IFOA Event #3

The Sarah Waters Interview

Since I had just had lunch with Ami McKay (have I mentioned she's really nice???) and we were both going to the same event we headed to the venue and sat together along with a friend of Ami's from Halifax. I was introduced to her a MoJo. I liked her a lot. She reminded me of home (y'all know I'm from the Maritimes right???). She might have even made me a wee bit homesick.

The room had a great atmosphere. There were rows of small circular tables with three chairs per table. All the tables were covered in pink tablecloths and there were candles on all of the tables. It made the room feel very intimate. (There were also just sections of chairs for people who got there too late to score a table.)

The host for this event was Ibi Kaslik. She wrote the book Skinny. I borrowed it from the library once but I didn't have time to read it (a common theme these days).

The interviewer was Susan G. Cole. She did a great job. I think I'd like to stick her and TW in a room and see what they could come up with to talk about. So long as it wasn't me. I wouldn't stand a chance with the two of them ganged up on me (What would they be ganging up on me about? Who the heck knows. But it's a scary thought.)

Ok, I'm sure my notes aren't as thorough as they could be but hey, I was there for fun too. I didn't use any recording devices so this is all from notes and memory (mostly notes). Nothing here is a direct quote and I have paraphrased although I try to use her vocabulary where possible.

Waters was asked about how it felt to switch from Victorian times to the WWII era. She said that she found it quite daunting. She had an entirely new set of research to do. She really didn't know much about the 1940s. She read a lot of reading of the time and the writing was a lot more paired down - it was tighter. The influence of that changed her own writing style. As well she knew she was going to write in the third person which was different for her.

Was that fact that there are still people who remember the 1940s a concern for her?
In a sense, yes because she could set a novel in the 1800s and know that no one was there to argue with her about events directly. But at the same time, when doing research for the era of the 1940s she had people she could ask - people who were there and knew what was happening.

The gay and lesbian community - it was more visible during WWII than it was in the Victoria era?
Yes, they were more visual - they were an identifiable subculture. But that also meant that they could be a target. She read diaries and autobiographies from that time. The 1940s was still a scary time for gays and lesbians - it was technically illegal to be gay. She got the feeling that they had to be very careful.

The characters after the war are not happy. Why was there such depression after the war?
Immediately after the war there was a sense of euphoria. But that dissipated. The war was a very intense time and it eventually took a toll on people. Kay had the time of her life during the war. Women in general got a sense of responsibility and power in the public sphere. But after the war there was a return to stereotypical gender roles.

The backwards narrative - what made her do that?
She didn't mean to. She was initially drawn to the post-war era but her characters were so jaded that she couldn't move them forward. So she had to look back at what happened to them.

Did she start at the beginning of the war and write forward?
No, she wrote pretty much the way it was in the book but of course she knew what was coming (or I suppose what had happened...). So what really changed about writing the book backwards is that the book became about "why" and "how" rather than "what" happened.

Did she have trouble writing about a gay male relationship?
She actually identified with Duncan quite a bit and writing the gay male relationship felt natural.

They then turned to some of her previous writings. They talked about how some of her language felt very sexually saturated and Susan G Cole read a short selection from Affinity. It got funny here and I think that Susan G Cole actually blushed at one point and I got the impression that Susan G Cole is *not* someone who blushes...I'm afraid I can't really recreate what made her blush...it really was one of those you had to be there moments - sorry!

Her storytelling - umm my notes are really messy here so I'm not entirely sure what the question was. But the answer was that she pretty much has the whole plot in her head - she thinks of it as a skeleton that she then fleshes out. She also said that it's bit a like constructing a piece of architecture.

Is she ever surprised by what her characters do?
Mostly when it comes to emotions - it only as you are writing that you realize how your characters feel about things.

She got her PhD but when did she realize that she could *write*?
It really started with the PhD. It gave her a basis for research and a pattern of daily writing. After she finished her PhD she gave herself a year to write a novel.

The film adaptations of her books - were they a positive experience?
Both experiences were positive and she had fun. Andrew Davies wrote the script for Tipping the Velvet. (Does everyone know who Andrew Davies is??? Aw come on! Fine - he's the guy who wrote the screenplay for the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.) She didn't have any creative involvement but she was an extra in both adaptations (in Tipping the Velvet she was an audience member and in Fingersmith she was a maid).

She writes about messy emotions - why?
Because we all have them. On the surface we are all quite well balanced. Characters like Susan show stems of passion(or maybe streams - have I ever mentioned my penmanship sucks? And that it was dark?). You can pull these threads out of your own past.

What advice would she give a lesbian writer, particularly about coming out publicly?
It depends entirely on what you are writing. For her would be impossible not to be out given the context of her writing. There are other people she knows that lesbians and who are writers but aren't "lesbian writers" and they have no need t be. In a sense coming out wasn't an issue or a choice for her, it was just there to see on the page.

And then there was an open forum for questions (Is anyone other than Denise still reading??? If it wasn't Sarah Waters I would expect her to have given up already since this is way over her 3 paragraph rule.)

When she finishes a book does she ever wish that she had done anything differently?
She never rereads her books except excerpts and passages that she does in public readings. (Who can blame her - I had reading anything I write - why may explain many of the typos and grammar mistakes I make in blog entries...).

Who reads her work first?
Her friend Sally Jones. She is a great first reader because she reads very thoroughly and will be totally honest with her (she may have said brutally honest...).

How does the research to writing process go for her?
She does a period of strict research. She reads memoirs, novels, diaries, etc. Them she starts writing - she said that this was diving into emotions. And then she goes back and forth as needed.

Then she very briefly mentioned the new book she's working on - it does not have any gay characters in it and in fact also doesn't have any sex or romance in it. It's also got a 1940s setting (post-war). But she thinks that she'll probably come back to writing about queer relationships and themes. It's also possible that she may return to the Victorian period (although she sounded somewhat uncertain about that).

And that my friends was the end.

The next, and final, of my IFOA events will be a round table discussion that I attended Wednesday evening.