Meet Sarah Pinborough Author of Insomnia

If you gasped at that ending of Behind Her Eyes you'll be delighted to know that its author, Sarah Pinborough, has a new thriller out: Insomnia, "basically a dark take on women's odd fears of turning forty". Sarah tells us why she likes writing about the paranormal, starting a book with the end, her favourite TV thriller and whether she believes in ghosts ...

You can download the ebook of Insomnia from Amazon or buy the paperback from Thriller Women's list at NB: if you buy books through this link we may earn a commission from, whose fees support independent bookshops.

Front cover of Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

TW: Sarah, your legions of fans will be delighted to see you publish another thriller. Tell us about Insomnia and why a 40th birthday is so unsettling for your protagonist Emma.

SP: Emma, my central character, is on the surface a woman who has a perfect life. She's got a great job as a divorce lawyer, two lovely kids and a stay-at-home husband. As with all women who are mums and have jobs though, her life looks a lot more perfect on the surface than it is to live in it. On top of this, her 40th birthday is just under two weeks away and she's developed insomnia. For Emma this is a real worry because her own mother stopped sleeping just before her 40th, and went mad and did something unspeakable. Emma's now worried that the same is happening to her. It's basically a dark take on women's odd fears of turning forty and also turning into their mothers!

TW: You're known for your twists that readers don't see coming. How do you plot them and where do you draw the line between plausible and too coincidental?

SP: I always have to have the ending in place before I can begin really planning a book - in fact I think the final chapter of Behind Her Eyes was in the book pitch, and until I can absolutely see that then the rest won't come. I think plausibility is all in how you present something. When we watch a horror film it either terrifies us because the team behind it have made it believable within that world or we find them ridiculous because they haven't. I always aim obviously to make it believable in that world and seed clues right from the beginning as to the true nature of the story. I'm not a fan of coincidence in thriller stories although I think you're maybe allowed one per book. But that's the tops!

TW: Gaslighting is a theme in Insomnia and it's an issue that's received a lot of media, and. now police, attention. What points did you want to make about it through your character Emma? The one certain thing about uncertainty is that it's a gift to thriller writers!

SP: Ha yes, unreliability is such a buzz word in thrillers these days! I'm a massive fan of old black and white film noirs/mysteries like Laura, and Witness for the Prosecution and Footsteps in the Fog and of course Hitchcock's movies where just about everyone is unreliable, and I'm a great believer that we're all unreliable narrators of our lives, and we're all kind of gaslighting each other through our social media. Most people only show the parts of their lives they want people to see etc which is a form of gaslighting. It can - and sometimes is designed to - make other people feel insecure or less accomplished etc. I guess in Insomnia I wanted to take gaslighting to the extreme because not only does Emma not trust those around her after a while, neither does she trust herself.

TW: Have you always been drawn to including a paranormal element in your books? What draws you to it?

SP: I started out as a horror writer - my first six novels were straight horror novels published in the US, and then I wrote historical horror (Mayhem and Murder), fairy tales (Poison, Charm and Beauty), dystopian crime (The Dog-faced Gods trilogy) and YA fantasy, so the paranormal is definitely in my blood. I've written fiction with no hint of the 'other' too, but I am always drawn to the things just in the corner of our eyes - the odd, the weird etc - and I love putting them in very 'normal' lives.

TW: The Netflix adaptation of Behind Her Eyes was immensely popular. How did that affect your career and has it opened up more opportunities for you?

SP: It certainly raised my profile but I was lucky enough to already be very busy with screenwriting work etc, but of course for producers when meeting them it's great to be able to reference Behind Her Eyes. It was just fun watching people's reactions to it on Twitter!

TW: If you weren't an author/screenwriter what would be your back up profession?

SP: Maybe actress I think. I always wanted to write or act. But I'm also exceptionally lazy;-)

TW: What are your favourite parts about being an author, and those that aren't so great?

SP: I like the sitting on my sofa making stuff up part of it - and obviously I loved seeing the reaction to Behind Her Eyes because it was so surreal to think that people were so freaking out from something that had come from in my head which I'd not really had before because it's not like my books sell millions and millions etc. I do like going to events and meeting readers but I'm not actually all that social so it does make me a bit nervous and wipes me out a bit. But I'm just lucky that I get to make a living doing something that as much as I complain about it, I actually love doing and would still do even if I wasn't getting paid for it.

TW: What are you writing at the moment - any exclusives? Do you have a favourite book out of all the ones you've written?

SP: I'm just in the planning stages of the next one and it's a bit complex and unusual so I will probably be planning it for a while. I'm definitely not at the stage of talking about it yet! As for favourites, no I don't think I do. They each represent different parts of my life to me and I've started to be quite fond of most of them in the way that looking back at old photos can make you smile.

Quick fire questions:

TW: TV or film?

SP: Film

TW: Best tip for budding writers?

SP: Just get on with it.

