Sarah England is a fiction writer born and raised in the United Kingdom, where she spent several years as a nurse, who specialized in psychiatry.
While this may seem like a standard backstory for a horror character, England seems to be a character drawn from the very pages of a horror novel itself when contemplating the works she’s been involved in.
While this may not sound flattering and the name may ring a bell, that is because she’s written or been involved in over one hundred and sixty stories, anthologies, and novels.
Her newest works, and arguably her most frightening, is the Father of Lies series. Set in the Drummersgate Asylum, a mental hospital in the north, this novel is imbued with British culture and norms that one would expect from an in-depth author such as England.
The first book goes into detail about a patient named Ruby, who is either possessed by an evil spirit or in need of some serious medication. She makes future predictions, hisses at the staff, and is prone to bouts of violence in between long periods of calm stupors brought on by high dosages of tranquilizers. She’s brought up at every staff meeting (almost as a running joke for the doctors of the asylum) where her medications are hotly debated to see if they can help the girl with no past find a semblance of sanity.
I’ve taken a moment to contact Sarah to see what she’s been up to since her trilogy became a hit, and wanted to see how she was doing…
NP: Sarah, thank you for the interview! I’ve been wanting to get my claws into you for quite some time but have never had the chance! How are you?
SE: Hi Nicholas! Thank you very much for interviewing me – I’m actually closeted in my writing lair again for the fourth book. And it’s very dark in here…shudders…
NP: I hope we’re not a bother, but with your rising star status I felt I needed to get a hold of you for this prestigious month of women in horror. Tell me, what prompted you to enter the world of writing? I know horror isn’t your only genre, but what got you interested in our lovely slice of darkness?
SE: To be honest with you, I always wanted to be a writer. I started reading my English teacher mother’s cast-off novels from the age of about seven onwards, and got an ‘A’ in English O’ Level (back in the dark ages) at age 14. However, life got in the way and somehow I ended up as a nurse…not sure how that happened…
How did I become interested in horror? I’ll be dead honest with you again – the fascination has always been there. From not being able to sleep without a light on as a child because I was convinced the wardrobe door would open, to doing tarot as an adult and getting the same cards over and over and over… I mean – HOW? Yes, I’m interested alright!
NP: Now, as I understand it, you were a nurse who specialised in medical sales and psychiatry. I know your writing sometimes references medicine, but tell me how much of your writing has involved your career in the medical field?
SE: Actually, a lot! I was a nurse for a few years before being in medical sales for nearly 20 years, which involved working closely with psychiatrists. I developed a strong interest most particularly in schizophrenia, along with psychoses.
The short stories I had published in various anthologies and magazines, would also often carry a medical theme (I am about to publish this collection in the next couple of weeks.)
However, the Father of Lies trilogy is based heavily on what used to be called multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder. The lady I met who had this was the inspiration for the series, and the nursing perspective is drawn from much of my own experience.
NP: Fascinating… so I must ask, what prompted the actual pen-to-paper (or computer, as it were) for your hit series Father of Lies?
SE: Well I met a lady who suffered from this disorder, and she broke my heart. In 90% of cases this is attributable to some form of child abuse, but this particular woman had been the victim of satanic ritual abuse and she has not one or two but hundreds of alter personalities.
I saw her ‘switch’ in front of me and it was just awful – frightening and heart-rending.
With my background in both writing and psychiatry, not to mention a fascination with the occult (at the time I was doing tarot and this lady was a shockingly accurate clairvoyant who worked through the church) – well I felt Father of Lies needed to be told, and so I veered away from magazine writing and decided to take what turned out to be several years on the dark side. So dark I scared myself to idiotdom with the research…
NP: Where did you get the character concept for Ruby? She is a vibrant and, often enough, terrifying persona to encounter. I feel as if she might have some basis in reality, perhaps as a person or dealing with certain mental disorders?
SE: Yes – see above! Ruby lives and breathes. However, the real Ruby did not attack anyone, does not live in the north of England and was never a prostitute on drugs! But the medical condition – yes – I am afraid to say she is based on a real person.
There is a film on at the moment called Split highlighting this condition, and many issues of possession have been covered before too – however, this lady had not twenty but hundreds of alters, and yes I am appalled to say that ritual abuse involving children still goes on. The horror is very real.
As for many of the other issues covered – I researched demonology, exorcisms and the transference of evil entities through hypnosis and much of this trilogy is based on factual research. The research books seriously freaked me out. I could only read them a little at a time and in daylight. Spooky things happened to me while drafting out the first book and in the end I gave the research books away to a friend. She burned them!
NP: Wow, talk about some motivation! Your publisher seems to have been very supportive of your work, and who could blame them? Have you any words for starving writers out there in search of a good publishing house? Tips of the trade perhaps that you don’t mind sharing?
SE: I don’t have a publisher for this trilogy! I had a publisher before for a comedy novel and was not happy, so a few writers and I got together to form Authors Reach, through which we hire our own editors, designers (Gina Dickerson) and make our own deals with printers and distributors.
For my next book – due out in August – I am as yet undecided whether to continue with self-publishing as it is very hard work, but then again…there are distinct advantages. Tips – oh blimey, I just don’t know. I think if you have not been published before then maybe for your first book it’s a good idea to find a decent publisher so you learn the ropes a bit, and gain some credibility.
