Sarah and I discuss her debut The Sanatorium, having her novel chosen as a Reese’s Book Club selection, how she created such a strong sense of place, making the sanatorium a character in the novel, writing a closed circle mystery, her stunning book cover, and more.
Sarah and I discuss her debut The Sanatorium, having her novel chosen as a Reese’s Book Club selection, how she created such a strong sense of place, making the sanatorium a character in the novel, writing a closed circle mystery, her stunning book cover, whether there will be a sequel, and much more.
The Sanatorium can be purchased at Murder by the Book.
Sarah’s 2 recommended reads are:
Links for helping Houstonians: Kids’ Meals and The Houston Food Bank.
If you enjoy reading mysteries and thrillers and want to listen to more podcast episodes like this one, try Lisa Gardner, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Nick Petrie, and Jane Harper.
book, sanatorium, hotel, read, building, U.K., aspects, reader, bit, avalanche, author, stay, idea, writing, Agatha Christie, plotting, thought, locked room mystery, people, interviewed
Cindy Burnett, Sarah Pearse
Cindy Burnett 00:07
This is the Thoughts from a Page Podcast where I interview authors about their latest works. My name is Cindy Burnett, and I love to talk about books. As I'm sure many of you realize I did not publish podcast episodes according to my regular schedule this past week. Texas, and Houston where I live, were heavily impacted by weather more extreme than we usually encounter. And unfortunately for us, our power grid was not up to the task. As a result, a significant number of people here without power for many days, and a week later, Houston is still under a boil water mandate (for those who have water some people still do not). While my family weathered the storm with very little damage, many Houstonians did not. People across the country have been asking me how they can help so I'm including links to two reputable groups who could use the support currently, Kids' Meals who feed thousands of low income children daily and lost all of their food due to the lack of power, and the Houston Food Bank who is facing unprecedented requests. In an effort to get back on track, I am releasing the two episodes that should have aired last week this weekend. Today I am interviewing Sarah Pearse about The Sanatorium. Sarah grew up in Devon in the U.K. and studied English literature and creative writing at the University of Warwick before completing a postgraduate diploma in broadcast journalism. She lived in Switzerland for several years before returning to the U.K. The Sanatorium is her first novel. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Welcome, Sarah. How are you today?
Sarah Pearse 01:36
Yeah, great thank you.
Cindy Burnett 01:37
Well, I'm thrilled to pieces to talk about The Sanatorium with you. What a read.
Sarah Pearse 01:42
Oh, thank you so much.
Cindy Burnett 01:44
Why don't we start out with you giving me a quick two-minute summary of the book?
Sarah Pearse 01:47
Yeah, of course. So The Sanatorium is a thriller, and it set in a luxury hotel called Le Sommet, and it's a hotel that's been converted from an old abandoned sanatorium really high in the Swiss Alps. The book follows Elin Warner, who's a British detective, as she travels to the hotel for her brother's engagement. Things take a really dark turn when almost as soon as she arrives at the hotel, her brother's fiancé Laur goes missing. And Elin find she has to step up to the plate to investigate. And things get challenging for her as there's a huge snowstorm and an avalanche. And she's cut off together with the guests and the rest of the staff in the hotel.
Cindy Burnett 02:20
Well, how did you come up with the idea for this story?
Sarah Pearse 02:24
Yeah, so that kind of stemmed quite organically, really, after reading an article in a local Swiss magazine about the history of sanatoriums in the area. So it spoke a lot about how some of the sanatoriums were converted into hotels after the advent of antibiotics. And it kind of really got my mind worrying. And I started thinking as a guest, and then potentially, as a reader, how would it feel to kind of read about an experience a place where people had sort of lived with illness and then died? And would that be, how would you feel if it became a hotel, and there were sort of aspects of the clinical past from that hotel, from that sanatorium within the hotel itself.
Cindy Burnett 02:59
Well your sense of place is so strong, both the Swiss Alps the outdoor setting, but also the indoor setting, the sanatorium itself and the different things that they had saved and incorporated into the hotel. I just thought that was absolutely fascinating.
