In conversation with... Sarah Alderson

Hi Sarah! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Weekend AwayDid you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: When I first started writing I was very much a fly by the seat of my pants writer. I didn’t really plan but would let the story unfold as I wrote. But since moving to Hollywood and working as a screenwriter I’ve changed how I write. With scripts you have to plan meticulously. It’s much more structured – you’re hitting commercial breaks on a network show, or in features you need to adhere to three acts and hit certain marks at certain points – and so that way of writing seeped into my novels. I also found with thrillers you do need to plot much more carefully before beginning in order to set up the red herrings.

Usually then I’ll spend a couple of weeks writing up a synopsis of a dozen pages or so and then I’ll start writing. I don’t always stick to it, as things change in the writing for sure, but I also love that because it means your characters are behaving as real people, you’re not forcing them to do things. Also, sometimes my editor or agent will read the finished first draft and give me invaluable advice – including in this book – change the ending.

Why the choice of Lisbon as the setting for your novel? How important is location for you?

A: I usually set my books in a place I’ve visited, and I went to Lisbon with my best friend last year. Like the characters in the book, I go away with my best friend every year for a weekend. We loved it and had the best time. When I write, I’m always thinking of how I could turn the book into a movie, and setting is another character, especially on the big screen. I thought Lisbon would be a great place to set a thriller.

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Orla and Kate?

A: Watch this space. Netflix have optioned the book and I am writing the script. They only greenlight a small number of the projects they option but fingers crossed. In my head it would be someone like Sienna Miller playing Kate, or Margot Robbie. And Kate would be played by someone like Keira Knightley.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: I really love all the scenes with Konstandin in them. In my head he was Goran Visnjic who I adore as an actor. I love how he teaches Orla to trust her intuition more and also to stop apologising, something I think women do far too much. We apologise for taking up space in the world, for having opinions, for behaving in ways that society doesn’t think are ‘ladylike’. Orla has that typical female response of being polite all the time, even to people who treat her badly. Women’s default is often politeness because we don’t want to cause ripples and because, when we feel in danger, we know that smiling is often the best recourse if we don’t want to get physically hurt. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been sexually harassed and sexually assaulted, and I’ve smiled politely, while feeling utter terror inside. I was too afraid to speak up and risk violence or aggression. I am so angry about that still and I wanted to play that out with Orla, where gradually she becomes aware of what she’s doing and changes, becoming much more vocal in her needs and in her opinions. She finally owns her anger and is unafraid to fight back and that was important for me.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: Yes. I had Orla and Konstandin having sex. My editor asked me to take it out. But the good news is I put it back into the script!

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I’m writing the film version of The Weekend Away. I’m also simultaneously working on two scripts for the fourth season of S.W.A.T for CBS. And finally I’m almost finished writing my next Mila Gray novel (that’s my romance pen name) as well as a new thriller for early next year.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: I just finished A BURNING which was amazing. It’s set in India and I love India – it’s my soul country! I’m also reading The Great Believers for my book club – it’s set in Chicago in the 80s, about the AIDS crisis. Another book I’ve just finished is The Library Book – which is a non-fiction, riveting page-turner about the arson that destroyed the LA public library and millions of books in the 80s. It was brilliant. I could not put it down! I’ve also been doing a ton of reading about prostitution, female writers and mesmerism in the 18th century for a big TV project I’m working on! I’m ALWAYS reading! I wake up at 6am and probably spend an hour reading the news and catching up on politics in the US (where I live) and the UK (where I’m from).

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I think I have always been a big social media user, even before I became a writer. I was on Twitter the moment it started. My handle is @sarahalderson – though I don’t like the bullying on there. I love Instagram (@sarahaldersonauthor) but I am so busy these days I’m finding it hard to post a lot. My daughter, who is almost 14 got so tired of me asking her how to do something on there that she took over my social media and is way better at it than me so now I pay her to be my social media manager.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Read! I spend hours a day reading across genre. I read newspapers, long form magazines like The New Yorker. I read trash celeb blogs as well as high brow think pieces. I hate literary snobs. I read fiction and non-fiction and I listen to a lot of podcasts. I’m in a writers room with a dozen other writers and I’m paid to spend all day every day pitching ideas and breaking stories and I would say that I’m known best for how many ideas I pitch, and that’s all down to the fact I’m reading all the time. A lot of writers struggle to come up with ideas but there’s so much out there to draw on. Also in all my books I try to have a theme – whether it’s jealousy inspired by social media (Friends Like These) or sexual assault (Run Away With Me) or PTSD (Come Back To Me).

Thank you for your time!


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