13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough is a gripping psychological thriller about people, fears, manuiplation and the power of the truth. A stunning read, it questions our relationships – and what we really know about the people closest to us . Here, Sarah talks through the process of writing the book The Express said had ‘the most exciting premise of the year’.
Whenever a book comes out there is the inevitable ‘how did this book come about’ blog, but nearly all of them are only half-truths. Because the books we write are never the books we originally pitch – rarely at any rate. We just have a tendency to forget that early embryo of an idea as it changes into something solid and real – larva into butterfly/moth or something.
So, how did 13 Minutes come about? My non SF/F/H book coming from a SF/F/H publisher? As with all these things the idea was pitched a book or so before I was going to get to writing it, and pretty much the only thing that original pitch has in common with the final book is that a girl is pulled out of the river and resuscitated after being technically dead for 13 Minutes and she finds she has no memory of two days beforehand. Now here I have to admit something. I stole this idea. From me. It was originally the basis of an adult crime TV pitch. The option had run out and I was still intrigued by that base premise and so decided ‘waste not, want not’ (Ideas always find a home eventually), and so scribbled up an outline.
This first outline was way more weird than the final novel. The final novel is a straight thriller – it has no supernatural or weird in it. In the original pitch – which was still YA – an unpopular girl gets pulled back from the brink of death but finds she’s brought something back with her. She has become a gateway to the dead. Ouija board drama ensues. She’s suddenly cool. And all because she has this new skill. Or has she? It was about popularity and how very very important it is in those awful teenage years if you’re not blessed with perfect skin and hair and thighs, and I never got to find out if the supernatural in the book was real or not, because I didn’t look at that pitch again for a year or so while I was writing other things.
This book was probably actually properly conceived when I started researching teen girls gone wrong as it were, how they use the internet, how they communicate etc
I still wanted to write a book about that social structure in schools and it’s importance and so I was researching that as well as the weird stuff I was intending to put in when I then saw a documentary about an American teenager called Skylar Neese who was murdered by her two best friends. Her body wasn’t found for a long time during which the two girls stayed close to the family and made internet appeals for her and that sort of thing. It was a horrible story and the motive was never entirely clarified by either of the girls who finally were brought to justice.
This story led me to others like it – and there are, disturbingly, quite a few – and although 13 Minutes is none of their stories retold, they were the drive behind the new plot. There is something about teenage girls’ friendships that I guess is something like childbirth. You can’t remember all the bad stuff when it’s all over. As we grow up the dark passions of those relationships become muted in the adult world. We remember the good stuff. We learn to like each other more. But when you’re young, you can love your friends, but that doesn’t mean you like them. And in a time in your life when death and mortality are just words and your social life is everything, and your family life is secondary – who knows what can happen?
So there’s the story of how this story was born – from TV crime pitch, to supernatural YA to twisty YA thriller – 13 Minutes is a book I’m pretty proud of and I think is pretty good fun, despite the dark material. I hope you like it too.