Laura Shepherd-Robinson graduated from the MA in 2015. Her debut novel, Blood & Sugar (Mantle, 2018) won the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown and the Specsavers/Crimefest Best Debut Novel prize, and was a Waterstones Thriller of the month and Guardian & Telegraph Book of the Year. Her second novel, Daughters of Night, is out now, and was called a “deeply satisfying novel” by The Observer and “the best historical crime novel I will read this year” in The Times. Laura worked in politics for nearly twenty years before re-entering normal life to complete the City MA in Creative Writing.
Can you tell me about your time at City?
I was in the first cohort of the Crime Writing MA. I enjoyed the course, mainly for the connections it made me and the fact that I was forced to actually finish a novel rather than tinkering with the first three chapters in perpetuity. If I am honest, I resented slightly being forced to choose between the crime and literary courses, as I’ve always believed the fundamentals of good writing – character, plot, quality of prose – should hold true no matter what the genre. I wrote the first draft of my first novel, Blood & Sugar, on the course.
What happened after you graduated?
I found an agent very quickly and we worked on the draft for a year. We had an auction of four major publishers, which was one of the most exciting times of my life. I signed a 2-book deal with Mantle, an imprint of Pan-Macmillan. The paperback of Blood & Sugar was a Waterstones’ Thriller of the Month and reached number 2 in the Times chart. It also won the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown. I have just released my second novel, Daughters of Night, in hardback, which reached number 5 in the Times chart.
Describe your book in a sentence.
One woman takes on the patriarchy of Georgian London.
What is the opening line?
“In the wrong hands a secret is a weapon.”
How did the idea for your book come about?
My main character, Caro, was a minor character in my first novel. I fell in love with her and decided to give her a book of her own. Women’s lives and prostitution were themes that followed that initial choice of main character. During the course of my research, I discovered that the hellfire clubs were obsessed with ancient Greece and Rome, which became another theme of the book. The story of the Oresteia has parallels to the main plot and provides the epigraphs for the different parts of the book.
What has been the biggest challenge with regard to writing your book?
I love books with intricate plots, but unlike the writing, this doesn’t come naturally to me. 90% of the struggles of that book were getting the different strands of the plot to sit together and play nicely.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of the experience?
I had a review to die for in the Sunday Times, where it was historical fiction book of the month. The reviewer saw everything that I’d tried to do in the book and loved it.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
In my experience, the most confident unpublished writers need a bit less confidence. And the least confident unpublished writers need a bit more. Also, write what you love. I lost count of the people who told me not to write historical crime because it wasn’t commercial enough.