Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Sarah-Jane Stratford Interview - Red Letter Days

Photo Content from Sarah-Jane Stratford

Sarah-Jane Stratford grew up in Los Angeles with a deep love of theatre and literature. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history at UC Santa Cruz, she then obtained a master’s degree in medieval history at the University of York in Britain, where she wrote a thesis about women in the manorial court system which gave her a new appreciation for the modern era.

Sarah-Jane has written articles and essays for a range of publications, including The Guardian, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Marie-Claire, Bitch, Slate, Salon, Guernica, Bustle, and BOMB.

In 2017, Sarah-Jane was awarded a Tier One Highly Talented visa by the Arts Council in Britain, granting her leave to live and write in the UK for five years. She now lives in London, where she attends a lot of theatre, knits, and explores.


What inspired you to pen your first novel?
For a lot of my work, I am never sure what strikes me specifically, only that I’m suddenly creating a new world and seeing where characters take me. But I know exactly what inspired me to write my previous novel, Radio Girls. I was doing research on women in journalism in the 1920s, as can happen, and came across the name Hilda Matheson, the first Director of Talks at the BBC. I’d never heard of her, so I read more and discovered she was an amazing woman – she’d worked for MI5 and was political secretary to Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit as an MP, and had a long affair with Vita Sackville-West. Later she wrote the first book anyone wrote on broadcasting and developed propaganda techniques to be used during World War II. And no one had written a novel or film about her! So I knew what I had to do and we were away.

Tell us your latest news.
I’ve always got a lot of irons in the fire – and there was a disappointing haircut last week – but everything pales in the face of the upcoming launch of Red Letter Days. I’m particularly excited because I’ve been living in London for three years and this will be my first trip back to New York and Boston for the launch.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I was always a reader and a lover of history and theatre, so great stories, well told, have left their mark on me and made me strive to be better. I listened to a lot of Stephen Sondheim as a kid, which made me think about the complexity of being human and the various ways that can be expressed. Then Jane Austen taught me how a deceptively simple story could be hilarious and true and full of resonance. Then I started watching a lot of British television comedy and became interested in looking for quirkier stories that could be told in different sorts of ways, while always coming back to that essential, often absurd, humanity. And when in doubt, a giant foot dropping on people can be a great end to a scene. (note: I’ve not yet incorporated this myself)

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.

It’s actually a thing that I’m so lucky has happened more than once. When a reader says that they wish they could meet one of my characters.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
Though it is historical fiction, I hope they feel not just a connection and empathy for the past and what these characters endured, but also see where aspects of the story may be relevant today. One of the things I love so much about writing stories set in the past is I feel they allow me to study the present through the prism of history. I hope readers find the same, as well as being vastly entertained.

In your new book; RED LETTER DAYS, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
It’s about two women targeted by the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s. One, Hannah (based on the real-life Hannah Weinstein), goes to London and remakes herself as a television producer. She creates a hugely successful show, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and hires only blacklisted writers to pen the scripts. Though they use false names, it’s still an enormous risk. Phoebe, an up-and-coming writer who finds herself blacklisted, escapes to London and is able to find work on Robin Hood while she tries to piece her life back together. But neither woman is as safe as she hopes.

What part of Phoebe and Hannah did you enjoy writing the most?
That’s tricky because everything about them was so much fun. Their dialogue was probably the highlight, because they are such smart women, but in very different ways. Even in the face of fear, they still hold their own, and Phoebe in particular can make jokes. I’m not sure I’d be that way myself, but it’s delightful to create a character who is.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d love Hannah from Red Letter Days to meet Hilda from Radio Girls. Both were trailblazers who fought censorship and pushed back against authoritarianism, as well as dealing with men who were intimidated by their brilliance. Those two would talk and drink all night long.
  • 1. “You look happier than a cat in a cream-filled birdbath.”
  • 2. Low expectations could be useful, she found. They left a lot of space for you to work your way up long before anyone noticed.
  • 3. “Assuming the FBI can’t disguise a micro- phone as a spiderweb, the bathroom is clean.”
  • 4. She leaned back and crossed her ankles, hoping she looked like a femme fatale.
  • 5. “Phoebe, you’re a nice girl, you’ve got a lot to offer. Wouldn’t it be easier if you were married?” “Well, my schedule has just opened up.”
  • 6. Phoebe had a funny feeling that “just fancy” was code for “this could not possibly be more ghastly.”
  • 7. Progress down the aisle was hampered by a pair of legs that stretched nearly to Ancient Rome and were attached to a young man whose long nose was buried in an anvil-sized book.
  • 8. Phoebe’s heart gave a strange and very uncomfortable leap. She gripped the knitting needle harder, liking the feel of the metal burning into her skin. Liking anything that distracted her from wondering what this man’s game was.
  • 9. “I’m known for being fierce on details. The Himmler of Proper Dialogue, I was once called, and I took it for a fair compliment.”
  • 10. “If there’s a listening device in here, it doesn’t stand a chance of hearing us over Ethel Merman.”
What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
People have unique tongue prints. I’m surprised that one isn’t more known and used as a chat-up line.

What according to you is your most treasured possession?
I always think it’s a first edition or something like that, but today’s weather reminded me just how much I treasure my tiger-shaped fuzzy cover for a hot water bottle. It has a tail and everything. With that on my belly and a cup of tea at hand, cold doesn't stand a chance.

