Who is Sara Koffi? 5 Questions With While We Were Burning Author

Our latest release is our meatiest thriller yet, Sara Koffi's While We Were Burning brings Memphis and her suburbs to the UK with two female protagonist you'll love to hate and spend hours deeply engrossed with.

Over our classic 5 questions, we get to know the mind behind this daring debut and uncover the histories that have shaped her writing and relationship with the genre...

1.) When did you realise that crime and thriller were a genre that you were itching to explore?

I grew up watching a lot of late-night TV, which meant seeing a lot of late-night
movies, too. There were always reruns of stuff like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,
Fatal Attraction, Single White Female, the classics of the late-night genre. I was
absolutely obsessed with those movies, which turned into a life-long obsession with big stories with even bigger twists. I love crime and thriller because I love the twists and turns, the morally grey characters, the relief you feel when you realize your suspicions about a certain scenario were right all along…Its so much fun and so cathartic too!

2.) Where Memphis is home for you, what about it made it the perfect setting for your debut?

Memphis was the perfect setting for my debut, While We Were Burning, because its
setting perfectly reflects the story. Memphis is a majority Black city, even so, it’s still
quite segregated in some ways, with some parts of the city feeling like they’re
reserved for white people only. Memphis also has a very long history of being
involved with the Civil Rights Movement as well as the NAACP.

When you combine the strange divide of the city with its commitment to seeking
social justice, I think you get a reflection of my novel, almost a one-to-one. The
themes I explore in While We Were Burning are meant to make readers think about
their place in the divide, and what it looks like when justice has to be sought out vs.
being innately part of the system already.

3.) Your protagonists are two deeply interestingly historied women, what was most important for you when shaping their characters?

The most important thing for me when shaping Elizabeth and Brianna was each of
them feeling like fully realized characters. I’m not interested in wholly good or wholly bad people, since most people don’t exist along those binaries. I want their actions to be relatable or at least understandable, even if readers don’t necessarily like them fully. I also think it’s important to have women on the page who are layered like that, the same way we’re layered in real life. Women should be able to exist on a spectrum of good and bad behaviour, able to be free to experience every emotion they’re feeling, too.

4.) What moments or themes in While We Were Burning were most difficult to explore and why?

The most difficult themes to explore in While We Were Burning were loss and grief.
It’s always hard to be in a character’s head when they’re grieving, that hole in their
chest being passed right along to the writer. It’s also hard because, for me, a lot of
my more emotional writing comes from the well of my own life, including scenes of
grief and loss. Although, even with the difficulty, I’m glad that I was able to capture
grief so crisply, as I hope it’s able to resonate with readers and make them realize
that whatever they might be grieving, they’re not alone in those complicated feelings.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by James Baldwin, “You think your pain
and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you

5.) Your writing is deeply embedded in the crime/thriller genre, while also borrowing from literary and poetic traditions, who are your literary influences?

My biggest literary influences are Virginia Woolf and Zora Neale Hurston! I’m always
trying to combine Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness, this inherent self-awareness of
her characters along with Hurston’s ability to describe human emotion with such raw beauty. I want my writing to pack a punch right to the gut, while also being
entertaining to read, the kind of thing that keeps you up at night while also making
you think about other people and the world around you.

While We Were Burning is out in the UK now in paperback an eBook everywhere that books are sold. Happy shopping!