Sarah Dunant

Snow Storms In A Hot Climate

My first solo novel, Snow Storms In A Hot Climate was born out of a trip I took to South America in the late 1970s, when rucksack travelling threw me into some interesting company at a time when the cocaine trade was moving from amateur hands into those of the cartels. I think the best way to describe it is as a thriller about addiction: to love, to friendship and to the adrenaline that comes with living your life in the fast lane.

Birth Marks

The first appearance of Hannah Wolfe, an English private eye designed (at the time) to give her American counterparts, VI Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone, a culturally different run for their money. The story about surrogacy and motherhood was a way to mix the political with the personal, since underneath the plot was the fact that I had just had my first child and was trying to make sense of what it meant. (Or didn’t).

Fatlands

The nearest I will ever come to an English road movie, Fatlands begins with a trip to the West Country, where Hannah is to chaperone a rebellious young schoolgirl, the daughter of a scientist. The day does not go well, and the story, about animal rights, ends up in factory farms and abattoirs. I think this was the moment when I started to question the violence and implicit misogyny present in so many thrillers of the time, and to wonder how we women could not only cope with it but might go about writing it.
 

Under My Skin

Questioning cosmetic surgery now seems like finding reasons to challenge the proliferation of oil-fuelled cars in the 1920s. But I did -- and still do -- question cosmetic surgery. I was working in television at the time, and Hannah Wolfe’s third (and last) outing had much to do with our obsession with beauty and conformity, and what women are willing to do to achieve it.

Transgressions

The darkest of all the books I have written. It tells the story of a woman living alone in a rambling house in north London in which strange things start to happen (scratch any novel and you find not only the writer’s fears but perhaps even the house she lives in). What takes place when she realises exactly what or who is intruding in her house is something that may be tough to read but I stand by it completely. I wanted to write a novel that would punch an imaginative hole through women’s fears (made worse by the culture around them) that they are always at threat from male violence and that they will be destroyed by it. Challenging this in your mind is the first step to defeating it in reality. That, it seems to me, is part of the power of fiction.

Mapping The Edge

Or what happens when someone you love goes missing. This is the book that made me realise I was probably ready to stop writing thrillers. I was so keen to make it truthful -- or rather to accept that in life there is never just one single truth, and that thrillers are often too keen to wrap everything up in a big red bow at the end. The story tells parallel versions of what might be happening to Anna -- who has left her friends and young daughter for a weekend in Italy -- while studying the effects of her absence on those who love her. Some people love it. Some people find it frustrating. There is one sentence I would now change. But one writes (and lives) to learn...

The Birth Of Venus

My aim was a grand one: to bring alive this most amazing of cities during the moment of its greatest drama and cultural triumph, and to make the Renaissance vital for a popular audience, rather than a few pages in a school history book. The story of Alessandra, a young woman born into a merchant’s family in Florence in the 1480s and in love with the art around her, took me back to my first great passion, which was history. The novel changed many things in my life -- including the future of my writing.

In The Company Of The Courtisan

From Florence to Venice. This, the second of my novels set in the Renaissance, grew out of Titian’s great portrait that has come to be known as ”the Venus of Urbino” (a detail of which is on the cover). The naked model was almost certainly a courtesan living in Venice at the time and it was courtesan culture that so interested me. But I think what made the novel different and such a challenge for me was its narrator: a 30-year-old male dwarf who works as the courtesan’s companion and manager. I had never written from inside the mind of a man before, and I loved it. It also gave me the chance to look at the thriving culture of sin and desire at a time when the Catholic church was at its most corrupt.