Best date you've ever had?
My first date with my boyfriend. Very long story short, I didn’t even know it was a date – I thought we were just friends seeing a film. Specifically, ‘I, Tonya,’ which is not an auspicious film for a potential couple. We grabbed a drink afterwards and then headed for our train, only to find that it had stopped running at midnight. We found a bus, and after twenty minutes on it realized it was headed the wrong way. Then we found the stop we needed for the right bus, but were so busy talking the bus sailed right past us. When we finally were on the bus, it took twice as long as it usually would because it was on the late-night route. We didn’t get to our neighborhood until 3.30 in the morning. And we hadn’t run out of things we wanted to talk about, so we kept talking on the phone till we were both in our beds. We both found the whole event hilarious, which was how we became pretty sure this was going to be a runner.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I’m much more about looking forward than back, but I’d revisit that first date for fun.

If you wrote a journal entry today, what would it say?
“Phone crashed this morning and didn’t want to come back to life. Was so distracted, I put dish soap in the hot pan instead of oil to cook breakfast. On the bus to the Apple Store for my sins, had to frog two rows of knitting for the second time – what the heck did I do wrong with that cabling and will this hat ever be done? Boyfriend made perfect egg-fried rice and that made up for all of it.”

What event in your life would make a good movie?
In high school, I was in an accelerated program for gifted/talented kids and we were a creative bunch. We decided to start a new school newsletter, where we wrote about current events and published op-eds and poetry. The principal went ballistic and insisted we disband and not even think about doing such a thing again. We took action against her, with the help of two of our teachers – both of whom were threatened with disciplinary action. A member of the city council was informed and told the principal we were protected under the First Amendment and so we proceeded and she hated us, but for the film version I’d ramp up the drama and have the principal be far more Dolores Umbridge.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
A few months after Radio Girls was published, I got on the A Train in the morning a bit later than usual and was pleased to find a seat. Settled myself down with my knitting, then happened to look up and see that the woman across from me was engrossed in Radio Girls!

Where can readers find you?
I’m on Facebook, Instagram @sarahjanestratford, Twitter @stratfordsj, and my website sarahjanestratford.com. Also…right behind you! (no, sorry, still coming off pantomime season)

A striking novel from the acclaimed author of Radio Girls about two daring women who escape McCarthy-era Hollywood for London, where they find creative freedom and fight the injustices of the Red Scare.

Nineteen-fifties America is bright and full of promise, and Phoebe Adler, a New Yorker brimming with talent and ambition, is forging her way as the rarest of things: a female television writer in Hollywood. But fears of a growing Red Menace cloud the optimism, egged on by the hate-mongering of Senator McCarthy. A blacklist is created to cast out communist sympathizers, smashing careers and ruining lives. When Phoebe finds herself caught in the hysteria’s web, she flees to London.

Though postwar London is struggling and work is precarious, Phoebe finds camaraderie with other Americans living in exile, including the restless and ambitious Hannah Wolfson. Determined to fight the injustices of the Red Scare, Hannah is a successful producer who hires blacklisted writers at great risk to her career and company.

Together Phoebe and Hannah successfully fight unfair bias and sexism, but danger still looms in this supposed sanctuary. And when their families and friends—their very lives—are threatened, they will have to make impossible choic


“Stratford’s novel effortlessly walks the line between hilarious and harrowing in her account of the tribulations of the victims of the blacklist – all told from a perspective that is unique and refreshing. And I simply adored the heroines Phoebe and Hannah, crafted from Stratford’s meticulous research and fabulous imagination.” —Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Chelsea Girls

“Red Letter Days is a blacklist-era game of cat and mouse that’s positively Shakespearean in its witty dialogue, forged identities, banishments, unexpected romance, and even its drama within the drama. The final lightning-speed pages left me breathless.” —Kerri Maher, Author of The Girl in White Gloves

“Fairly singing with tension and triumph…weaves fact and fiction into a tale that serves as entertainment, warning, reflection and homage wrapped up in one highly readable package.” —Greer Macallister, USA Today bestselling author of The Magician’s Lie and Woman 99

“In this crisp novel, Stratford… effortlessly melds politics, romance, and history. This delivers on every level.” —Publishers Weekly

“Red Letter Days is a look at a piece of American history told through the lens of two brave women, whose stories you won’t soon forget.” —PopSugar

“[A] thoroughly fascinating and too-little-known story of Hannah Weinstein and her role in supporting blacklisted Americans, regardless of gender or race.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Well plotted and moving, with witty characters and an unnervingly timely storyline, Red Letter Days is smart, satisfying historical fiction at its best.” —Shelf Awareness

“Stratford’s book is quick-paced and manages to balance background information and descriptive detail without weighing down the story…. the heart of the book is about friendship, professional ambition, and loyalty, and both Hannah and Phoebe are compelling, energetic heroines with fulfilling emotional arcs. A satisfying read with elements that are unnervingly relevant today.” —Historical Novel Society

“A vivid portrayal of artistic life during the Red Scare and the challenges women screenwriters faced in the era’s entertainment industry. It is also a witty and harrowing tale of intrigue, friendship and romance. Stratford imbues the text with lively energy and a wry voice…. Red Letter Days is a timeless and relevant story about the dangers of bias, conformity and groupthink.” —BookTrib 

You can purchase Red Letter Days at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SARAH-JANE STRATFORD for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane Stratford.


  1. Best date was my first Valentine’s Day date with my hubby.

  2. Best date is with my current book.

  3. Best date was dinner by the ocean and he gave me a beautiful necklace there.

  4. Sheesh, it's been over 40+ years! I guess when I went to Seattle to have dinner and see theatre.

  5. On our second date he took me to the public library to hear an author speak. I had mentioned that I read one of her books on our first date. He was probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever dated.