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a:Take Five: Sarah Penner and The Lost Apothecary

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Please join us as we celebrate the March 2nd release of The Lost Apothecary, written by our very own Sarah Penner. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today and taking the time to answer a few questions about the process behind your lovely novel.

Sarah Penner is the debut author of THE LOST APOTHECARY, forthcoming March 2, 2021 with Park Row Books/HarperCollins in the US, UK, Canada, and more than fifteen territories worldwide. Sarah lives in St. Petersburg, Florida with her husband and their miniature dachshund, Zoe. When not writing, she enjoys running, cooking, and hot yoga. Find Sarah on social media or learn more at SarahPenner.com.

“…a wickedly wonderful time-traveling historical of female power.”—Publishers Weekly

Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?

The Lost Apothecary is about an apothecary in eighteenth-century London who sells well-disguised poisons to women seeking vengeance on the men who have wronged them. Two hundred years later, in present-day London, a woman mudlarking on the River Thames finds a mysterious vial. She soon suspects she’s found the culprit in the never-solved “apothecary murders” that haunted London two centuries prior. The lives of these women collide in a stunning twist of fate, one in which not everyone will survive.

Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

The Lost Apothecary is very much a story about women controlling their own destinies. There are dark aspects to the story—like the burden of secrets and the destructive pursuit of vengeance—but it is also a story of hope and the way women can protect, honor, and free one another, even when separated by the barrier of time. While researching this book, I loved digging into historical documents and antiquated ephemera, particularly those relating to eighteenth-century London. Over the last few years, I’ve happily passed many an afternoon in the Rare Books room of the British Library, my head buried in fragile manuscripts from bygone eras. I’ve studied firsthand accounts of apothecaries, druggists, and poisoners. (I know enough to be dangerous, as they say.) So, although The Lost Apothecary is a work of fiction, I have done my best to research and craft a story that is true to history.

Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

In both the eighteenth-century and present-day narratives of The Lost Apothecary, the women in my story have much to overcome.

Eighteenth-century London was not friendly to women: unless she was royalty or upper class, it was unlikely her name would be recorded, much less remembered, by history. The apothecary in my novel sets out to change this and seeks to preserve the names—and legacies—of the many middle-class or lowborn women who visit her shop.

Similarly, in the present-day narrative, my main character is reeling from her husband’s recent betrayal, and she must dig deep to find her old self. Her story is one of self-discovery, which occurs as she is also uncovering the mystery of the lost apothecary.

Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

On a macro level, the structure of the novel as a whole was challenging. The story is dual-timeline, and I structured the information reveal very carefully as the story went on. Especially at the end, when the present and historical narratives collide, I had to “drip-feed” the suspense to ensure I didn’t ruin a surprise too soon.

On a micro level, there were a number of scenes that challenged me. I naturally prefer writing scenes that move quickly—think cliffhangers, twists, and big reveals. I find it more challenging to layer in characterization: motivation, backstory, and fundamental beliefs that make a person do what they do. But all of it is necessary in commercial fiction, and I’m thankful for an agent and editor who have both been immensely helpful in challenging me to dig deeper into my characters.

Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

Hands down, the people I’ve met—whether virtually or in-person!

I’ve always been an avid reader and supporter of bookstores and libraries, but this debut author experience has really opened my eyes to how wide and supportive this community is. Countless strangers have reached out, telling me that The Lost Apothecary was a form of escapism for them during the pandemic. I’ve been blown away by the number of bloggers and early reviewers who have supported my debut. And I’ve made so many new friends! Easily, the most rewarding part of this process has been the new connections I’ve formed with the book community.




Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter, and join our thriving Facebook community.


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