We are setting up for our interview with Sara Collins in her stunning Grand Cayman home, as she packs for her night flight to the UK. The one-time partner in a law firm and now extraordinary literary success story is being charmingly accommodating to yet another media company trying to grab 30 minutes of her valuable time. It seems everyone wants to know more about the woman behind Frannie.
Collins’ first book – ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton: A Novel’ – was released earlier this year and almost immediately the accolades began pouring in. The story of a servant and former slave accused of murdering her employer and his wife – spiriting readers from a Jamaican sugar plantation to Georgian London – took notable media outlets by storm. The Guardian called it ‘a stunning debut’, while O, The Oprah Magazine gave it position on its Summer Reading List. The Washington Post dubbed it ‘A startling, compelling historical debut novel’, and
none other than author Margaret Atwood declared it to be ‘deep-diving and elegant…Wide Sargasso Sea meets Beloved meets Alias Grace’.
Such plaudits exist in rarefied air for seasoned authors, let alone a first-time novelist, yet Collins has managed to beat the odds, thanks to some serious writing chops and a publishing company that knows a unicorn when it sees one.
This last year has been pretty amazing for you. How have you handled the incredible success that your book has become?
Not sure that I’ve gotten used to it yet; I am pretty overjoyed, but it also feels quite surreal and unbelievable, so I think I still need to get my head around exactly what’s happening. I’m trying to soak in every minute and enjoy it as much as I can. It has completely exceeded every expectation I had for it.
What has been your biggest surprise/joy thus far?
Absolutely, without question…I do not even have to think about it…the moment I read a tweet by Margaret Atwood about my book. Margaret Atwood is one of my two, all-time literary heroes – [the late] Toni Morrison is the other – and the fact that she had not only read the book but loved it and tweeted about it and compared it to her own novel… it really was one of those moments where I had to pinch myself.
How critical are you of your own writing? When you reread your work, do you still want to do edits?
I don’t think that urge will ever stop. I read somewhere once that Toni Morrison said she never reread her own
work for precisely this reason; that she [was] always tempted to change it. I find that I’ll be giving public readings and resisting the temptation to edit on the fly as I read [laughs].
It will never be finished in my mind but at some point, someone yanked it out of my hands and published it, so I’ve got to consider it finished now.
Has your background as a lawyer helped you with the discipline and patience required to write a novel?
Yes. I don’t think that I would have been as dedicated to the whole process had I not spent all of that time as a lawyer – 17 years. I spent two years writing a book and I wrote full-time. I had only about three days off during that time and I was used to that kind of crushing, punishing schedule from my days as a young associate…albeit many, many years ago [laughs]. But also, I needed to do a lot of research and organise my notes and the skills and training that I had as a lawyer came in handy while I was doing that as well.
You are now writing the screenplay for ‘Frannie’ for a UK mini-series. What with that and the promotion of the book, do you get any kind of down time?
[Laughs] So, I think you’ve seen today that I am squeezing things in and trying my best to get to everything, but I have never been busier – even when I was a partner in a law firm, even when I was raising five children…which I did simultaneously at some points – I have never been busier. But I have also never been more excited.
Are publishers already asking you about a second novel? Is writing books now your focus or did you consider the one book to be the tick off the bucket list?
It is definitely a tick off the bucket list, but I hope that there will be others.
I’m working on a second novel, which is going to be about a cult…because I apparently am drawn to very dark material [laughs]. I very much want to make a career of it.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about writing a book?
The single most important thing I can say to anyone who wants to write a book is to persevere, because the biggest obstacle is the fact that you will doubt yourself, you’ll get tired of it, you’ll give up on it, it doesn’t seem to be coming out perfectly or taking the shape that you had envisaged… I learned the hard way, while writing this novel, that the biggest difference between getting yourself published and remaining unpublished forever is the person who can tap into the discipline and perseverance needed just to get to those magical words when you type ‘The End’.
What exciting things do you have lined up on your schedule over the next six months?
I’m doing promotion tied in with the Waterstone’s Book of the Month and I’m also going to be speaking at various festivals in the UK. I’m going to Cheltenham, which I’m really excited about, I’m going to be speaking
in Durham, in Birmingham…all over the UK during September and October, and I have just booked the Miami Book Fair which brings me closer to home in November.
How does your family feel about your whirlwind debut?
They were very excited about it and they are, of course, extremely supportive and it’s wonderful. It’s so unusual to see kids proud of their parents and my kids have been really proud of me. But I think they’re maybe a bit fed up with the book now [laughs] because it keeps on taking me away from them and away from family time, so it will be nice to get to the end of the promotion process.
For the video of the interview, visit www.whatshot.ky.
‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton: A Novel’ is available at local bookstores and online.