Sarah Pearse 03:13
All Thank you. Yeah, it was something I played with the idea a little bit, I don't think it's always, I've had some reactions of I don't know whether I would stay in that hotel with these clinical aspects. But I thought it would be a really interesting way of bringing the sort of past to life. I won't say too much more about the plot in terms of that. But I think it's always there, that reminder. And it's something that fascinates me about repurposed buildings in general, whether it's a school, or a prison, or any other building that's then converted into some kind of residential accommodation. I'm always fascinated by the idea that there's this history bubbling beneath the surface that might come to light any moment.
Cindy Burnett 03:48
I really enjoyed that also. Over the years, we've stayed in various hotels that have been repurposed. And I always love that. I feel like it gives them a strong sense of identity or just kind of makes your stay more enjoyable. Now, of course, we weren't staying in sanatoriums. They were like a train station, an old Art Deco building, things like that. But I did think that from time to time while I was reading your book - I'm not sure I'd want to walk into the lobby and see some of the things they had displayed.
Sarah Pearse 04:13
Cindy Burnett 04:15
Did you mean for the hotel to become a character in the novel?
Sarah Pearse 04:18
Yeah, very much so. I think something I really love when I'm reading a book, and I think it could be the the landscape itself, the external landscape, or like a building in this case, is when you have that environment around the character that does almost take on a life of its own. And as I started writing, I think probably the building itself became even more so. It was a very visual thing to write for me. I really found myself in that building, describing it and yet it really came to life and kind of almost took on even more aspects, malevolent aspects, as I started writing.
Cindy Burnett 04:47
I think it's always interesting to ask authors that question because when you do create such a strong sense of place, it does seem like that the person writing the story almost does inhabit the building or inhabit the environment, whatever it is, to be able to translate it onto the page like that.
Sarah Pearse 05:03
Yeah, I, for me, it's a really visual process. I think that's the only way, I've learned now, I think it's the only way I can write is if I'm absolutely there within that building. And I think I even now in my head, I have such a strong, I could walk around it. And I think that's the only way you can make a scene come to life if as an author, you are almost describing what is happening as if it was happening in real time to you.
Cindy Burnett 05:25
I agree completely. And I find that that's when you do have these settings that come to life so well on the page is exactly what you're describing, when you literally feel like you could walk around that building and be inhabiting it yourself.
Sarah Pearse 05:37
Yeah, absolutely. I find what I read exactly the same way that yeah, you really do when something's described well, you are able to be there as the reader, aren't you? Kind of following along behind that character.
Cindy Burnett 05:48
And that's always my favorite kind of story is when that happens.
Sarah Pearse 05:51
Yeah, it's amazing. Actually, my children now are really kind of getting into books and reading really vividly. And my daughter's reading the Harry Potter series. And she really, she very much has that in her head. And obviously, she's watching the films, but she says she has a slightly different perception of it in her head, which I think is fascinating.
Cindy Burnett 06:08
Well, and I always love that. My middle daughter is a huge Harry Potter fan, has been since she was very young. Obviously, JK Rowling has managed to bring that world very alive. And Emily would just get down to like the money at the bank, at Gringotts, and stuff. And I just was always amazed that someone's able to describe it all so well, that she could be telling me all about the different types of coinage.
Sarah Pearse 06:27
Yeah, exactly. It's to that level of detail. As you know, when it's been well done.
Cindy Burnett 06:32
Exactly. You must have had to do a lot of research independent of creating the Le Sommet and the Swiss Alps part of it. What about the police procedural aspects in Switzerland?
Sarah Pearse 06:42
Yeah, I mean, that was obviously something I knew nothing about. So the Swiss police are actually very kind, and they let me almost interview them. I kind of took them through the fictional scenario. And it was quite funny, they said obviously, we do believe that in any situation, the Swiss police could get there. I threw them into a very unusual situation. And yeah, they were super helpful. So we sat for several hours and talked through police procedure. And obviously, there's aspects I took to an extreme level. But yeah, I had to do that because obviously, it differs from U.K. police procedure, in many ways, because it's obviously a totally different environment. So they were super helpful.
Cindy Burnett 07:15
Yeah, that must have been really interesting. And I liked that aspect of the story where she was having to reach out to them periodically. And then the fact that they couldn't get there. I'm sure they were like, thanks a lot. We really could get there.
