Sarah Waters novels may be well known for their lesbian content, but her writing is more than just a label.(Though if one is new to lesbian authors, she is great one to start with). She has story telling down to a fine art, with the twists and turns of a characters path, with the ability to transport you to the places she describes in a blink of an eye and with the knack of just the right pace to set her tone at. Her atmospheric ability is astounding and the relationships between the characters are so believable, you find yourself rooting for them, or not as the case may be.
She has written 5 books, ‘Tipping the Velvet‘ – her first and by far my most favourite of all of them; ‘Affinity‘; ‘Fingersmith‘ – I read this book twice, I enjoyed it so much; ‘The night watch‘ – slightly different to her first three in that this one is set in the second world war and her latest ‘ The Little Stranger‘ – a ghost story with meaning. Three of her books have been adapted for the screen: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity and Fingersmith. Her books have won awards and really, if you don’t believe me when I say, she is a phenomenal writer, you can believe the facts.
And now that I have told you a little bit about her, let me introduce you to Sarah Waters, as she answers questions for The Book Club Blog:
1) Are any of the characters and characters relationships in your books based on ‘real life’ people?
Well, not really – at least, not in ways that anyone else would recognise. Inevitably, a certain amount of my own experience finds its way into my stories and characters; that must be true for every writer. But those details are combined with all sorts of other things: things I make up, things I read in the paper, things I overhear on the bus… So while there are always threads from my own life in my books, they are usually lost in the larger pattern. I hope so, anyway! I would hate for anyone I know to feel that I had ‘used’ them for a novel.
2) The Little Stranger is quite different to your other books, where did you find the inspiration to write this novel? And did you have a particular house that you have based Hundreds Hall on?
I became increasingly interested in 1940s Britain while I was writing The Night Watch, which is set in London in the Second World War. I finished that novel wanting to look more closely at post-war changes – in particular, I was intrigued by what had happened to the British class system, which had become really shaken up. A Labour government had been voted in, and working-class people were looking forward to a fairer future: that was tremendously exciting for some people, but for other, more conservative, people, the country seemed to be sliding into chaos. I began to think that that turmoil, and the middle-class dread which accompanied it, might best be explored through the image of a haunted house… I didn’t base Hundreds Hall on any actual house, but I did visit a lot of big country houses while I was writing the novel, and I suppose Hundreds is a bit of a patchwork of details from all of them.
3) Your first three novels are set in the Victorian era (which I loved) where did your propensity for this era come from?
I began writing fiction after finishing a PhD thesis on lesbian and gay writing from the nineteenth century onwards. The thesis had shown me what a lot of interesting material there was about the sexual underworlds of late-Victorian London, and I thought I’d like to use them in a novel – that became my first book, Tipping the Velvet. After that, I just became more and more fascinated by nineteenth-century life. I like the fact that the Victorians are quite close to us, but also, in many ways, quite alien. They lived without a welfare state, and before the rise of mass media, which meant that there must have been pockets of experience which were really eccentric, quirky, odd, or grotesque – the sort of thing captured by Dickens, I suppose. It’s those strange and shadowy bits of Victorian culture that appeal to me most.
4) Which has been your favourite book, to date, that you enjoyed writing more?
Tipping the Velvet was a real joy to write – lots of fun, from start to finish. But that was partly, simply, because it was my first novel: I had no confidence it would ever be published, and was really just writing it for myself. Fingersmith was fun, too, with its extravagant plot, and its larger-than-life characters, and its twists. I always enjoy trying to create particular effects for my readers: surprises, revelations, shocks. I really enjoyed trying to unnerve people with The Little Stranger.
5) Do you ever think about the characters from your novels and wonder what they may be doing now?
No, I can honestly say I don’t. Readers have often asked me whether I plan to write a sequel to, say, Tipping the Velvet or The Night Watch. But the fact is, though I usually grow very fond of my characters and am always sorry to see them go, they exist for me solely for the purposes of the books they inhabit: they are like parts of a machine. I only think about their futures if they are relevant to their stories as a whole – ie, if a narrative is clearly heading in a certain direction (as it is, for example, for poor Margaret in Affinity). Sounds a bit heartless, doesn’t it?
6) What were your favourite books as a child?
I read a lot of rubbish as a child, so only a few books really stand out in my memory. John Chrisopher’s sci-fi novel The White Mountains was one; I also recall very fondly The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, and Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword. That’s about it, for children’s books – though my main reading was adult ghost and horror stories, and some of those impressed me very deeply. W.W. Jacobs’s ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ is still one of my favourite ever stories.
7) What book/s are you currently reading?
I usually have a couple of books on the go at the same time, often a contemporary novel for bed-time reading, and something older for during the day. At the moment, my bed-time book is the utterly brilliant Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. I’ve also just finished the two wonderful novellas published as The Hunters, by Claire Messud. My current daytime reading is Patrick Hamilton’s The Gorse Trilogy, first published in the 1950s – a book which, like all of Hamilton’s work, manages to be funny, sad and exquisitely painful, all at once.
8) What is your idea of happiness?
A book going well! Those occasional moments when writing feels genuinely inspired – which make up for all the hours when it just feels like a horrible slog.
9) Where do you find your greatest support while writing?
My girlfriend, Lucy, is the best partner a writer could have: smart, supportive, encouraging – and honest.
Thank you , Sarah, for joining us at The Book Club Blog.
I hope you all enjoyed this interview and if you haven’t read any of her novels, I hope this inspires you to give them a go! And if that isn’t enough to tantalise those taste- buds….
The Book Club Blog has one copy of The Little Stranger to GIVE AWAY! All you need to do, is leave a comment in the comment section giving me your reason why you should win this book. See, simple as that. Just remember that this giveaway is only open to South African residents and the winner will be announced on the 30 November 2009.