Sarah Manvel is author of YOU RUIN IT WHEN YOU TALK (Open Pen, 2020). She is also the Rotten Tomatoes-approved chief critic for Critic’s Notebook as well as a film, book and art critic for sites including Minor Literatures, Filmotomy, Bookmunch, Curator Magazine and Kamera. She lives in London, and on the internet as @typewritersarah on Twitter and @cairdiul on Instagram.
Tell me what inspired you to write your debut novel?
After my divorce I decided to share my baby steps back into dating with my friends on Facebook. I was feeling pretty isolated and thought that amusing updates about the frogs I would kiss on the way to meeting my gender-irrelevant Charming One would help me feel closer to them. Instead of that working out, the bad dates and irritating encounters piled up, which meant more posts for my friends. They kept telling me my stories were so hilarious I should write a book. I scoffed, as I had neither plot nor happy ending. But then a few things happened that made me realise I could pull YOU RUIN IT WHEN YOU TALK together, and so I did. It was very cool of my friends to recognise my genius first. They still paid retail price for it, though. What else are friends for?
What came first: the characters or the world?
The world, which is the dating scene in London from 2013-2020 as experienced by a thirty-something bisexual foreign female immigrant. The characters are all inspired by people discovered in my adventures therein.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
Not especially. I had the idea for the book in my head and when I discovered Open Pen was doing another call for novelette pitches, I got in touch. The publisher asked to see my manuscript, so I sent that over, and he emailed back a few hours later saying he wanted to publish it. I am aware it’s usually a little more complicated than that. It was very cool of the team at Open Pen to recognise my genius so quickly.
How many publishers turned you down?
None. YOU RUIN IT WHEN YOU TALK is a novelette and not many publishers work with them. I feel very lucky that Open Pen and I were genius enough to find each other.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
Publishing in a pandemic means that it feels like I’ve had very little reaction. I’ve only been able to participate in three in-person events since it came out, and those went well, at least to my face. Everyone has been very nice to my face, probably because they are so intimidated by my beauty. What they are saying behind my equally beautiful back I have no idea, although I did see a tweet by someone who said that on more than one occasion while reading YOU RUIN IT WHEN THEY TALK they had to physically stifle a scream.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
A young man approached me at one of those in-person events and told me he brought a copy of YOU RUIN IT WHEN YOU TALK as an icebreaker for the young woman he was on a first date with. I was horrified, but what do I know, because it worked like a charm and they have been together for around a year now. My offer to stand godmother to any children they might have is perhaps putting the cart before the horse, but I mean it sincerely. At the very least I think their babies should be named after me.
What can you tell us about your next book?
I have two finished full-length novels desperately seeking agents and/or publishers. One is called SAINT JUDE’S PARADE and is about the ridiculous adventures in a circus share house in Belfast at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. The other is called MORALE, WELFARE AND RECREATION and is about an American military brat in 1991 who runs away after her family makes her an unwilling participant in their own personal war. I just need someone to take a chance on them! I am delightfully modest about my own abilities! You won’t regret it much!
Do you take notice of online reviews?
As someone who writes online reviews for a career, I think everyone should pay attention to them. As an author clamouring for attention on the world’s overflowing shelves, I have had so few of them of course I do. Luckily so far almost all of them have been correct, too.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
I have had a fifteen-year career as a film critic and sometimes review books and art as well as my fiction writing, some of which is hysterically funny and some of which is incredibly depressing. I think writing across genres keeps you sharp and I don’t understand why more people don’t.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I began my career as a recruitment advertising copywriter in the days when you still found a job by circling ads in the newspapers. I was not treated right by my male colleagues – my entire team, including my managers, had a group bet about who would sleep with me first, and when I complained I was told I needed to get a sense of humour – so when I lost that career, I wasn’t too sorry. I have since pivoted into a much better career, but it’s one I keep strictly separate to my writing. That secrecy makes that sound like it’s exciting. My friends, you have no idea. Either I work in an office, or from home. Sometimes there’s a mess in the kitchen no one cleans up. It’s much worse when that happens at home.
Which genres do you read yourself?
I have a serious second-hand book habit and I like to think I read a little bit of everything. Because I buy almost everything used I also tend to be ten years behind the curve. But my reading life and my writing life are like Jennifer Lopez’s eyebrows: sisters, not twins.
What is your biggest motivator?
What will always distract you?
Hot sex with someone I fancy. It has been in annoyingly short supply lately.
Were you a big reader as a child?
My mother is a librarian. I didn’t have much of a choice in that!
What were your favourite childhood books?
The possibilities for being ridiculously pretentious here are endless. So I am going to modestly confess that it is the novel I wrote the summer I was thirteen, about two kids with a pet dragon who fight crime. Rimbaud can kiss my arse. Exactly one dot-matrix copy of it still exists, which I cannot bring myself to re-read, in case that’s when my genius peaked. I should probably treat it like that Wu-Tang album and auction it off. Any millionaires who want to jump the queue, get in touch.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
The Oxfam in Greenwich market, London; Skoob in the Brunswick Centre, central London (if anyone feels like buying me one of those flats get in touch); San Francisco Books, Paris; Atomic Books, Baltimore; Orca Books, Olympia, Washington; Dog Eared Books, San Francisco. The bookshops in which I have seen YOU RUIN IT WHEN YOU TALK with my own eyes are pretty special to me, too.
What books can you not resist buying?
Considering the very real risk I have of dying like Leonard Bast, I don’t think I should give any examples.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
First I shed my clothes and take a milk bath by the light of the silver moon. Then I summon a baby goat into the milk bath and slit its throat with the bejewelled dagger I won in battle after several years of training with the nuns at the kung-fu monastery in the mountains. As the baby goat makes an incredible mess I recite the sacred chant (currently “Wet Ass Pussy”) that awakens the nine muses. The muses descend from Mount Olympus and draw me into a frenzied dance, which is very tough to do when you’re ten women crowded into the bathroom, but we manage it; the nudity helps. I then make them clean up the blood and guts in fear of the landlord while I get dressed and sit in front of my laptop. Fortunately by now the muses have a sense of humour about it. The local goats not so much.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
Almost two thousand. I’m very cool.
What is your current or latest read?
Apart of the ones I am reading to review, I am currently in the middle of A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor (a memoir of how he walked from Holland to Istanbul in the 1930s, which makes me feel more like an idiot hayseed with every page; I obviously love it) and Ice and Fire by Andrea Dworkin, which is one of the lighter junkie novels I’ve read. Next up I am trying to choose between Milorad Pavić, Angela Carter, Mikhail Bulgakov or Julia Quinn.
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
For reading, too many to name, but probably the Julia Quinns. For writing, I have a couple ideas starting to take shape. If you’re an agent I would love to go into details.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
Hot sex with someone I fancy, hopefully.
Any events in the near future?
Please get in touch about events in the near future! I am very funny, intimidatingly beautiful and pay my own train fare!
And finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
The dates during which I had no idea whether it was more appropriate to laugh or cry.