And our Booker shortlisted October Book of the Month is...THE LITTLE STRANGER by Sarah Waters (discussion Tue 3 Nov)

(126 Posts)

THE LITTLE STRANGER has been crowned winner of our October Book of the Month poll, with WOLF HALL just 2 votes behind.

We'll be chatting about THE LITTLE STRANGER on Tuesday 20 October from 8pm to 9.30pm. Hope you can join us!

Don't forget you can order your copy here.

And, for anyone who missed out on the vote here were October's book choices and this is how Book Club works.

DutchOma Tue 29-Sep-09 20:15:58

Sorry Tilly, the link to the buy your book 'here' does not work

HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 30-Sep-09 21:41:57

Dutch Oma: try this one

Would love to join in but unless I can get a hold of this at library this week looks like I will have to pass. Can't afford £8.99 for a book at the mo. Any ideas where I can get it cheaper? Or do I need to suggest MN should stick to paperbacks in future to be a bit more inclusive? blush

frazzled74 Fri 02-Oct-09 09:22:14

have just bought this so would love to join in.

My copy just arrived this morning. Hope I can get it read in time...

Is there any reason why the discussion is as early as the 20th? Surely would be better to put as close to end of month as possible to give more people time to read??

lovechoc Sat 03-Oct-09 20:50:02

Ha, I was planning on reading this in time for the discussion but 20th October won't be any good to me considering I can only manage to read one or two chapers per night. Will read the book but won't really be able to discuss it at that date.

Looking forward to the next month's chosen book.

lovechoc Sat 03-Oct-09 20:53:16

I personally think that books in the Book Club should be easily available and affordable to all (and easily accessible in libraries so there's no cost to those of us who cannot afford to buy books regularly to become members of book clubs).

IMHO £8.99 is very expensive for a book shock am with you there runawayquickly

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 05-Oct-09 11:17:35

Original thinking was not to have it in half term in case people away, but just checking with Tilly if she's ok with us doing straight after half term ie first week of Nov.

Will keep you posted.

Exactly, wanted to avoid half term but Tuesday 3 November just as good - is that better for everyone?

lovechoc, will you be able to join us?

We promise to keep it to paperbacks. This was just a one-off for the Booker Prize month (the proper winner will be announced tonight - listen out for the result on the 10 o clock news).

runawayquickly: I thought libraries would have quite a good stock of The Little Stranger as its been out for a while and very popular, I'm really sorry to hear you're having problems getting a copy. I've checked on a price comparison site and Amazon is the cheapest, Tesco also doing it at £8.49 but charging £2 for delivery. I can send you my copy, if you want to email me your address? I'm absolutely happy to do that.

lovechoc Tue 06-Oct-09 16:03:31

I will try to Tilly, thanks Am waiting on the library getting in touch to let me know when I can pick up the book though, hope I get it in time, if not then I'll have to do next month's so that I can disucuss that. have been wanting to be a member of a book club for ages!!

swift220 Tue 06-Oct-09 19:56:02

I am loving this book, finding it very hard to put down. Looking forward to the chat on 20th october.

vacaloca Tue 06-Oct-09 20:26:00

Oh, I read this a couple of weeks ago and would love to discuss it with someone. In fact I made DH read straightaway so I could talk to him about it but he hasn't finished it yet. Looking forward to this.

Earthymama Wed 07-Oct-09 09:51:52

DP bought me this when it came out. However as I have been trying not to read incessantly in order to hide from real life I haven't opened it yet.

This will be the perfect excuse reason to actually read a book!!

Sad that Sarah Waters missed out on the big prize for the third time - but I guess Hilary Mantel has more than earned it, this one being her eighth novel and all.

Just found Sarah's own website which has a very good Q&A section about how she writes, which writers she love, as well as her top ten ghost stories.

Plus lowdown on the Booker ceremony...

Crystalmom Thu 08-Oct-09 12:37:23

I am still waiting to get my hands on a copy, as it is so popular that every branch of my local library has it out on loan!
I've reserved a copy but taking ages to come in....
Can't afford to buy a copy as am over 7 months preg and all my money going on baby things!

Is anyone else so spooked each time they read that they've begun to jump whenever someone walks in the room?

Am very sorry that there are problems getting copies. The publishers told me they are reprinting like mad to try and keep up with demand.

ParanoiaBigPumkinDestroyer Wed 21-Oct-09 19:44:32

Tilly - I agree this is a seriously creepy book. I started it two nights ago and I'm on page 294 - I can't wait to see what's going to happen next.

I'm new to the book group - I think I need to look at previous months' discussions so I can see how it works on the night.

LittleRedCar Wed 21-Oct-09 21:25:51

Well, I wasn't feeling very spooked but I am now (I'm on about page 370) and I am just off up to bed with it now.....grin

Very tempted to peek at the ending - but I won't!

