The Birthday Girl by Sarah Ward – Author Interview

The Birthday Girl by Sarah Ward

published  2023


I have known Sarah Ward as long as I have been blogging – she was one of the people who was welcoming and helpful when I started, and made  me see what a friendly place this was. She was writing her first book back then, and has made such a success of her writing. Quite a few of the books are featured on the blog – you can see them here. They are all excellent, and this  new one is no exception.

The Birthday Girl is bang-up-to-date, with nods back to the Golden Age in the best way. (There are a lot of clever casual references for the knowing reader....) A group of people are trapped by the weather in a hotel on a small island, and there is a killer among them. Ex-cop Mallory Dawson has to take charge and try to keep people safe. The book is an absolute banger, which will keep you reading all night..

 Sarah likes to vary her genres – within what you would roughly call mystery books – and this new book is the start of a new series. And it is excellent! So I thought it was time for Sarah to visit the blog again: I had lots of questions when I finished reading it, so presumed on our friendship to ask them!




  1. The setting is a very memorable island off the coast of Wales. It becomes cut off in a storm, with a killer on the loose.  Is it based on a real island? (And if it is, will they think that you are encouraging visitors or discouraging them?)


The island of Eldey which I created as the location in The Birthday Girl is based on Caldey Island off the Pembrokeshire coast. It's a place I used to go to on school trips and I remember being terrified by the monks who lived in the monastery there. I love the idea it’s only a short trip by boat from the mainland but, once you’re there, it feels like you’re completely cut off from civilisation. Of course, I could have used the real life Caldey but I like to make my settings work for the plot rather than the other way round so I decided to change the island’s name, have a former convent there and generally tinker with the layout. But in my mind, when I close my eyes, it’s Caldey that comes to mind.

Despite all the events in the book, I like to think I’m encouraging not discouraging visitors!


  1. Anyone who writes a book about people trapped on an island faces comparisons with the ur-text on this one – Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. We know you are a knowledgeable fan of Golden Age crime – was she much in your mind as you were writing – and were there other writers who were doing hommage to?

 I decided not to reread And Then There Were None as I was a little worried I might be influenced by it although, of course, I do remember the plot well. Funnily enough, it wasn’t that Christie book that was at the back of my mind but the introduction to her novel Cards on the Table. She uses the intro to answer her critics who say the killer is always the least likely suspect. She tells the reader it is definitely one of the four suspects and I do the same. The child poisoner Bryony is most definitely one of three women but which one?

I love island novels too - remember Enid Blyton's The Secret Island? [CiB: There is an actual blogpost on this book here on the blog…. A childhood favourite for me too!]


  1. Mallory Dawson is  great heroine – a former policewoman who has to take charge unexpectedly very soon after arriving on the island. Was it fun writing about her? And please tell us – there will be more books bout her, right?


Mallory came before the plot and setting. I wanted to return to contemporary crime but have someone who was ex-police. So I worked a lot on Mallory's backstory even though most of it didn’t make it into the book.I wanted her to have plenty of investigative experience but to be up against a very devious killer. It was great fun writing her. She’s headstrong and relentless and determined to seek out the truth.

There will definitely be more Mallory books. The next one called The Sixth Lie is out in November. 

  1. The book manages to combine a number of my favourite features, and I know I’m not the only one: convents, nuns, hotels, islands, mysteries in the past....  Are there any great detective story tropes/settings you haven’t featured yet and would like to? I’m going to suggest a school or a theatre, two of my other favourites!

 I did think about setting a book in an exclusive school but I’ve got another series (yet to be announced) that might cross over with this. A theatre might be an idea or a hospital although I worry I don’t know enough about the medical world! I often like to have a religious element in my books so nuns might yet make another appearance.

  1. In the circumstances – a storm raging, all kinds of adventures – Mallory doesn’t get the chance to wear much in the way of designer clothes or exotic outfits! As a special Clothes in Books request, can you give her an opportunity to dress up in a future book? 

I must try harder with Mallory’s dress! I don’t think clothes are a priority for her but I think we could spruce her up. She needs to be worthy of a Clothes in Books post.


So there you go – a taster for a great book out now, and the promise of more to come.  The Birthday Girl is highly recommended. And thanks to Sarah for visiting... 



  1. What a great interview, and really wonderful to get some insight into The Birthday Girl. It's very exciting to know there'll be a new one in November!

    1. Thanks Margot - you and Sarah were always my good buddies from those early days of blogging, such good friends!

  2. I have it here on my TBR pile and you have whetted my appetite! Chrissie

    1. You will enjoy it - and get all the GA references...

  3. Oh, I do like a good island story! There's Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun, which is quite recognisably Bugh Island in Devon, and Ann Cleeves The Rising Tide, set on Lindisfarne, while in The Lighthouse PD James has Adam Dalgliesh unravel a murder mystery on the imaginary Combe Island, off the Cornish coast. Then there's Maggie O'Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave, in which the dysfunctional Riordan family gather on an Irish tidal island and family secrets are explored - it;s not a crime story, but there are mysteries which need to be solved. And, of course, there is the wonderful
    The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson. I'm sure you can think of lots of others.

    1. That's a great list, you are an expert. I have read Instructions for a Heatwave, but would not have remembered the island setting.
      Island stories are always a good thing....

  4. Great interview! Sarah Ward always seems very congenial online so nice to read more about her. I have really enjoyed her earlier books and am hoping this one will be published in the US. I just finished a reread of Evil Under the Sun where Christie really uses the "killer is not the obvious person" concept to her advantage (or maybe not; it is awfully complicated). I don't remember The Secret Island but I recall extremely well Blyton's Mystery Island aka The Island of Adventure about Jack, Lucy-Ann, Dinah, Philip, and Kiki the Parrot.

    1. Yes, Sarah is lovely. And islands just are great settings. The Island of Adventure was a big favourite round here too.


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