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Sarah Vaughan Q&A

Anatomy of a Scandal author Sarah Vaughan talks to The Likely Suspects about the Netflix adaptation of her bestselling book…


It must be incredibly exciting seeing your novel translated on to the screen. How long did it take from option to development?

It’s felt like absolutely ages but apparently it was very quick for a book to TV adaptation. It was optioned in February 2018, less than a month after it was published, and the cameras started rolling in late October 2020. I actually knew it had been sold to Netflix in late August 2019. (In a wonderfully surreal moment, I picked up an email from my TV agent one evening on a family holiday.) TV seeming even more secretive than publishing I couldn’t tell anyone until it was announced in Deadline in May 2020, with the three main leads announced in the September that year. Filming continued until mid-April 2021 so right through the winter of 20/21 and that awful third lockdown. Then came the edit, and finally a three-month process while it was prepared to be transmitted in 190 countries!


How much say did you get over the script?

When your novel’s optioned you sign over your creative control, so contractually I didn’t have any control over it at all. However, I do feel as if the scriptwriters David E Kelley and Melissa James Gibson have been very faithful to the tone and, in particular, its exploration of entitlement and consent. To me the really important thing was that these themes were adhered to, and that the series was realistic in its depiction of the court and political settings (as well as the characters being psychologically consistent, of course). The plot was altered for dramatic reasons, but I think the thrust of the novel remains the same.


You were a producer on the show, which must have been an interesting experience. Had you ever done anything like that before? What did it actually entail?

No – this was all completely new to me. I was an executive producer, which I think can be a vanity title, but in my case the executive producers Bruna Papandrea, of Made Up Stories, and Liza Chasin, of 3dot Productions, seemed very happy to involve me. So, they discussed who they were approaching, and I gave notes on different drafts of the scripts. They were perfectly free to ignore these, but they listened, particularly when my notes related to the UK legal system, or politics. They also brought in a leading criminal barrister as a legal consultant, which was hugely helpful. I loved working with them so much that when I came to option Reputation, my new thriller, I sent it to them before anyone else and I’m delighted they’ve bought it.


You got to visit the set and meet some of the cast. It’s got a phenomenal array of talent – from Rupert Friend to Michelle Dockery and Sienna Miller. What was it like seeing them bring your characters to life?

It’s been incredible. Going on set at the end of the third lockdown, and towards the end of filming on set as opposed to location, will be one of those days that will remain with me forever. So much so, that when I walked onto their ever so slightly smaller version of court 2 at the Old Bailey, I burst into tears. There is something magical about hearing words you’ve written – and there are chunks of dialogue that come from the book – and seeming them transformed into something different. It’s thrilling hearing a supremely talented actor conveying a fresh level of nuance and making it their own. And it’s weird because I don’t feel precious about it evolving like this: I don’t feel proprietorial. I can’t think of Kate without seeing Michelle, now, or Angela, Josette, or Sophie, Sienna.


Did you have a favourite episode or scene?

I love the scene, caught on the trailer, where James tells Sophie about his affair and then the fact ‘the story’s about to break’. During filming, Sienna’s heart raced – something caught on the microphone: I’m fascinated that that physiological reaction has then been used as a motif throughout the series. Episode- wise, I love episode three, but I think five’s my favourite. There are 27 minutes of very tense court scenes in this, but they’re interspersed with flashbacks which play with the idea of different narratives, and there’s an intense chemistry between James and Kate, as she cross-examines him. 


Did they change the book, or has it remained faithful?

They have made changes, as you’d expect: they want to put their creative mark on it – and six episodes, even though each is only 40-45 minutes, require more plot than any 100,000-word novel. It zips along, which I think is what you want from a compulsive, bingeable thriller; even one with some meaty issues at its heart. I don’t want to create spoilers but, in the book, Kate is very much the lead whereas Sophie is slightly more here: she goes on the steepest journey of reckoning and is more proactive. James is also more nuanced. The scriptwriters took an idea I toyed with but couldn’t see how to pull off and were more audacious. I’m so excited to see how readers react!


Have you any more books under option for TV or film?

I feel very lucky. The novel I wrote after Anatomy, Little Disasters, has been optioned by Roughcut TV and is being adapted for a UK broadcaster. Scriptwriter Ruth Fowler is working on the scripts now. And Made Up Stories and 3dot Productions, the team, with David E Kelley, behind Anatomy, have bought Reputation – so I’m very much hope we might see that adapted, too.


