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Inaugural Man Booker at Birkbeck: Sarah Waters

The first of the Man Booker at Birkbeck events took place on November 14 with Sarah Waters in conversation with Russell Celyn Jones.

Watch the video of Sarah Waters in conversation with Professor Russell Celyn Jones (approx. 90 minutes)

The first of the Man Booker at Birkbeck events took place on November 14 2011. In her welcome address Professor Hilary Fraser, Executive Dean, School of Arts, commented on the exciting and appropriate collaboration between Birkbeck, with its cross-disciplinary approach, and the Booker Prize Foundation.

The acclaimed author, Sarah Waters, discussed her novel, The Little Stranger, and her writing methods, with Russell Celyn Jones, Professor of Creative Writing and award-winning novelist, who was a Man Booker judge in 2002 when Waters' novel Fingersmith was short-listed.

Professor Celyn Jones commented afterwards: 'My conversation with Sarah Waters was open and frank and very pleasurable. She is a warm interlocutor and students and alumni seemed to respond very well to the way she talked about the mechanisms of her fiction. We discussed principally her historical novel, The Little Stranger, that inhabits the gothic hinterland of the paranormal and the psychopathological. Eight-hundred people attended, impressive even by the standards of an international literary festival. So all the more impressive that it was hosted by us at Birkbeck.'

The writing of The Little Stranger: behind the scenes

A diverse and appreciative audience filled the Friends' House auditorium to hear Sarah read two extracts from her work. She spoke in detail about the historical and social background to the novel; how she developed the characters and the influence of 1940s novels and films on the work. She also described her particular approach to writing: a nine-to-five day, with ongoing research and a ‘writing journal’ to track the development of her ideas. Although she wrote to a  well-defined framework, she was never disappointed if readers created something new from their reading of her work.

In the closing session Sarah Waters answered many questions from the audience. These covered such topics as: did she believe in ghosts; was Hundreds Hall a character in its own right; how much research did she do before beginning to write and what really happened in The Little Stranger?

After the discussion, Sarah generously found time to sign copies of her books for members of the audience and then she joined Birkbeck alumni at a reception given for her by the School of Arts.

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