Getting to know Sarah Sigal
Originally from Chicago and based in London, Dr Sarah Sigal is a freelance writer, dramaturg, director and researcher working across fiction, theatre and film. We’re incredibly excited to announce that Sarah has signed a two-book deal with Lume and will publish her debut novel in 2023.
Murder à la Mode is the first in a series featuring Lady Pamela More, a socialite-turned-spy tasked with trailing Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson in the murky world of espionage and fascism in 1930s London. In Lady Pamela, Sarah has created a wry and likeable character, perfect for fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Jessica Fellowes’ Louisa Cannon, and Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher.
To celebrate this exciting signing, we spoke with Sarah about the inspiration behind Murder à la Mode, its origins as a play, and what she’s been reading lately.
Murder à la Mode is based on your play Agent of Influence. What first inspired the story?
It all started with a theory my grandmother had about Wallis Simpson. She thought she was a spy; the product of a plot cooked up by MI6 and the US government to get Edward VIII off the throne. She was living in the US in the 1930s, so she got all the news about their romance that the British press couldn’t publish because of the blackout imposed by Downing Street and the Palace.
My grandmother’s story was always in the back of my mind. And as more and more information has come to light about Edward VIII’s fascist alliances, I have become more interested in the political dimension.
What made you want to turn Agent of Influence into a novel?
The play could only be an hour because of touring and festivals, but I knew there was so much more material. Every time I researched something about the period, I found more interesting details and twists in the story of Wallis and Edward. I just had a feeling there might be a novel in it.
Did you face any challenges adapting the play?
Trying to write a novel after years of writing plays is quite a challenge! It was strange, pushing myself to write more, create more characters and include more detail, when all my training as a playwright has been about being as concise as possible, leaving room for the director and performers’ interpretation.
Do you feel you bring anything from your theatre background to Murder à la Mode?
Writing for the stage and workshopping with performers for years has been invaluable in helping me understand how to create characters and write dialogue. The play from which it was adapted was a product of a long collaboration with performer Becca Dunn, so I certainly wouldn’t have a play, much less a novel, if it weren’t for her!
Murder à la Mode is laugh-out-loud funny. But was there anything more serious you wanted it to address?
I think the audience can read it as a humorous spy thriller. But what really pushed me to write the story in the first place was the Brexit vote and the subsequent rise of the far right and hate crimes in the UK. I felt it was important to investigate how fascism developed in 1930s Britain, in order to understand what’s happening now.
What do you admire most in Lady Pam?
I admire her for her flexibility, ingenuity and resilience. She’s representative of a woman typical of her generation, who wasn’t expected to do much apart from get married, have children and run a household. Pamela is someone who finds ways of breaking out of that mould, despite the limitations imposed on her.
Is Pamela’s love of 1930s fashion something you share?
I certainly have an interest in period fashion, but more for what it says about people, cultures, history and society. We can understand so much of how people lived from the clothes they wore.
What’s the last book you loved?
I recently stumbled upon an extraordinary book from the late-19th century called Reuben Sachs (at the wonderful Persephone Books), by a British-Jewish writer called Amy Levy. It’s a little-known but incredibly sharp, funny and poignant depiction of British Jews in London at the end of the Victorian era. And she was only 27 when she wrote it!