Author Features

MEET: Sarah Penner author of “The London Séance Society”

Sarah spent thirteen years in corporate finance and now writes full-time.

Last Updated on March 9, 2023 by BiblioLifestyle

Sarah Penner - The London Séance Society
The London Séance Society by Sarah Penner

What was the last book that you read that you’d now recommend?

THE GOLDEN SPOON by Jessa Maxwell. Think Great British Bakeoff meets cozy murder mystery. For people who love baking or cooking, it’s a can’t-miss! It releases in June 2023.

Have you read any classics lately that you were reading for the first time?

I recently read Sarah Water’s TIPPING THE VELVET, which was such a satisfying old London sapphic read. It’s a coming-of-age story in which a woman in the 1890s falls in love with another woman, has her heart broken, and must navigate her way through the turmoil that follows.

Do you re-read books   And if yes, what was your last re-read?

I never re-read books! There are so many books I want to discover, and never enough time.

What are your go-to genres?

My favorite genre, by a long shot, is narrative nonfiction – think Erik Larson or Nathaniel Philbrick. But in the fiction space, I love historical fiction, including the subgenres of historical mystery or suspense.

What is your favorite childhood book?

I remember WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, mainly because it had me sobbing in my dad’s office after school one day. I think I had to write a paper on it, but I remember feeling just devastated by that book.

What books are on your bedside table right now?

I have a stack that is, quite literally, about to topple over. I like to read poetry before bed, so there are a few poetry books in there – old Edwardian poetry, erotic poetry, contemporary feminist poetry. I also have a few self-help books. Right now, I’m loving WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU? Which was co-written by Oprah and a psychiatrist named Bruce D. Perry.

Do you bookmark or dogear your page in a book?

Both! I grab whatever receipt or slip of paper is available as a bookmark, but if I don’t have this, I’ll occasionally dogear a page.

What is your ideal reading setting?

I’m answering these interview questions while on a plane, and I’ll say, it’s my favorite place to read, too. I put on my headphones, get a hot coffee, and pass the hours away.

Tell us about your favorite indie bookstore?

This is a tough one, but I think I have to say Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida, just fifteen minutes from my house. It’s a bookstore, coffee shop, champagne bar, brunch spot, and working space all in one. Also, each week they have an enormous fresh flower display delivered, which they arrange along with that week’s new books. It’s so lush and inviting.

Sarah Penner's favorite bookstore

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

My late father was a defense attorney and litigator, and when I was young, he used to let me sit in the courtroom to watch as he defended cases. He was an incredible orator and masterful with language. He taught me early on that it isn’t so much what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. Word choice, sentence syntax, directness—all of these benefit not only public speaking, but writing, too.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I haven’t been on a pilgrimage, per se, but I have found that writer’s conferences have been enormously helpful for my career, both from a social and craft perspective. I’ve met so many great people—writing friends and publishing contacts—at conferences, and I’ve filled countless notebooks with ideas to incorporate into my work. 

Where do you get most of your writing and editing done?

My home office. I need complete silence to work. When my husband and I bought our house, we had custom bookshelves installed in my office, and a built-in desk. The room is full of sunlight, and my miniature dachshund likes to sit next to me while I work. There’s a jasmine tree just out the window, a huge colorful rug in the center of the room, and plenty of reference books at my fingertips.  

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Drafting (writing the first draft) exhausts me. Ideating and generating new content is very mentally taxing for me. But revisions? That’s what I love, and where I think I shine. I’m a critical thinker—thanks to thirteen years in finance—and revisions are like painting a room a new color, because you see the improvements almost instantly.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have two unpublished manuscripts. My very first book attempt never got agented—more than 130 agents rejected me. Then I wrote THE LOST APOTHECARY, which got five agent offers. Then, after the publication of THE LOST APOTHECARY, I also wrote what I fondly call my “Covid book” – and while my publisher was open to acquiring it, they were much more excited about THE LONDON SÉANCE SOCIETY. And here we are!

Do you read your book reviews?  How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I’m a human, and I’m certainly guilty of reading my reviews. I’ve found that my writing is somewhat polarizing; readers seem to either love my books, or they can’t stand them. This is okay with me, because I think it has boosted sales, and it makes for great book club banter.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I would tell myself to keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Stay positive, stay disciplined, seek mentors, and always be kind.

When you’re not reading or writing, what are you doing?

I’m very active, and health (mental and physical) is my priority. I run, go to yoga, lift weights. I love cooking and spending time at home with my husband and our dog. I also volunteer at my local animal shelter, walking dogs that are waiting on their forever homes.

What are your three favorite things right now?

This is such a fun question! I’m trying to cut down on social drinking, so I’m loving the cultural movement toward non-alcoholic beers and mocktails. I’ve also started doing hot-cold therapy, which means an hour switching off between a sauna and ice bath. Lastly, I’m loving Florida’s warm weather! We’re moving into spring, which is our best season. Low 80s every day and abundant sunshine. I can’t get enough of it. 

Your favorite travel destination and why?

I simply have to say London. I’m so comfortable there—it feels like a second home. I love visiting my old favorites, like getting paella at the Borough Market, and discovering new places. On my last trip, which was to promote THE LOST APOTHECARY paperback and visit my UK publisher, I went to the park at Hampstead Heath. It was my first time, and the view of the city is unparalleled.

What’s your favorite meal and go-to drink order?

I’ve mentioned the importance of health a few times, so here’s a curveball for you: my favorite meal at a restaurant is a cheeseburger. Especially if it has an onion ring on it, hah! As for drinks, either a cold beer or a club soda.

Sarah Penner's favorite food

What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?

Barack Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charles Dickens, Emma Watson, Meghan Markle, and my husband.  

If a movie was made of your life, what genre would it be, and who would play you?

The genre would be adventure! I love to travel, and I’m always seeking out new experiences, like cave-jumping in Belize, cooking classes in Thailand, or scuba diving in the Florida Keys. As for who might be cast in my role? I’m terrible with pop culture, so I’d need to hire a casting director.  

What’s the last TV show or movie you watched that was really good?

I’m not a big TV-watcher, which is evidenced by the fact that only now am I watching The Office for the first time, all the way through. It’s so cringe-worthy but makes for a great way to wind down on a stressful day.

You have to sing karaoke; what song do you pick?

Sweet Caroline! Mainly because the crowd would be singing along, and they wouldn’t have to listen to my terrible voice.

If you were being taken to a deserted island and could only bring one book, what would it be?

Something long and intricate that I haven’t read before. Maybe A LATE OF TWO CITIES or WAR AND PEACE.

The London Séance Society by Sarah Penner

Buy The London Séance Society by Sarah Penner from: AMAZON / BOOKSHOP

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