Friday, July 2, 2010

Sarah Waters Interview (with Charles Tan)

Sarah Waters

For The Little Stranger, what made you decide to write a ghost story?

I didn't plan for the novel to be a ghost story right from the start - I wanted to write a book about the class changes that Britain was going through in the period after the Second World War. But I set the novel in a crumbling country house, and found myself with a cast of unhappy, frustrated characters all in thrall to a world that was slipping away from them... In other words, the novel morphed into a haunted house story more or less by itself, and once I could see that happening, I realised that a novel of the supernatural was the perfect way to address the mournfulness and anxiety of post-war upper middle-class life. I was delighted, too, to have the chance to write a full-blown Gothic novel. I've always loved Gothic novels and films.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book? Who were your influences in writing this Gothic piece?

Because my previous novel, The Night Watch, was set in the 1940s, I already had a pretty good sense of the period - of how people looked, how they talked, what they wore, etc. For The Little Stranger, I visited a lot of country houses, and tried to get a feel for what life in such a house, with no spare money, would actually have been like; and because my narrator, Faraday, is a doctor, I read a lot of country doctors' autobiographies, and books about rural British life generally. I also read books about the paranormal - about hauntings and, in particular, poltergeists; and I read lots of stories of the supernatural, mainly ones by classic writers like M R James, Oliver Onions, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry James, Dickens, Daphne du Maurier... I wanted the novel to sit very firmly within the Gothic tradition, even while I hoped that the emphasis on class would bring something slightly new to the genre.

How did the genesis of Dr. Faraday's character come about? What were the challenges, if any, in writing from his point of view?

As in lots of classic ghost stories, at first I wanted a narrator who would be relatively 'transparent', someone who would recount a terrible story to us without having been much implicated in the drama itself. A bachelor country doctor felt right - partly simply because, as a doctor, he'd have a reason for regularly visiting Hundreds Hall and observing its decline; and also because, as a man of science, he could maintain a sceptical distance from the unsettling events. At first, I was definitely anxious about writing from a male point of view. I was afraid I might not be able to make his voice ring true. But as Dr Faraday began to develop for me, I became interested in him purely as a character, with his own particular history, his own set of issues and quirks. There were certainly moments when I had to stop and think: would he, as a man, notice this? Would he phrase his feelings quite like that? But that's true of any character: whether they're male, female, or androgynous, your job as a writer is to make the imaginative leap that will take you inside their head. Dr Faraday really began to come alive for me when I gave him a more complicated relationship with the Hall than I'd originally intended. He ended up being only superficially transparent, with lots of dark, murky depths. He's not a very likeable man, I suppose - but, from a technical point of view, he was fascinating to write!

1 comment:

Danel said...

"A crumbling country house," "a cast of unhappy, frustrated characters," and a "world that was slipping away from them..."

As a lover of the Gothic, how could I say no to these enticements? I can't wait to read the novel now!

With cheer and a good luck wish to Sarah Waters for the Shirley Jackson Awards.