Sarah Pearse 07:26
Yeah, exactly. I said, What if there was this avalanche? But yeah, I mean, it was interesting in terms of the hotel itself, because it had to be quite challenging, because obviously, it's a struggle to where a building would be built in an avalanche path. So I had to make sure it wouldn't be in that avalanche path, which they wouldn't have allowed but still unreachable. So I had some fun creating that as well.
Cindy Burnett 07:47
I bet so and definitely that lent itself well to the locked room mystery aspect. So how was it writing a locked room mystery? I mean, did that require a lot of plotting? I mean, I was kind of trying to think through, a defined group of people, a defined space. And does that make it easier or harder?
Sarah Pearse 08:05
Yeah, I find it easier. Because I think for me, I didn't want to write too many aspects of a police procedural. So I think for Elin being able to operate in her own world made things a little bit easier in terms of the plotting. And it also makes things really exciting as an author, when you have that fixed group of suspects. You've got to create very sort of plausible motive. There's a lot of red herrings you have to weave through. So the idea that there's only a small group of people who could be involved, makes it quite exciting. And I think there's also the aspect, the idea that no one can come and help you. So there is no sort of someone on the white horse charging in saying, I'm going to come and save the day in the Swiss police. So it really puts your characters under pressure. And I think as an author, that's really interesting, you kind of, I think you only really see what the characters are made of, as an author when you're writing if you are putting them under an extreme pressure. And I think a locked room scenario really does that.
Cindy Burnett 08:57
I think so too. And as a reader, you're thinking there's no one else that can help them.
Sarah Pearse 09:02
Exactly. They're on their own.
Cindy Burnett 09:04
Exactly. So I hope they're up to it. So locked rooms always made me think about Agatha Christie. Was she an influence for you?
Sarah Pearse 09:10
Most definitely. I mean, I live in our area is kind of steeped in Agatha Christie. She had a childhood home sort of five minutes from where I live now. Her holiday home is only sort of 10 or 15 minutes away. And yeah, we grew up watching a lot of Agatha Christie TV series on TV, as well as reading her books. And I think what I love about her writing is not only her characters, some of my favorite-ever fictional detectives, but I love the exotic settings she uses and that sort of locked-room scenario. It's something I think she did really well and such great plotting.
Cindy Burnett 09:42
Most definitely, and I hadn't really thought about the exotic setting aspect of it more than locked room but you're right, it really kind of pulls from both of those different ideas of hers.
Sarah Pearse 09:50
Yeah, absolutely. You've got you go from that Orient Express train to a Nile steamer to Egypt. Yeah, just amazing.
Cindy Burnett 09:58
No, you're right. Well I am always drawn to covers. And I have to tell you your cover is probably my favorite cover that I have seen in ages. Every time I look at it, I just am like, oh, that is the best cover. Do you just love it?
Sarah Pearse 10:11
I absolutely love it. It's interesting. We have two different covers, and obviously one for the U.K. and one for the U.S., but they are very similar in that they focus on the kind of creepy and sinister look of the hotel. So when I saw both of them, I was blown away. As a writer, it's amazing to kind of see that come to life I think. When you see the cover, your book becomes a little bit more real. It goes from the imagination and having other words on a page. But to have a visual representation. It was just thrilling. And I love them both.
Cindy Burnett 10:39
Well now I'm gonna have to look up the U.K. one because I've only seen the U.S. one so far. Is this what they started out with? Or did you all have to tweak it? Some?
Sarah Pearse 10:46
Yeah, no, it was very actually from both the covers for the U.K. and the U.S. They very much stayed the same. So I mean, some of the colors get tweaked, perhaps the size of the font, but I think yeah, they both had quite a clear idea, the designers, of what they wanted the book to sort of look and feel like. So yeah, there wasn't too many changes at all.
Cindy Burnett 11:05
I think the American cover, and I'm sure the U.K. cover when I look at it, perfectly encapsulates the story.
Sarah Pearse 11:10
Yeah, it really does. It just it gives a hint. I think everything from the font, that's what I think so clever about book design. I think the font gives you that very kind of eerie feel reminiscent of other books and that kind of creepy Gothic feel. So they captured it just perfectly.
