Features,  She Writes

She Writes: Sarah Hilary

Continuing with Bristish crime writers, for today’s post I have had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Hilary. Sarah is the author of the Marnie Rome series, a favourite of mine, but she is also a good friend as we have met a few times over the past three years. It is always a pleasure to talk to her about women and crime fiction.


Born in Chesire, Sarah Hilary has always been a fan of books. During her lifetime, she has pursued a first Class Honours Degree in the History of Ideas, as well as worked as a bookseller, and for the Royal Navy. Her writing career took off in 2008 when she won the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize for her short story Fall River, August 1892. However, you probably know her as the author of the acclaimed Marnie Rome series. Hilary’s debut novel Someone Else’s Skin – and the first one in the series – was published in 2014 and it immediately became a Richard & Judy Book Club pick in the same year. The following novels in the series enjoyed even more success due to the complex character development and the exquisitely crafted personal story of the series’ titular character. No Other Darkness (2015), Tastes Like Fear (2016) and Quieter than Killing (2017) have been personal favourites of mine for years now.

Despite her outstanding writing Career, Sarah Hilary has also been very vocal about her support for women’s rights, which are directly interwoven with her family history. In 2014 she wrote for The Guardian about her mother’s story My mother was Emperor Hirohito’s poster child a moving tribute to her mother and grandmother’s strength during their time in a Japanese prison camp in Borneo in 1944. She has also spoken about feminism and the representation of women in crime fiction for Bodies in the Library before. A firm believer in women’s writing, Sarah has also written the introduction for Virago’s new editions of three books by Patricia Highsmith republished in 2016: The Two Faces of January, This Sweet Sickness, and People Who Knock on the Door. Last, but not least, she is an active member of Killer Women, an author collective of 21 female crime-writers, who work together to put on exciting, innovative crime fiction events around the UK.

Currently on your nightstand?

The Birdcage by Helen Dunmore, which I’m saving for a quiet moment. I can’t believe it’s the last book by Helen, who will always be one of my very favourite writers. Also on my nightstand is Honeydew by Edith Pearlman, a magical collection of short stories.

Favourite book by a woman writer?

Of all time? That’s such a tough one. Just at the moment, I’ve been reminded of the brilliance of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, which is surely one of the most influential books ever written, so perhaps I should choose that. (My heart says Jane Eyre, though.)

Where do you find inspiration to write?

Everywhere. I’m a firm believer in the secret antennae all writers have, and our power to draw stories to us when we’re searching for what to write.

What is your routine for writing?

I wouldn’t call it a routine, as such. I sit down and try to get a thousand words done at least twice a day when I’m working on something new. Some days the words won’t come, but I’ve learnt not to panic when that happens. I go for a walk, and try to shake loose the story that way.

Name three things you can’t live without when writing

Coffee, of course. Satsumas (sometimes I swap these out for cheese). Twitter, because science has proved that distraction improves creativity (yes, really).

What are you reading next?

I’m embarking on a re-read of Margaret Atwood, and also searching for Celia Fremlin’s backlist as she’s a tremendous writer, too long out of print.

What does being ‘a woman writer’ mean to you?

Being honest, and compassionate. Not being afraid of being opinionated, or dangerous, or dark. Never taking ‘No’ for an answer. Never giving up.

Words of wisdom about writing for your younger self

Cherish your strangeness. Don’t be afraid of not fitting in. You’ll find your tribe.

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  • JacquiWine

    Sadly, contemporary crime novels and thrillers are not my thing as I tend to find them too unsettling for my tastes. (Somehow everything seems much less disturbing if it has taken place in the dim and distant past, hence my preference for vintage crime fiction.) Nevertheless, I do applaud your endeavours to share these interviews on the blog. It looks like a great series.

    • Elena

      Thank you for reading them even though they are not your cup at all, Jacqui. It means a lot. And the reasons why you don’t like this kind of books is exactly why I love them!

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