After that, well so much is changing in publishing that it isn’t always necessary to find an agent and publisher if you are prepared to put in the time and hire your own editor and designer.
NP: Oh my, I’d looked up on Amazon and seen a publisher listed, I had no idea you were self-published! That only adds to your success story! Now to the nitty-gritty, tell me about what motivates you to write. I know you use your background in the trilogy, but what exactly got your blood pumping when unfolding the horror within the pages of Magda, the third book in the trilogy?
SE: You know, Father of Lies was always supposed to be just the one book! However, I quickly realized when I saw readers’ comments that a follow-up was needed, hence Tanners Dell. Again I thought that it would remain at two, but the readers wanted to know more, so I began to think about where and when the rot would have started in the twisted village of Woodsend, and then all I can say is that a strange thing happened.
It was like being fed the story in drips. I had no idea where it would go or how it would end, except that as it came to me the whole trilogy started to make sense. What got my blood going? Oh God, the stuff with the mirrors…again I did the research!
NP: I’ve often wondered what authors listen to when writing. Do you have any musicians or soundtracks you’d like to recommend for soothing the aching soul while stretching out words of terror?
SE: Silence. Total silence. I don’t want to hear so much as a footstep outside!
NP: Spooky! I myself listen to rainfall when writing, but I digress. You wrote these novels in quick succession, two of them appearing within six months of each other. This leads me to believe that you plot not only one book at a time, but whole arcs. Tell us, if you would, how you go about setting up the intricate web that you weave?
SE: No, honestly! They were not planned. I did not expect FOL to do particularly well and when it did, I saw that a sequel was needed, and so just worked my butt off. Tanners Dell came to me quickly and I had it ready in five months.
After that I was going to take a break and then do something else but people made it clear they wanted more. Whilst it had started out as an experiment in psychiatry and possession, the whole story had now taken on a life of its own. Also, I was very much into it…I had an idea where to take it – back to 16th Century witchcraft in this remote northern village, but the revelation came to me almost like it will to the reader…piece by piece until it fell into place.
To say I worked 14 hour days to get it ready for Halloween last year would be about right…still editing at 1am over and over and over…I did it with five hours to spare.
NP: Ye gods, you worked around the clock! Thus proves what a little hard work can accomplish! Now I know a good few of us here at the London Horror Society love your work (my favorite is Father of Lies) but tell me, should you be forced to choose out of your prolific library, what would be your top choices for readers to sink their teeth into other than the Father of Lies trilogy? What other thriller/horror tales have you penned?
SE: I have an anthology called The Witching Hour coming out in a couple of weeks and there are a couple of tales in there I would recommend – Someone Out There (originally a serial for a magazine), Buried Too Deep, Rough Love and Cold Melon Tart are my favourites out of about 20 short stories in the thriller, mystery and ghost genres.
I will be offering this free for a while for signing up to my newsletter, so that I can tell people when the next book is out in August. I’ll post details on my blog shortly. Other than that, it will be August for the next one.
NP: Now I don’t want to take up any more of your time as I’m sure you’re quite busy, but I must ask… what’s next? You’ve written one bestselling novel after another, so we’ve all come to expect the greatness that you bring to the table. Will we be seeing more from this trilogy, short stories connected to it perhaps, or will we just be warming up for your August release?
SE: Yes, the short story collection will be out very shortly – before the end of February – and the next novel – this time a dark, psychological horror – is scheduled for August at the latest.
NP: Now if you could humor us with one of your favorite passages, to show the readers what they’re missing so to speak.
From Tanners Dell. Ch. 14
After meditating for a while Celeste picked up the black mirror she rarely used to scry with and peered into its depths. Staring into the mirror in the candle-lit darkness should connect her with whatever or whoever was in the house and fear instinctively swelled inside her chest. Her hands shook. Any second now a face would appear either instead of, or behind, her own.
Who would come?
The black mirror reflected the vague outline of her face and a crown of backcombed hair. She continued to stare into it.
Now the black glass began to waver; very slightly at first like staring into a millpond at night. Fear stuck fast in her throat but she swallowed it down.
Stay with it.
All at once the image altered and the eyes reflected were no longer her own.
Who are you? Who’s there?
In response the half-formed face quickly vanished as if down a drain.
Show yourself, you coward…
Someone laughed with a long low chuckle that echoed around the kitchen, but she held steady, watching and waiting. A landscape was now being shown to her: swaying silvery treetops and a twilight sky…rooks flying in and out of the canopy… The picture steadily grew as if painted by an imaginary artist, eventually zooming in on a woman hanging out washing in the dark.
Rain dripped steadily from the trees and her boots were mired in mud. Zooming in further, the washing appeared to be dirty and saturated in something dark and oozing, yet still the woman’s hands worked, methodically dipping into deep pockets and pulling out more pegs.
The mirror crept up like a camera lens behind the woman’s head and a pungent wave of nicotine and wood smoke wafted from the scene, along with the faint sound of ethereal humming… ‘Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie…’ Suddenly, as if sensing an intruder the woman stopped humming. Her back stiffened and slowly, oh so slowly, she inclined her head as if to turn around.
By Nicholas Paschall (@Nelfeshne)
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