Friday, 2 July 2010

Middlesbrough Literary Festival: Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters
Middlesbrough Literary Festival

The Middlesbrough Literary Festival continues to go from strength to strength.

Last night brought a particular highlight, with Sarah Waters in conversation with Professor Kate Chedgzoy (Professor of Renaissance Literature at Newcastle University).

The venue: Middlesbrough Central Library

The stage is set

Sara Dennis - Adult Services Manager and head of the small team behind the excellent festival - introduces the session.

Kate Chedgzoy and Sarah Waters

The rapport between Kate and Sarah was quite evident. Kate was obviously very well prepared and knowledgeable; Sarah always appeared genuinely delighted to be at the festival. Here's a biographical snippet I hadn't read anywhere before - Sarah lived in Middlesbrough for several years between her early childhood and her current London-based life.

Sarah is undoubtedly one of our top authors (some - if not all - of her novels should be very familiar to all readers: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith, The Night Watch and The Little Stranger have all won a number of awards and the first three were adapted for television).

The first part of the discussion focussed mainly on 'The Little Stranger' (one of my top two books of recent years; the other being 'Small Island' by Andrea Levy).

Set in the late 1940s, it was originally planned as a comment on the social changes in post-war Britain and although that remains a strong element throughout the book, the main narrative developed into tale of a more supernatural nature. Although not exactly a horror story, there are certainly gothic overtones and a large slice if ambiguity which has led to many discussions and theories as to the true nature of The Little Stranger.

After approximately 35 absorbing minutes, questions were invited from the audience. Needless to say, the event was fully booked, with 100 people enjoying the evening. Prompting questions can often lead to deadly silence, but there was no danger of that happening here!

The questions ranged from the discipline required to be a successful writer (1,000 words per day is Sarah's preference), the possibility of adaptations of 'The Night Watch' and 'The Little Stranger' (there is definitely interest and both might be in the pipeline), general research, spiritualism, feminism and lesbianism.

After 70 thoroughly enjoyable minutes, the discussion drew to a close. Sarah spent the next 45 minutes chatting and signing copies of her novels.

It was a truly memorable evening. Bringing literature to life is, of course, one of the biggest aims of a literary festival and when it animates, inspires and generally makes a lot of people very happy, then something special has definitely been achieved.

Great events always leave one wanting more. I have another article on Sarah to come soon, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, pop along to the festival website, pick out some events, go along and be entertained and inspired!

The official website of Sarah Waters is here:

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