Wednesday 13 December 2017


Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan Interview [blog tour]

Anatomy of a Scandal is one of the best books I've read this year (even though it's not published until 2018!) and today I'm delighted to be a part of the blog tour for this stellar court room thriller, political thriller and marriage thriller all wrapped into one incredibly gripping package. My full review will be published in January, but first I have an insightful interview with author Sarah Vaughan about the timely topic of the book, her background as a political journalist and what she's working on next.

Hi Sarah, thanks so much for taking part in this interview on Page to Stage Reviews as part of the Anatomy of a Scandal blog tour! This has been one of my favourite reads of 2017 (well, technically 2018) and I’m excited to ask you a few questions about it…

I was incredibly gripped by Anatomy of a Scandal and felt it was meticulously plotted from start to finish to give it that ‘edge of the seat’ feeling while reading. How did you map out such a complex story? And did any of the pivotal plot points change along the way, or were they set in stone from the very beginning to make it fit so seamlessly?

The idea for Anatomy of a Scandal came to me in a dream – something which has never happened to me before but which I very much want to happen again – so I knew that I wanted to write about a very charismatic Tory minister who was accused of rape; that there would be an Oxford back story, twenty-odd years earlier, and I knew the main plot points until I got to the penultimate chapter (although one aspect – which would have put Kate in further jeopardy – changed).

I’d had a bit of a nightmare with the complex structure of my archetypal tricky second novel, so before writing Anatomy, I read two very successful psychological thrillers and plotted where the plot points were, assessed the pace, and looked at how frequently chapters ended with cliffhangers. I’ve never done a creative writing course so this was the first time I’d really analysed story arcs like this. I also read John Yorke’s fantastic Into the Woods and really thought about how I would drive my story on, and ensure it gripped.

With my two previous novels, I’d used a massive piece of A2 card divided into columns for point of view, plot, timeline, etc. (I really need to learn how to create a spread sheet.) But because I had such a clear sense of where I wanted to go with Anatomy, and I knew the courtroom scenes would provide drama and structure, I jotted the first five chapters down, wrote them, and then had the confidence to plot roughly through to the end. There was some playing around with where the past story would fit but I think that instinctively I knew where the action should ebb and flow and where the twists should be. It’s been by far my easiest novel to write because I had that very clear sense of it from the start.

The story at the heart of the novel is, unfortunately, a very timely topic. Even more so now than when you were writing it. Had the allegations and revelations become public before you finished your book, do you feel that any of your storyline directions would’ve been different?

I don’t think I’d have altered the general direction of Anatomy had these revelations emerged when I was writing it though I imagine the libel lawyer, who my publishers employed to read it, might have been more concerned about them! This is a piece of fiction that I dreamed up in November 2013, long before any of the allegations of sexual misconduct came out, and although I thought the Houses of Parliament lent themselves to subterfuge and secrets, and could imagine a narcissistic, charismatic politician abusing his power sexually, I didn’t know about any of the allegations that have since emerged – although some details are freakishly similar!

You have a background in political journalism, and the details in your story really add to the realism of the novel. How did you keep the balance between fact and fiction, ensuring no real-life cases you reported on slipped into it?

I did alter a few details for the libel lawyer, as discussed above, because James is not based on one politician but is an extreme version of an immensely confident one, and, I guess, is an amalgamation of charismatic men I’ve come across. The details of the House of Commons – such as the lift running from New Palace Yard to the lobby corridor, the committee room corridor, and members’ lobby – should be accurate, and I needed them to be so in order to lend credibility to what I was writing about.

I was more concerned about not allowing real life to slip into my court scenes as I’d watched a sexual assault and rape trial, and the start of another rape case, before writing this, and I didn’t want any of the details from those real-life cases to inadvertently be included here. What I hope I’ve done is marry the skills I learned during 15 years as a journalist – in reporting in the lobby, and in covering major criminal trials – with my imagination to write credible, realistic fiction.

The novels you’ve written so far have all been vastly different from one another, going from cosy baking read to historical fiction to political thriller. Are you purposely exploring a variety or do you not feel yourself confined to a single type, and is it the story that decides on the genre of your next novel?

I think readers would be bemused, and my publishers and agent irritated, if I now said I wanted to write a second baking novel! Although my first two books were women’s fiction, and marketed very clearly, I’d argue that even the first one contained elements of darkness: the sadness of Kathleen Eaden’s story, the bulimia suffered by one character and a suggestion of sexual abuse. My second went further in detailing abuse, which explains why some readers were surprised at the content when picking up a book covered in swirling font.

But yes, I’ve clearly progressed. My first novel, The Art of Baking Blind, was very much born out of my situation when I wrote it: I was the mother of two young children who’d given up a high-profile job in journalism because I had to move out of London for my husband’s job and I’d had a difficult pregnancy, and so I wrote about motherhood and the impossibility of perfection, in the context of baking competition.

I actually wanted to write Anatomy as my second novel but because it felt too big a jump from a novel about baking to one about consent, I wrote The Farm at the Edge of the World, which has a time-slip story set in the Second World War and is about love, loss and atonement. I don’t want to provide spoilers, but that explores some pretty dark issues and I reread a lot of du Maurier before writing it, so I was clearly trying to play with atmosphere and suspense.

My next, fourth, novel is in a similar vein to Anatomy, although there’s no courtroom drama, and will explore what happens when a woman is suspected of a crime.

Back in 2014 I asked you about your average writing day or routine, if there is such a thing, and you mentioned that the majority of your writing happens when your children are at school – with longer writing days the nearer a deadline looms. Has this changed, or does this still work best for you? And do you have any tips you can share with fellow writers to get into the ‘zone’?

I still try to write mainly when my children are at school, the difference being that now they’re nine and 12, as opposed to 6 and 9 when I think we last talked, their school days can be stretched a bit with extra-curricular activities. When I’m stressed about a draft I’ll work in the evenings but then I don’t sleep so I’m trying to be stricter about switching emails off at 9pm, which helps.

Since writing Anatomy I’ve acquired a puppy and she eats up time. But on the plus side, I start the day with an hour-long walk which I think is making me keep things in perspective and definitely compensates for the hours sat at a desk.

I wish I could tell you how to get into the zone. I’ve recently discovered the apps Freedom and Self Control, which I’ve had to resort to keep off twitter. There is no secret to getting yourself to write, though: you just have to show up, put your bum on that chair, and get on with it.

While Anatomy of a Scandal isn’t published until next year, you’re already elbow-deep into your next novel. Is there anything you can share about it yet?

My next, fourth, novel is in a similar vein to Anatomy, although there’s no courtroom drama here. Again, I’m looking at what happens when women’s lives are touched by crime or darkness. It opens with a mother faced with a baby who won’t stop screaming – and then progresses to a mother turning up at A&E with a child who’s been hurt. I’m still editing it but I hope that it manages to be thoughtful, moving, and suspenseful. It should be published in January 2019.

That sounds very intriguing, and I can't wait to read it (even though I have to wait until 2019!). Thanks so much for your taking the time for this interview, Sarah!

Anatomy of a Scandal
will be published by Simon & Schuster on 1 January 2018 and you can pre-order your copy now from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.

This review is part of the official Anatomy of a Scandal blog tour, make sure to check out the other stops for interviews, reviews and more!

🎵 Listening to: My Chemical Romance – Na Na Na
🔹 Mood: Accomplished

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