For this week’s Weekly Chats we are joined by the two brilliant writers Sara Collins with Sofka Zinovieff to share Collin’s Costa Book Awards First Novel Winner for 2019, ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’. Like the cover suggests, this book is a richly woven tapestry of mystery, romance & murder that also observes the dark sides of these times, slavery, racism & the disturbing reality that was the Gothic era. This chat dives deep into the inspiration behind the decorated novel, from the plot, to the characters to writing historical fiction, we can get a glimpse into the creative, consuming & deeply influential mind of Sara. Phoning in from her family’s home in Grand Cayman, this is one of those chats where you’ll be holding on to every last word.
What’s in this chat:
The Plot: The book follows the story of Frannie, a young Jamaican woman who is brought to London in the early 19th century. She is given as a gift to a natural philosopher, George Benham to work as a maid in his Mayfair mansion. While Frannie is living there, she develops a strong, instant passionate attraction to George’s wife, Madame Marguerite Benham. Madame Benham is a perpetually dissatisfied, very enigmatic, beautiful French woman, and following this, the two women form a very romantic but twisted, Gothic love affair which ends in tragedy. Fast forward, the Benhams are found murdered & Frannie is convicted with the crimes. Framed like a confession for the court, the book is written as though Frannie is convincing herself too that she did not commit the crime as she was madly in love with Madame.
- Sara on the emotional, artistic & intellectual lockdown she experienced during the initial quarantine period.
- “Frannie By the Sea”. Sara tuning in from Grand Cayman for a staycation by the beach with her family.
- Sara & Sofka on their first meeting & the experience following the success of Sara’s debut novel The Confessions of Frannie Langton.
- Sara on her longest & deepest love; books.
- Sara on soaking up all the joy & crazy adventure that has been launching her debut novel & sharing it with the world.
- Sara on the different voices, narratives & experiences illustrated in the book.
- “It’s a creature stitched together” of all Sara’s favourite books, characters & personal experiences.
- “It’s a contract between writer & reader… you really have to give readers a story.” Says Sara on writing a page turning bestseller.
- The story behind the cover: based on a piece of embroidery with clues of the gothic mystery threaded into the plot by Scott Herron.
- Gothic novels: Sara on the book as an homage to her favourite gothic books she grew up reading from Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights. “It’s Jane Eyre if Jane shagged the mad woman in the attic & murdered Mr Rochestor.”
- Sofka on her favourite quote at the beginning of the book about love, murder & “slave history sugared in despair.”
- The dark history of slavery, plantations & the scientific experimentation in which white men were attempting to prove through phrenology that black people were “lesser humans”. Sara on her ability to comment & open the “can of worms” on the destruction & utter horror of the gothic era’s stance on racism.
- “It is easier to grapple with these things through fiction rather than any other way”: Sara on tackling topics such as slavery, racism & discrimination & her great influence from Toni Morrison with her book, Beloved.
- Plus, we get an exclusive reading from Sara Collins reading from The Confessions of Frannie Langton.
- Sara on her past role as a lawyer for “17 miserable years”, but using her legal knowledge to play a part in the construction of the story.
- Sara on belonging at the margins & moving into the centre through writing, whether this is through race, creed, gender, socioeconomic status.
- “We still want to airbrush the past in order to be able to tolerate ourselves with the present.” Sara on writing historical fiction & tackling the ‘unresolved, unaddressed problem’ that is Britain’s systemic racism.
- Sara & Sofka on Black Lives Matter & the changing times we are seeing today.
- Sara on the defining moment when she saw Black Lives Matter protests in South Korea & the worldwide recognition of the movement.
- Frannie on Film, Sara writing the screenplay of the television series of The Confessions of Frannie Langton & Sara on her newfound love of writing screenplay.