We’re more than half-way through February now. If you haven’t yet booked your seat for First Monday Crime in March then what are you waiting for? Click here right this instant! Because it would be criminal to miss out on seeing Elly Griffiths (back for her second appearance at First Monday Crime – that’s how much we love her), Stav Sherez, Matthew Blakstad and Sarah Vaughan. Jake Kerridge will be asking the questions on the night.
In the meantime, I’ve had a chance to ask Sarah Vaughan some of my own questions about her new book Anatomy of a Scandal.
Hi Sarah. I’ve been hearing great things about Anatomy of a Scandal. What’s it all about?
Anatomy of a Scandal explores what happens when a charismatic Tory minister is accused of raping a parliamentary researcher with whom he’s been having an affair in a House of Commons lift. Part courtroom drama, part portrait of a marriage, part exploration of how our demons still haunt us, it is eerily timely since it explores power, privilege, entitlement, perceptions of truth and consent. There’s also a past story, set in Oxford 24 years earlier and involving a Bullingdon-style drinking club called The Libertines. The novel’s told from the first person perspective of Kate, the prosecuting barrister, and the third person perspective of Sophie, the minister’s wife; James, the minister; and a couple of other characters.
Where did the inspiration for the novel come from?
I actually dreamed the plot after being unsettled by coverage of a footballer who wanted to appeal against his rape conviction. It was the comments made about the young woman involved that got me thinking about how horrific it would be to allege rape, and then to be ripped apart when you gave evidence in a trial. I must have been preoccupied with male entitlement and MPs’ willingness to be economical with the truth, as well, and by the intense self-confidence of some of the young men I’d observed as a student at Oxford, and as a political correspondent on The Guardian. The main skeleton of the plot came to me fully formed.
I’ve seen some great photos of your launch day. How much fun did you have?
It was incredible and I know it was a one-off. I’m never going to have a taxi branded with my book cover again (though I’ve asked for a helicopter next time. ;)) It really did feel like a celebration, particularly as so many friends and members of my family turned up to the Foyle’s launch. Whenever I have one of my frequent moments of self doubt I remember how crazy that day was, as well as the excitement of a recent trip to Barcelona and Madrid to promote the Spanish and Catalan versions.
Anatomy of a Scandal isn’t your first book. You’ve written two others, The Art of Baking Blind and The Farm at the Edge of the World. These seem to be quite different styles. How difficult was it to change genres?
Obviously they are different but I’d argue that there’s a flick of darkness in my first novel, which touches on sexual abuse and explores recurrent miscarriages, an eating disorder, and psychological abuse at the heart of a marriage; and that this darkness becomes more explicit in the second novel, which I wrote after rereading a lot of Daphne du Maurier and which has a chilling scene set on Bodmin moor. I wanted to write what became Anatomy after The Art of Baking Blind but it was, unsurprisingly, thought too big a leap between the novels. My previous novels were dubbed women’s fiction for the reading group market, and this is a psychological drama: part courtroom drama, part dark women’s fiction that hopefully grips like a psych thriller. (It’s been called a MeToo marriage thriller.) So I’d see it as progression or continuation of what I’d been exploring earlier, though I consciously tried to make it more compelling. I didn’t find it difficult at all.
What’s next for you?
My new novel, which should be published next January, all being well. I’m just editing it now. It’s not a courtroom drama but it is in a similar vein. It features a paediatrician, written in the first person, and a family under suspicion, and it explores motherhood, responsibility and the judgements we make about others.
On the scale of 1-10, how excited are you to be on the panel at First Monday Crime?
I’m hopeless at grading things but I’m very much looking forward to it. So much of my life as a writer is solitary and I miss the banter and buzz of chatting to people, as I did as a journalist, so, although I get nervous, I love doing events. And I’m very much looking forward to meeting other fellow writers, two of whom I’ve already heard before, at Killer Women, and very much rated. I still feel new to writing about crime so it’s great to get further inspiration.
Thanks for answering my questions, Sarah!
Do you want to know a bit more about Anatomy of a Scandal? Here’s the blurb.
A high-profile marriage thrust into the spotlight. A wife, determined to keep her family safe, must face a prosecutor who believes justice has been a long time coming. A scandal that will rock Westminster. And the women caught at the heart of it.
Anatomy of a Scandal centres on a high-profile marriage that begins to unravel when the husband is accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is sure her husband, James, is innocent and desperately hopes to protect her precious family from the lies which might ruin them. Kate is the barrister who will prosecute the case – she is equally certain that James is guilty and determined he will pay for his crimes.
Anatomy of a Scandal combines Sarah Vaughan’s experiences as a news reporter and political correspondent on the Guardian with her time as a student reading English at Brasenose College, Oxford, in the Nineties. Published in the UK, US, Australia, NZ, Canada and South Africa, it will be translated into 17 languages throughout 2018 and 2019.
Anatomy of a Scandal is her third novel, her first courtroom drama/psychological thriller and her first book for Simon & Schuster. Married with two children, she lives just outside Cambridge and is currently finishing her fourth novel.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing all the panellists on Monday 5th March, back in our previous room at City. Hope to see lots of you there! But if you can’t make it, I will have my trusty notebook and pen with me.