Sara Sheridan is an Edinburgh-based novelist who writes cosy crime noir mysteries set in 1950s Brighton and historical novels based on the real-life stories of late Georgian and early Victorian explorers. She has also written for children. In 2016 she founded the brand REEK. perfume, with signature scent, Damn Rebel Bitches, inspired by the Jacobite women of history. It has been called ‘the first feminist fragrance.’ Her latest book in the Mirabelle Bevan series, Russian Roulette, is out on 27th July 2017.
What is your earliest memory?
Weirdly I can’t remember anything much before being 10, when I was locked in my room as a punishment. I was furious. I hammered on the door and screamed and threatened to jump out of the window. I didn’t know it but my parents were sitting outside, terrified! I have no idea what I did to be locked in there. Sometimes I get a glimpse of something earlier than that memory, usually prompted by a photograph or a piece of old film, but real, actual remembrance – it’s fury.
When and where were you happiest?
I am happy often! It’s difficult to pick a moment but it’s usually when I’m taken up with something. Reading in a big chair, writing in my notebook, sitting in the sun, swimming in the sea – nothing extraordinary!
What keeps you awake at night?
EVERYTHING. I’m a noodler. It could be a plot twist (I’m often up at 3am trying to figure out how to poison a sandwich) or it might be a more traditional concern (money – cash flow for writers is a book somebody really needs to bring out). Occasionally I spend an hour in the night trying to figure out WHY somebody did/said something (it’s not even somebody I necessarily know. It can be somebody on the bus). I have a butterfly mind – it’s a blessing and curse.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
The women of WWII definitely strike a chord with me – I find myself moved by their stories. I also feel a close connection with the likes of Isabella Bird, who travelled extensively in the Victorian era. I hope I might be a lady traveller, if I went back in time. I guess that’s why I write in those two periods – 1950s and 1820s-40s.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Miss Marple. Every time.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Florence Szabo (resistance fighter). Lady Winifred Maxwell (who broke her husband out of the Tower of London in 1716) Lady Florence Baker (travelled with her husband, Sir Samuel Baker, who rescued her from slavery in Hungary). Early female medical pioneers – Marie Curie to Elsie Inglis. Sheroes – all of them.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I had some vague idea I’d have a car and some kids and a husband (this did, in fact, all happen) but I wasn’t focussed on a career. I knew I would work but had no idea where or at what. I was 100% certain I’d be very good at whatever it was, though! Gloriously unspecific. Fabulously optimistic. It’s all worked out!
What’s the worst job you’ve done?
I worked one time for a celebrity, helping with PR. She was horrible – she used to scream at everyone and didn’t pay wages in the end. It was awful. Can’t say of course, who it was.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My daughter, Molly. She’s extraordinary. It was tough on her and on me, being a single mum for a few years (between husbands!) but she is amazing.
Where is your favourite historical place?
I love walking around the West End of Edinburgh, where I live. Often I take city walks at night – moonwalks. The buildings are magnificent.
Which book changed your life?
Water Music by TC Boyle. It’s a masterpiece. It brought history home to me! I think it’s the best historical novel I’ve ever read. It covers the expeditions of explorer, Mungo Park who set off to map the Niger in 1799 and again in 1803.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Sleeping in. I feel as if I’m not being productive enough when I manage to do it. I LOVE it.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
All the most annoying ones – actually, really, to be honest, of course. I need an edit.
What is your greatest regret?
Virago offered on a book I’d written early in my career but I was skint and I went with a higher offer. I always wonder if my career might have been completely different if I had been able to choose the green spine.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be able to play a musical instrument really well. That connection would be marvellous. I’d also love to be able to speak more languages. Words are endlessly fascinating. I’m learning Spanish at the moment and have fallen down a rabbit hole back to being a kid, learning Latin at school.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
Rachel Weisz. I like that you can never tell if she’s the murderer.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
Most of history isn’t somewhere you’d want to inhabit. Our modern sensibilities and expectations are so different. I recently wrote a book about Queen Victoria and researching her pregnancies was horrific. I knew it wasn’t going to be comforting, but that did keep me up at night. If I’m forced into the Time Machine, I guess I’d go to the Naughty 1890s, back the right horses, glide gloriously through the turn of the century and then Get Out of Europe.
Where would you most like to be right now?
A beach would be nice! I love swimming in the sea and lounging on the sand. We don’t get that too much in Scotland, where I live, but now and again it’s glorious.
What is your most treasured possession?
I honestly can’t think of anything I possess that I treasure. I enjoy stuff, but mostly for me, life’s treasures are people and ideas. I respond hugely to smells – I run a perfume company called REEKperfume, which is dedicated to commemorating women from history. We have a scent called DAMN REBEL BITCHES which is mixed in memory of the Jacobite women. I think that smell is important to me – blood orange, hazelnut, malt.
Which musicians are currently on your playlist?
I am slightly hearing impaired so music is tricky for me.
What is your motto?
Sniff it, grab it, enjoy it.
I’d love to have financial analysis skills. I’m fascinated by figures. So Super Actuary – that would be me. We call my husband The Greatest Geek and he has that kind of maths brain. It’s pretty impressive.
What is top of your bucket list?
A ride on a dog sleigh in Lapland. We’re hopefully going this winter. I’d also like to sail into New York.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
I had some DNA analysis done a few years ago and it turns out my deep DNA is from the north island of Japan. The majority of this DNA came to Europe, with Genghis Khan so my great great great great (many great) grandmother was probably a camp follower who landed up in Eastern Europe, stranded after the invasion. I researched pictures of the tribes that live in the north of Japan and one, the Ainu, seems the most likely to be the source of that DNA. It feels familiar – which is a very odd thing to say, but I recognise the faces when I see photographs.
Read about Maggie Craig’s groundbreaking book about Jacobite women, Damn’ Rebel Bitches, which brought the phrase to public attention.