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Sarah Waters
The house as metaphor is a powerful one and THE LITTLE STRANGER follows in that great literary tradition with the decaying mansion, Hundreds Hall. Where did the idea come from?
Well, I started with an interest in post-war Britain - in particular, in the impact the war had had on the country's class system. I kept reading novels and diaries from the period from which it was clear that class was a really hot issue of the time - both for working-class people, who had voted in a Labour government and wanted a more equal society, and for conservative middle-class people, who were appalled at what they felt was the nation's slide into chaos. A decaying country mansion seemed like a good place to explore these tensions: it was such an obvious symbol of a changing society.
The character of Dr Faraday as the narrator - a rather staid, middle-aged professional providing “the voice of reason” - also pays homage to the Gothic novel. How did you find writing from his point of view?
Yes, he's a funny old character - rather a boring man, really - but I actually enjoyed writing him quite a lot. He became a technical challenge, as much as anything: he serves as the buffer between us and the alarming things that happen at the Hall, but we have to see through or around his narrative to make up our own minds about what exactly is going on there. It was interesting trying to strike the right balance. I didn't want him to be simply obtuse; I tried to suggest, instead, that - perhaps as a result of his uneasy working-class origins - he might be over-invested in his professional role. That makes him not quite reliable: there are things he won't, or can't, confront.
The inhabitants of Hundreds Hall, the Ayres, are all in some way damaged. Am I right to feel a bit sorry for them in their self-imposed, semi-reclusive existence in a crumbling country house with only one servant for help?
I think it's hard not to feel sorry for them, yes; and for me that makes the book more interesting. I didn't have much sympathy for them when I started writing: I thought they were hard and snobbish and deserved everything they got. But then I began to appreciate the extent of their predicament. They've inherited a house and a status they can no longer maintain. Their recent ancestors would have been at the feudal heart of the local community, but they have lost that role, they've lost the respect of working people - in a sense, as Caroline says, England 'no longer wants them'. I think her situation is the hardest of all: like lots of young women she's had an exciting war, but she's been brought home to help nurse her brother, and to manage the doomed estate. That makes her a very poignant figure, I think, and I ended up liking her a lot.
Politically the country’s in flux at the moment and we’re bring told we have to tighten our belts (except if you’re an MP that is). Were you conscious when writing of any parallels with the state of the nation in 1947 when THE LITTLE STRANGER is set?
It's funny: when I started The Little Stranger, three years ago, the UK economy still seemed to be booming; I had no idea then that by the time the book was published we would effectively have entered a new period of austerity... So, no, I didn't have those particular parallels in mind. But I was conscious that we are living in a very anxious age - an age where it's all too easy to feel 'terrorised', by real and imagined threats. That seemed, to me, to give Gothic fiction a new pertinence or resonance, and definitely found its way into the book.
Many of us are drawn to the thriller/ghost story genre and THE LITTLE STRANGER is truly spine-chilling. Was writing it a scary experience?
The writing process wasn't scary: I enjoyed working on the spooky scenes, but actually I could never really tell if they were spooky. I would have a scene in which an object started moving by itself, or in which odd marks appeared on a wall, and I would think, 'Is this scary? Or is it just a bit daft?' But then I gave a draft of the novel to a friend to read, and she found it really chilling, and that reassured me no end... I did, however, get a bit unnerved by some of the research I did. I read so many books about poltergeists, I really began to think that I might conjure up one of my own...
You’ve gone from the Victorian era in your first books to the 1940s in the next two. Can we expect a contemporary novel next time?!
I actually don't know when and where the next novel is going to be set: I have several ideas, but they're all slightly different. None of them is for a contemporary setting, though; I still feel very drawn to the past. But I think I would like to try a contemporary setting some time. I'd be really interested to see what kind of novel I'd come up with, and how my writing voice would change.
And lastly an obvious question, but our readers always like to know, who are your literary inspirations?
I can think of lots of contemporary writers I admire - writers whose work is very different from mine, but who inspire me simply by being so brilliant - writers like Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Cormac McCarthy, Colm Toibin. But I take inspiration from lots of older authors, too: Elizabeth Taylor, Patrick Hamilton, Barbara Comyns, Sylvia Townsend Warner... I can find any good piece of fiction inspiring, really, in the sense that it reminds me what good writing is all about - and why it's worth striving for.
Sarah Waters

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