Interview with award winning novelist, Sara Collins

Sara Collins

We’re delighted to publish BSSA team member Jane Riekemann’s interview with award-winning author, screen writer, broadcaster and Booker Prize judge, Sara Collins, who won the Costa First Novel Award in 2019 with her best-selling novel  The Confessions of Frannie Langton. Sara’s brilliant short story, ‘Say You’ was a third-prize BSSA winner, way back in 2016 and two other of her superb stories have been shortlisted in our Awards; ‘Light Like You’, also in 2016 and ‘Lilith’ in 2015. The stories are published in our 2015 and 2016 anthologies which you can buy from Amazon. In this fascinating interview, among other things, Sara tells us about adapting her novel for the TV, her current writing projects and daily writing rituals and gives great advice for anyone thinking of entering BSSA 2024, which closes three weeks today, Monday, April 15th.


Sara Collins studied law at the London School of Economics before qualifying as a barrister in 1994. She worked as a lawyer for seventeen years before obtaining a Master’s degree in creative writing with distinction from Cambridge University in 2016, where she was the recipient of the Michael Holroyd prize.

Prior to publication, The Confessions of Frannie Langton was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish prize. It was published in 2019 by Penguin in the UK and Harper Collins in the US to critical acclaim. The novel was a Times bestseller and has been sold for translation into more than fifteen languages, as well as being adapted for television, and making an appearance in numerous ‘best of’ lists by Oprah magazine, The Guardian, The Observer, Amazon, Apple, and Essence, to name a few. It was shortlisted for a British Book Award and the winner of the Costa First Novel Award.

Sara is also a literary critic, writing for The Guardian and The Washington Post, among others, as well as a screenwriter and broadcaster. She has been a frequent contributor and guest host on BBC Radio 4.

Interview with Jane

  • Sara, thank you for joining us. You have spoken in interviews on television, radio and in the press about how Frannie came into being but could you tell our readers what made you realise that this was the story you had to write.

As I have mentioned in previous interviews, I’ve had a lifelong love affair with gothic romances. It started in my teens when I was obsessed with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, among others, but it also left me really frustrated that none of those books had centered a black woman as the star of her own gothic romance. Frannie was my very deliberate attempt to do so, to pay homage to my reading as well as to comment on that gap.

  • Following the rapturous reception to the novel, you co-wrote the screenplay which streamed last year and is currently available on ITV X. Lucy Mangan in The Guardian called it a ‘superbly multi-facted Gothic thriller’. How challenging did you find doing an adaptation of your own work?

I found it incredibly challenging and I’m not sure that I would have the stomach to do it again.   Part of the challenge is of course disassembling a work that you’ve spent a long time putting together and finding a new way to enter it, a new way to excite yourself about it while preserving the core of the story, which hopefully means attracting new audiences. However, I did learn a lot about writing screenplays. I also believe learning about screenplays is the best way to learn about story structure. It is a process I love and I am now involved in adapting other novels (though probably never again my own!)

  • In addition to being an author, screenwriter and broadcaster, you’re a literary critic with many published reviews to your name. You’re also on the current Booker judging panel . Can you tell us more about this? How did you feel when you received the invitation and what does the process entail?

It was a huge honour to be asked to be a Booker judge.  I love reading, and the experience of being immersed in the best novels of the year is one I am enjoying.

  • Are you currently engaged in any writing projects? If so, would you tell us about them?

I am currently engaged in adapting a few other novels as I’ve mentioned.  In addition, I am writing my second novel, which started out being about a cult, but is now about love and hip hop.

  • When interviewing other writers, you have said you enjoy asking them about the rituals, superstitions and practices they use to keep themselves going. What do you do to keep your writing moving?

I do love talking with other authors about their rituals, superstitions and practices.  I am very attached to mine, chief among them is coffee and music.  I do try to start work at the same time every day and I have kind of a Pavlovian response to the first cup of coffee which tells my brain that it’s time to get into writing mode.  I currently have a work playlist that includes quite a few of the tracks from the soundtrack from the TV adaptation of Frannie.  The music director did an amazing job evoking the emotion, in particular the anguished emotion between the two women as their love affair goes through its twists and turns, and I find that that is great fuel for the twisting love affair that I am currently writing.

  • In 2016 you graduated from the University of Cambridge with a distinction in Creative Writing on the Master of Studies programme. You have now set up a bursary to support aspiring ‘Black British Caribbean writers to pursue their passion’. Why did you decide to do this?

I established the bursary because I found it really helpful to do the Masters in terms of carving out time for myself that could be dedicated full time to writing and I would like to play a small part if I can in putting the framework in place to allow other Black British or Caribbean writers to do the same.

  • Which writers have influenced and inspired you the most? And which books would you take to BBC Radio 4’s desert island?

The books I would take to BBC Radio 4’s desert island also reflect the authors who have influenced and inspired me the most. They would include: James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Alias Grace, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, any of the collections of poems by Mary Oliver.

  • And finally, the 2024 BSSA closes next month. What advice would you give entrants to help their stories stand out from the crowd?

I would highly encourage other aspiring writers to enter the BSSA.  My experience of my first BSSA short listing was my first experience of seeing my work professionally published and I will never forget it.  It was magical.  As far as helping their stories stand out from the crowd, I think the best advice I could give is to find something about the story that connects to something you really want to say, that you would say against all odds, and that brings a kind of electricity to your work.

Jane Riekemann, March, 2024