TW: Book you wish you'd had the idea for yourself?

SP: I don't have one.

TW: Do ghosts exist?

SP: No. No one should live in the past. Especially not the dead.

TW: Favourite TV thriller (that you haven't written)?

SP: Peaky Blinders.

Thanks Sarah!

Author photo of Sarah Pinborough

Exclusive extract from Insomnia:

Twelve days until birthday

There’s someone in the house.

It’s not a complete thought, but something feral, more instinctive, and I sit up, suddenly awake, my heart racing. The clock clicks to 1.13 a.m. and I stay very still, listening hard, sure I’m going to hear a creak from the hallway or see a threatening shadow emerge from a dark corner of the room. But there’s nothing. Just the patter of rain on the windows and the hum of night quiet.

My skin has prickled. Something woke me. Not a dream. Something else. Something in the house. I can’t shake the feeling, like when I was small and the nightmares would grip me so hard I would be sure I was back in that night and my foster mother would run in to calm me down before I woke the whole family.

Robert is fast asleep, on his side facing away from me. I don’t wake him. It’s probably nothing, but still, I’m alert with worry. The children.

I won’t be able to get back to sleep until I’ve checked on them and so I get up, shivers trembling up my body from my bare feet on the carpet, and I creep out onto the landing.

I feel very small as I look along the central corridor, the gloom making it appear endless, a monster’s yawning mouth ahead of me. I walk forward – I am a mother and a wife. A career woman. This is my house. My safe place – and wish I’d brought my phone with me to use as a torch. I peer over the landing banisters. Nothing moves in the dark shadows below. No thump of burglars shifting possessions in the night. No menace.

A flurry of wind drives the rain hard into our cathedral feature window, startling me. I go to the end of the corridor where it cuts into the wall, a perfect arch of black. I cup my hands around my eyes and press my face against the cold glass but all I can make out is the vague shape of trees. No light. No activity. Still, I shiver again as I turn back and head down the L bend ahead to the kids’ rooms. Footsteps dancing on my grave.

I feel better once I’ve pushed open Will’s door. My little boy, five years old and at big school now, is asleep on his back, the dinosaur duvet kicked away, and his dark hair, so like mine, is mussed up from sweat. Maybe he’s been having a bad night too. I carefully cover him up, but gentle as I’m trying to be, he stirs and his eyes open.

‘Mummy?’ He’s blurry, confused, but when I smile, he does too, and wriggles onto his side. His drawing book is under his pillow and I slide it out.

‘No wonder you woke up,’ I whisper. ‘Sleeping on this.’ It’s open on his most recent enthusiastic crayon drawing and I turn it this way and that in the gloom, trying to make out what it is. If I’m honest it looks like a dog that’s been run over. Twice.

‘It’s a dinosaur,’ Will says, and laughs and then yawns, as if even he knows drawing may not be his finest skill and he’s cool with that.

‘Of course it is.’ I put the notebook on the table by his bed and kiss him goodnight. He’s almost asleep again already and probably won’t even remember this in the morning.

I go to Chloe’s room next and she too is lost to the world, blonde hair fanned out on the pillow, a sleeping princess straight from a fairy tale, even though, at seventeen and a staunch modern feminist, she’d be quick to tell me that fairy tales are misogynistic rubbish. I go back to my own room, ridiculing myself for having been so afraid.

I get back into bed and curl up, Robert barely stirring. It’s only one thirty. If I fall asleep now, I can get another four hours in before I have to get up. Sleep should come easily – it always has done in this busy, exhausting, exhilarating life I lead, so I snuggle down and wait to drift. It doesn’t happen.

At three a.m. I check my emails – a midnight congratula­tions from Buckley for my result in court yesterday with the Stockwell divorce custody hearing – and then scan the news on my phone and go to the loo. Robert almost wakes then, but only enough to mutter something unintelligible and fling one heavy arm over me as I get back into bed. After that I lie there, my head whirring with my schedule for the fast-approaching day, becoming more and more frustrated that I’m going to be facing it tired. I’ve got to be at the office for seven thirty and it’s rare for me to get home before twelve hours later, and that’s only if I can get away without going for the obligatory drinks. There’s no room for slacking. Especially not now. I’m in line to be the youngest partner in the firm. But I love my work, I really do.

I practise some yoga breathing, trying to relax every muscle in my body and empty my mind, which sounds so easy but normally results in me pondering stupid things like whether there’s enough milk in the fridge or if we should change our gas supplier, and although my heart rate slows I still don’t sleep.

It’s going to be a long day.

More about Insomnia:

In the dead of night, madness lies...Emma can't sleep.

Check the windows
It's been like this since her big 4-0 started getting closer.

Lock the doors
Her mother stopped sleeping just before her 40th birthday too. She went mad and did the unthinkable because of it.

Look in on the children
Is that what's happening to Emma? Why can't she sleep?


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