me, and that would have been too embarrassing for
words. Ive done signings in there. I know the guy. I
understand that youve been nominated for an award in America,
what can you tell us about it? Well, theyre called the Barry
Awards, and theyre sponsored by an American crime fiction
magazine called Deadly Pleasures. The Beach Roads up for Best
British Crime Novel of 2001 and the result gets read out at
Bouchercon in November. I havent got an American publisher yet
and Im hoping the nomination might help me get one. Youre
currently writing your third novel, Breaking-In, what can you tell
us about it? That Im very, very bad at summarising my
plots. In a nutshell, its about a woman who seems to have
everything before a chance meeting with a childhood enemy
endangers it all. In this book, Im bringing back one of my
favourite characters from The Beach Road that lovely little
seaside town, Underlyme. I grew up somewhere very similar, and could
probably draw a map of the place.
Is there any advice which you would give to people who are
thinking about writing a novel?
Id say that you have to be patient. It looks like I got
published young, but Ive been writing short stories and
suchlike since I was about thirteen - and all I got before The Beach
Road was accepted were rejection slips. Its really depressing
when you get your stuff rejected by those bog-standard womens
magazines that seem to publish anything. Id also advise
aspiring writers not to get paranoid, because its a
dangerously easy habit to fall into. For years, I thought I must be
writing my covering letters on the wrong sort of paper or in an
inauspicious font. It was a lot easier to change those things than
my short stories themselves which I must admit were pretty
What are your ambitions?
I want to be a world bestseller and go on tour just so I can
run up a room service bill the size of the national defence budget
and leave my publishers to settle up. Its a recurrent fantasy
of mine and helps me to cope. Realistically, Id like to be
earning enough to go part-time at work and have some of my evenings
back. Over the last few years, Ive forgotten what soap operas