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Modern Woman’s Mystery Series “The Sounds”- Interview with Sarah-Kate Lynch

Sarah-Kate Lynch is the creator of the eight-part thriller The Sounds. The story revolves around a grieving Canadian woman, whose husband has gone missing after a boating trip in New Zealand, where the couple intended to create a new life together. The show is set in the small coastal town Pelorus Sound – the largest of the four Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand (where Lynch is from) – and in this majestic seascape, evil lurks just beneath the surface. The mystery of what happened to the husband leads to more mysteries that have defined a small village and its people. As we get closer to the woman who seems to have it all, we learn that she longs for so much more. Nothing is quite as it seems, and neither is she. 

How did you get the idea for this show?

I was working on the TV series 800 Words and as I was walking through the production company, the Head of Development came out the door and asked if I had an idea for a thriller set in a scenic part of New Zealand that could have a Canadian element. As luck would have it, I did! I had been in Turkey the year before on a holiday with my husband. We were on a boat in this beautiful part of Turkey, which is quite popular by sea. My husband went off for a swim and was gone quite a long time. Time passed and I started to really worry and I went out in a kayak to look for him. I started to panic and looked over at the shore and thought that maybe he just swam to shore and went to start a new life somewhere else. The moment I thought that I realized I had a great idea for a TV series. The next day I broke my arm (my husband was fine, by the way) and since we were still on the boat, I could not really do anything and I started working on the premise for The Sounds. So, one year later, when she asked me if I had an idea, I could say: ‘I do!’ I have since been told – repeatedly – that it does not happen like that very often.


The Sounds is a female-driven series with Rachelle Lefevre in the role of Maggie Cabot, who is looking for her missing husband. She is a career woman, who knows what she wants. Talk about creating that character.

I was inspired by the plight of the modern woman. As a journalist and a novelist, I am an observer of other people and I often get caught doing it, which is a bit embarrassing. It occurs to me that women want to do everything and if they are good and work hard then they can get everything in terms of success career-wise and relationship-wise. But if you are good at all those things, it can come as a surprise to you that you cannot have children. The sort of people who achieve at the top level are used to getting what they want if they just work hard at it. But when it comes down to your physical ability to bear children, this is sometimes not the case. So not only do you find the emotional issue of always having wanted to be a mother, but there’s also the massive shock and disappointment that you did everything right and it just hasn’t worked. That can be a trigger for someone to act in a different way and go in a different direction. That was one of the things that inspired me for the character in The Sounds.

As a woman in the business of making TV series, do you think you have special challenges?

I am new to television and so I am not sure how much that complicates matters. But I was perhaps somewhat naively surprised at how much you have to fight to keep your vision afloat and often it seems you are fighting with men. In publishing, which is what I am used to, there are a lot more women and you don’t need to use your voice quite so strenuously. But at this stage in the proceedings, I have confidence in my instinct so I will fight for it to be heard and recognized. I’m sure the more female producers, directors, and executives we get, the more that will help. Although I could be completely wrong, and you’d just end up fighting with women!

Do you think women write differently from men?

I think everyone writes from their own perspective so there are differences, but then again does it matter? Look at Brad Inglesby’s Mare of Easttown. What a brilliantly drawn, complicated woman he wrote. Utterly inspiring.

Is it important for you to create strong female characters?

Yes. It is extremely important to me. The Sounds is a woman’s story. It is a story about a woman who thought she would be able to get everything she wanted and then could not. It was very much what I wanted to see and what I wanted to say.

You also have a strong Maori woman – a grieving mother called Pania – played by Vanessa Rare in the series. Was it important for you that the Maori culture was represented?

Yes. That is the case for all New Zealand television because we are a multi-cultural society and even if it is not for me to tell a specifically Maori story, Maori are part of our community, so occupy an important space in my stories as they do in my world and in my life. And Vanessa Rare knocks your socks off.

You made a career out of being a journalist and then embarked on a new career path as a writer of novels and TV series. How did you decide on that career change?

I was made redundant from my job as a food writer at a big newspaper here, and my husband Mark Robins had just been offered a year’s work as an art director on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy. As you know, it is quite rare to get a year’s work in the film industry, so we decided that he would take the job and I would go with him and write a novel. So, I wrote my first novel while he was stringing sausages around hobbits’ necksI got an agent in New York and went on to write eight novels but by novel number nine, I just could not make a living out of it anymore and what that lead to was that I was starting to lose the love of writing and I am not good at very many things, so I needed to cling to the thing that I am good at. As writers, we often have to defend our right to make a living, but it is hard work and if you are to take it seriously, as I do, then you have to be paid for it.

And how did that lead you into scriptwriting?

I had seen the writing on the wall and thought: ‘How else can I apply my skill? I have already been on radio and television, worked for magazines and newspapers, and written novels: What’s left?’ There’s a joke that everybody in New Zealand knows everybody else and luckily for me, I knew the CEO of a big production company over here, so I contacted her and said: ‘I need a change, can I come in and see how you make television?’ There is a popular soap opera called Shortland Street, which is set in a hospital, and I went and watched for a few weeks and sat in on the writers’ room and understood how they did it. It was a bit challenging because I realized I was used to knowing what I was doing, and it was slightly humbling not to in this new realm. So, I wrote a few scripts for the soap opera, and by the time I was asked to write for a show called 800 Words I had stopped worrying about my shortcomings and knew: ‘Oh, I can do this.’ Writing a TV series is actually very similar to writing a novel.


You have set The Sounds in the picturesque location of Pelorus Sound on the South Island. What does this particular location add to the series?

The location becomes a character. The character of the Marlborough Sounds has that dual aspect of; yes, you can get to me if you are on a boat, but I am hiding all sorts of things that you don’t even know about. I think that is intriguing. It is a very beautiful part of New Zealand, but I personally find it a little bit creepy. That is helpful in a thriller and I wanted to bring across the idea of remoteness – that you can be a town 50 miles away, but you might as well be 500 miles away if it takes 10 days to get there.

What is next for you and what do you still want to achieve?

I would like to have some more television shows on the air, and I am working on that. I just finished writing an episode for the murder mystery series The Brokenwood Mysteries, which is an extremely popular Acorn series. I have another character drama of my own which I am developing, and we are just waiting for the green light on that. It’s about a female friendship going awry and is set in a stunning part of New Zealand that you would normally not get to see. I am also pitching a police procedural series set on a commuter island with a female detective as the main character. And I’m talking to an Irish producer about adapting my novel, “Blessed Are The Cheesemakers”.