What are you working on next, or are you having a well-deserved break?!

I realise that I haven’t worked on my new book properly since mid-February when I caught covid and then began doing publicity for this series (magazines have long lead times) and Reputation, which was published at the start of March. So, once this drops, I’m itching to get back to it. I’m superstitious about saying anything about it other than that it was inspired by the news, and that once again, I’m interrogating power. It will be my sixth novel, but each time I feel like a novice. Maybe I’ll believe I know what I’m doing after this.


Anatomy of a Scandal drops on Netflix on 15th April.

You can order the hardback of Reputation, here; and the TV tie-in edition of Anatomy of a Scandal, here!

Anatomy of a Scandal

Now a major Netflix series



'Timely and compelling' Shari Lapena
'Impressive' The Times
'Gripping' Observer
'Sensational’ Clare Mackintosh

A high-profile marriage thrust into the spotlight.

A prosecutor who believes justice has been a long time coming. 

A scandal that will rock Westminster.

And the women caught at the heart of it.

Praise for Anatomy of a Scandal:

'Magnificent' Marian Keyes

'Intelligent, subtle and thought-provoking' Louise Candlish

'The definition of a page-turner' Elizabeth Day

'Almost impossible to put down' Louise O’Neill

'Once the trial of MP James Whitehouse starts, you could not have prised the book from hands for love or money' Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express

'An absolute masterpiece – prepare to be very impressed' heat

'A lot of reviews claim that a novel has them ‘hooked from the start’ – but with this story, it’s painfully true' Grazia

‘A timely thriller about marriage, but also about power, who wields it, and how that affects who we believe’ Stylist

‘Well-written, pacy and full of twists and turns’  Independent

'New Netflix series lays bare the toxic privilege of those in power… Friend’s performance is eerily plausible. His Whitehouse is charismatic and smoothly persuasive, his eloquence barely concealing his arrogance… Equally strong is Miller as Sophie, who is forced for the first time to examine her own cosseted way of life and the principles she has sacrificed to preserve it' Financial Times

'This drama will immediately entire fans of House of Cards, Apple Tree Yard and The Undoing…. Miller is excellent as the elegant, brittle Sophie, who is forced to watch her beautifully organised house fall out of order, the heart of a drama that manages to feel both aesthetically glossy and morally gritty' Sunday Times Culture
'Feels like it could have been ripped from the headlines' Evening Standard
'A cautionary tale for our times' Daily Telegraph



the thrilling new novel from the bestselling author of Anatomy of a Scandal

From the bestselling author of Anatomy of a Scandal, soon to be a major Netflix series… Reputation: it takes a lifetime to build and just one moment to destroy.
‘Sarah Vaughan has done it again. Superb’ Shari Lapena

Emma Webster is a respectable MP.
Emma Webster is a devoted mother.
Emma Webster is innocent of the murder of a tabloid journalist.
Emma Webster is a liar.
#Reputation: The story you tell about yourself. And the lies others choose to believe…

'Uncannily timely… As dark and gripping as you’d expect from the author of Anatomy of a Scandal’ Observer

Your favourite authors love Reputation:

‘A terrifically entertaining legal drama and an unsettling cautionary tale for any woman considering entering politics’ Louise Candlish

‘Perceptive, elegant, thrilling and addictive’ Chris Whitaker

‘Tense. Gripping. And bang up to date. This is a rollercoaster of a book’ Imran Mahmood

‘Wonderfully written, tense, taut and timely. I loved it!’ Claire Douglas

‘A stylish, challenging thriller. Do yourself a favour and read this book’ Fiona Cummins

‘Sarah Vaughan has distilled the zeitgeist into a pulse-racing thriller. Gripping all the way’ Erin Kelly

‘I read Reputation in one sitting, which is my highest possible praise’ Bella Mackie

‘Sarah Vaughan has another smash hit on her hands. Reputation is nuanced, complex, and thought-provoking, while still being a gripping, fast-paced read’ Louise O’Neill

‘Sarah Vaughan does it again. Another taut, gripping thriller that also shines a light on some of the most important issues of the day' Bryony Gordon