Cindy Burnett 11:23
They really did. And the hotel building is just so creepy looking. But also really pretty, very Gothic.
Sarah Pearse 11:29
Yeah, exactly. It just gives you those vibes, doesn't it?
Cindy Burnett 11:32
Yes, I would not want to stay there. I'd drive up and be like, oh, I've got to leave now.
Sarah Pearse 11:36
Yeah, I think I would be like, Oh, I arrive and then a quick exit.
Cindy Burnett 11:39
Well, I love to follow both Reese and Jenna's book selections each month, and I'm always eager to see what they've picked. I am dying to hear all about how that all went down for you with Reese's selection. And congratulations, by the way.
Sarah Pearse 11:50
Ahh, thank you so much. It was really a dream come true. And I think even more special just because it was so unexpected. It's something you never even imagined. Or I didn't even imagine. I followed along with with her picks. But yeah, when I got the news, it was genuine, genuine joy and a few little screams of pleasures as well (laughs).
Cindy Burnett 12:08
So did it come via email? Do they just reach out to you and say we've selected your book? Or how does all that work?
Sarah Pearse 12:14
Yeah, it just came through my publisher, actually. So I'd been having quite an ordinary evening. Because of the time difference, we're a little bit ahead here in the U.K., so yeah, I'd kind of just had dinner with my family, was just relaxing. And I had an email just saying we've got some great news from my publisher. And then we hopped on a Zoom call together with my agent. And she told me. She was as excited as I was and my agent. So yeah, just I'll always remember that moment.
Cindy Burnett 12:37
Oh, I'm sure you will. It's just so exciting.
Sarah Pearse 12:40
Oh, yeah. And I have to say, I've been welcomed into the sort of book club community, Reese's book club community, with open arms, both the authors and the community of readers. Everyone's so positive and welcoming. It's just been a wonderful experience.
Cindy Burnett 12:52
Well, that was actually what I was going to say next was that the authors that I have interviewed that have been selected by Reese all talk about that. What a great group it is, both the readers and the other authors and Reese's team itself. And that they continue to stay with you as the book goes into paperback or as you write your next book. That it's just really a great community.
Sarah Pearse 13:11
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And obviously, they've had the app launching and just yeah, I mean, I received the most beautiful prints of the cover of my book and just oh, just amazing. Yeah, just so supportive, and, and really engaged. I think that's the key thing I noticed with the readers, they're really sort of invested in the book club as a whole. And they really kind of value Reese's judgment and the team. So yeah, everyone gets really gets behind that book choice. And obviously, you're not going to always get amazing feedback from every reader, but it's just generally very, very positive. And just a great discussion. So I'm really excited for the app. And yeah, what it has in store for the next month.
Cindy Burnett 13:45
I just downloaded the app yesterday. So I'm looking forward to that and how that's all gonna go. I'm curious to see what she does, because I feel like she's been such a great promoter of literacy and books, and just all of it.
Sarah Pearse 13:55
Yeah, I mean, there's so many great, there's like, kind of little events you can check into and chat about the book. And then she's doing some great, yeah, initiatives on there with the readership, loads of different things. So yeah, it's well worth checking out.
Cindy Burnett 14:06
It definitely is. Well, good. Well, I look forward to seeing how the whole month unfolds for your book.
Sarah Pearse 14:11
Ah, thank you so much.
Cindy Burnett 14:12
That ending! I'm assuming that means maybe there's going to be another book starring Elin?
Sarah Pearse 14:17
There certainly is. I've actually finished writing the first draft of the second book, which will be out next year. Luckily for Elin, she gets to leave the mountains. I don't think she wanted to stay any longer.
Cindy Burnett 14:28
Yeah, exactly. She's like, I'm out of here.
Sarah Pearse 14:29
Yeah, I'm out of here. And so she's comes back to the U.K. So it's based in sort of a fictionalized version of where I live by the sea. So yeah, a very challenging case again.
Cindy Burnett 14:38
Oh, that's so exciting. Well, I'm looking forward to it already.
Sarah Pearse 14:41
Oh, thank you so much.
Cindy Burnett 14:42
Well, before we wrap up, I would love to hear what you've read recently that you really liked.
