Sarah Waters on Post-War Posh and Poltergeists

Novelist Sarah Waters is remarkably substantive and consistent in interviews about her fifth book, The Little Stranger, which means she talks a lot about how shifts in the post-WWII British economy reduced the pool of servants available to the upper-middle class, which put both their grand edifices and their Polo-advert way of life in peril. Peril, in the hands of Waters, can tend toward the Gothic, and since she was already interested in haunted house novels, she included a poltergeist presence at Hundreds Hall, the Warwickshire pile that serves as the setting for class and supernatural clashes in The Little Stranger. (Waters lists her top ten ghost novels on her Virago site.)

Sticky Lit Labels
At the outset of her career Waters's self-deprecatory impulse led her to categorize her first novel, Tipping the Velvet (1998), as a "lesbo-historical romp," a label that stuck to her subsequent Victorian London novels Affinity (1999) and Fingersmith (2002) almost too well, because it now demands that interviewers and reviewers note the lack of both lesbians and romp in The Little Stranger, even though her fourth book, The Night Watch (2006), which takes place during WWII, was already less of a romp. (Ron Hogan's non-audio interview with Waters, posted at indiebound.com, covers Waters's early Victorian period quite nicely.)

Facts Lead to Fiction
Research seems to inspire Waters. The idea and the title for Tipping the Velvet came to her while she was completing her thesis on lesbian and gay writing from the late 19th century for her PhD in English Literature. The wartime research she did for The Night Watch set up the idea for The Little Stranger. You can read several interesting essays about her research methods and discoveries on the "Library" page of her Virago website (scroll down to the links underneath the images of her book covers).

Sarah Waters Podcast Links
Waters is easy to listen to, since she enunciates clearly without overemphasis (no rewinding needed), and even when she's talking about research, her genuine engagement comes across more as cool-prof than swotty-toff. She's also more prone to laugh than take offense at the inevitable lesbo-romp questions, and is generally genial with her interviewers. These episodes will provide context for The Little Stranger, particularly if you're not an expert in the British class system, where in the 1940s no uppercrust mother would wish for a doctor as a son-in-law.

Succinct Waters
Pre-Hay: This 6 1/2 minute Sara Waters video interview was recorded with The Guardian's Rebecca Lovell before the 2009 Hay Festival of Books in Wales. It's been edited into a sort of monologue. Waters is charming as she covers the lesbian label issue, the historical context of The Little Stranger, the paranormal, her writing discipline, and the experience of re-reading Mary McCarthy's The Group. This clip doesn't seem to be available for downloading from iTunes, but you can view it online here.

Mid-Hay: This podcasted interview with The Guardian Book Club's Claire Armitstead was recorded during the Hay Festival and covers similar ground to the video above, but it is transportable on your iPod. The Waters segment begins at Minute 3 and ends around Minute 7. It's currently available from the Guardian's Book Club podcast on iTunes, and there's an online link on the Guardian Haycast website.

Tenebrous Waters
This 30-minute podcast, from The Bat Segundo Show Sarah Waters II (#287), is an in-depth, quick-striding conversation. Host Edward Champion's idiosyncratic interviewing style brings out more of Water's Gothic sensibility, and he's well-informed on the influences in her work. The audio is currently available for downloading on The Bat Segundo Show's iTunes page, and it's also accessible, with a helpful text summary and transcribed excerpt, on the The Bat Segundo website. The website page also includes a clickable link to Champion's 2006 interview with Waters (BSS #37) in which they discussed The Night Watch, and other things.

Profiled in Print
Malcom McCrum's text profile of Waters, notable for it comprehensiveness, is available online at The Observer site.

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