It’s going to be impossible to write this post without using the word ‘fangirl’. See what I mean?
For me, Sarah Waters is writing royalty. I’d go as far to say she’s my favourite living writer. I own all her books. And I’ve read each one more than twice, which is something I rarely do.
Open a Waters’ novel at any random page and you’ll find beauty. Her writing is fresh, exquisite. Characters feel whole. Settings are mood enhancing, memorable places- years after reading Lant Street and Hundreds Hall still lurk in my brain.
She’s also known for her meticulous historical detail. And it’s this that’s had impact on my own writing choices. Once I’d read Waters, I knew I’d found my genre. If she was hist-fict royalty, I’d happily scrub her floors, as it were!
Picture a warm September evening, in a street of tall, honey-coloured Regency buildings. One such building, a former chapel, was the venue for Sarah Waters’ event.
Hosted by indie bookshop Mr B’s Emporium and chaired by journalist Suzy Feay, the evening was to promote her latest novel The Paying Guests. Waters spoke at length about her own writing processes. It goes without saying I was utterly rapt.
Waters said she found writing ‘solitary’ but not lonely, and that her writing clothes were ‘squalid.’ When starting a new project, she writes the plot first, then in subsequent drafts adds what she calls ‘texture’.
When writing a scene, she asks herself which is its most important line. This one line should capture the essence of the action.
For research she uses newspapers, novels contemporary to the era, court records, and… yes… Google images! Sometimes she’ll lose an entire afternoon to googling pictures- this she says is not ‘time wasted’ but more ‘wasting time.’
For historical accuracy, she tries to establish the ‘clutter’ in people’s lives- what common phrases were used at a particular time, what possessions people carried, common routines, behaviours etc. She tweaks her work right up until it goes to print.
A few trusted readers see early drafts. When a book is finally ready to go out into the world she explained it as being ‘like sleeping beauty, waiting for the reader’s kiss to bring it to life’.
This is how Sarah Waters speaks about writing. No wonder then that the books themselves are so eloquent.