Sarah Pearse 14:46
Yeah, I've read quite a few good books. Nothing, it's funny I had a bit of a reading slump during the pandemic, which I think a few people did, and I was drafting my book as well. But I've read some great books recently. Kate Riordon's The Heatwave, which I don't know if you've read I think came out in the U.S., which I loved. And then I also wrote have read a great proof recently by a new author, a debut called Lia Middleton. And it's called When They Find Her. And that's all about a mother and her daughter and the daughter goes missing. I wouldn't say any more without giving away any spoilers, but it kind of is everything to do with maternal guilt, what happens when a family fractures, and yeah it's a gripping read, and I sort of devoured in two days, which is always a sign of a good read for me. (laughs)
Cindy Burnett 15:25
Oh, those both sound really good. And I haven't heard of the first one, which it sounds like it's out. So I'll track it down. And then I'll keep my eye out for the other and see if there's galleys out yet. Do you know when it will come out?
Sarah Pearse 15:34
Yeah, I think, I think that one is probably March or April. But I know sometimes there's a delay isn't there in the U.S.? So it may be a little bit later. But yeah, Kate Riordan's book, The Heatwave, is set in France. And that's a beautiful book. And yeah, that is out now, I think.
Cindy Burnett 15:47
Okay, good. And I always love things set in France, actually. So I will definitely track that down. And yes, I never can figure out the U.K. versus the U.S. publishing deadlines. It seems like sometimes one is here first, and then there or vice versa. And it's always kind of a puzzle to figure it out.
Sarah Pearse 16:01
Yeah, no, my book has been released in the U.S. first. So yeah, it's not out until the 18th in hardback, until the 18th of February. So yeah, it's a little bit the other way round.
Cindy Burnett 16:10
I know that and obviously, there's rationales behind it. But sometimes I'm like, I wonder exactly how this all unfolded?
Sarah Pearse 16:16
I don't know. It's just different, a different dynamics, I suppose. What's, what's being published on the various schedules in each country and where it fits in I think sometimes.
Cindy Burnett 16:23
Well, yours had to be moved up a little bit for Reese, correct here?
Sarah Pearse 16:27
That's right. Yeah. No, it was moved up. It was due to be published at the end of the month. So yeah, I got moved up by nearly a few weeks.
Cindy Burnett 16:34
Well, I had caught that because I had it on my calendar. And then all of a sudden, somebody posted something and they were like February 2nd, and I was like, wait a minute. So then I had to go back and look, and I thought I wonder if that means good news for her.
Sarah Pearse 16:44
Ah, okay. So you did have an idea from there.
Cindy Burnett 16:47
You kind of see that happen. And you're thinking either Book of the Month, or one of the book clubs, or...
Sarah Pearse 16:52
Ah, I see. Yeah.
Cindy Burnett 16:53
So is Tuesday, the pub day in the U.K. also?
Sarah Pearse 16:56
Yeah, it's actually a Thursday. So it's the 18th. So I came out in the U.S. last Tuesday, which was the second and then it's the 18th, which is a Thursday. So yeah, I don't not sure why they're different actually.
Cindy Burnett 17:07
Oh, that's interesting. I've wondered that and never thought to ask anybody. So that's interesting. Yeah. So now I can do some research as to why the U.S. is Tuesday and the U.K. is Thursday.
Sarah Pearse 17:16
Yeah, I don't know. I don't know what the difference could be.
Cindy Burnett 17:19
As with everything, I'm sure there was a purpose originally.
Sarah Pearse 17:21
Cindy Burnett 17:23
Sarah, thank you so much for joining me on the Thoughts from a Page Podcast today. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.
Sarah Pearse 17:29
Oh, I did too. Thank you so much for having me.
Cindy Burnett 17:33
Thank you so much for listening to my podcast. If you like this episode, and I hope you did. Please follow me on Instagram and Pinterest at @thoughtsfromapage, tell all of your friends about the podcast, and rate it wherever you listen to your podcasts. I would really appreciate it. Sarah's book can be purchased at Murder by the Book where I work part time, and the link is in the show notes. Thanks to K.P. Regan for the sound editing, and I hope you'll tune in next time.
Here are some great episodes to start with.