TuttiFrutti Thu 22-Oct-09 17:09:48

Likewise, am very spooked reading this book. On page 243 and loving every minute so far but it's quite creepy...

Have read a couple of other books by Sarah Waters and the paranormal and lunatic asylums are obviously recurring themes of hers.

I'm new to the Book of the Month too - will be interested to see how it works.

LittleRedCar Thu 22-Oct-09 19:54:59

30 pages to go shock

LittleRedCar Thu 22-Oct-09 21:04:08

Oooooh -finished grin

Joekate Fri 23-Oct-09 22:45:19

God, I must be really hard core - I wasn't creeped out at all. I did enjoy reading it and loved the atmospheric feel of the book, but just didn't find it scary at all. Didn't have to put it in the fridge once! shock

TuttiFrutti Tue 27-Oct-09 14:10:39

Have finished. Loved it and can't wait to discuss it next Tuesday. Loved the idea of putting it in the fridge!grin

TLR Wed 28-Oct-09 12:44:49

Hmmmm. I agree - it was difficult to put down but I think overall, I was a touch disappointed. Hope to be around to join in the chat at some point next Tues. It would be interesting to discuss what everyone made of it hmm

angelz Wed 28-Oct-09 21:33:32

good book - annoying ending! Looking forward to discussing, need to know what others thought of the ending, I'm still not exactly sure what happened!

sylvev Sat 31-Oct-09 13:35:54

Have I missed the discussion? sad I'm confused, was it 20th Oct or is it 3rd Nov?

I read it in the summer, fabulous book, really enjoyed it.

Discussion is tomorrow 8-9.30pm - sylvev, hope you can still join us.

The author has been on tour and back today, we're waiting to hear if she can join us tomorrow night.

Looking forward to it...

twoflakesanight Mon 02-Nov-09 14:18:37

Ooh great! I read this as soon as it came out - I loved her other ones. Thought it was brilliantly creepy but then slightly baffled by the end; can't wait to see what others made of it. Hope I can remember what happened...

TBMOM Mon 02-Nov-09 21:08:45

Just finished this book will join in tomorrow's discussion!

Get ready to put your questions to the author herself - SARAH WATERS will be joining us from 8-9pm tomorrow for a chat. We'll then carry on discussing the book ourselves from 9-9.30.

Very excited. See you tomorrow at 8.

sylvev Mon 02-Nov-09 22:22:00

Brilliant! I can probably make the end of the discussion as have to go to meeting from 7.30, shall try to sneak out early wink

JammyOLantern Tue 03-Nov-09 12:03:40

Looking forward to this, but typical, the author's time slot coincides with my Sainsbury's delivery!

carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 03-Nov-09 12:52:36

I couldn't put it down, found it a real page turner like all Sarah Waters' books - and I would never normally read a ghost story.

As always I wanted resolution and a happy ending... but you can't win them all and somehow I never got the feeling that love would conquer all....

I wondered if Sarah believed in ghosts or the supernatural. I don't think I do and yet all the way through I completely believed in the ghosts in the book - I assume because of the way it is written - and got quite cross with the Doctor's voice of reason, although at the same time could see that that's what a rational person would think.

Also did she do research into haunted houses? And if so did her opinion on the supernatural change at all?

angelz Tue 03-Nov-09 15:44:05

Looking forward to this - loved the book, totally baffled by the ending!

MabelMay Tue 03-Nov-09 15:52:56

Someone on here mentioned they thought love would conquer all, but what love?
The doctor never really loved Caroline - he loved the idea of her and of being lord of the manor and Caroline, well, reading between the lines I think she was probably a lesbian, right?
And of course all that poltergeist stuff was created by the doctor's subconscious desires, as per his conversation with Dr Seeley about two-thirds of the way through the book. Of course we saw a bit of his totally irrational side when Caroline called the whole thing off. Dr Faraday was super creepy in my opinion and - once Roderick cottoned on to this and started to question why he was hanging 'round the whole time all those spooky goings-on started.

In other words, obviously the doctor killed (or a phantasm created by his subconscious desires killed) Mrs Ayres and Caroline. And he helped send Roderick mad too. How convenient to be rid of the man of the house so he could work his magic on the two ladies...

anyone else agree with me? nah?

Just thought: am I allowed to post spoilers like this now?
well i won't be here at 8pm tonight so that's my penny's worth.

NecromancyRocks Tue 03-Nov-09 18:08:32

I won't be able to log on much tonight, so I thought I'd post a bit now - hope that's okay!!

I found this novel quite easy to read but not terribly spooky. This could be because I was only able to read it, mostly, in small chunks and as atmosphere is everything with this sort of book, possibly I never gave myself enough time to be immersed in that. Clearly, the house is the real star of this tale and this reminded me of Manderley in Rebecca. In both novels the house is referred to in the opening line so I knew it would be fairly crucial from then.

Mabel - I didn't actually think about the doctor instigating the poltergeist stuff when he had that conversation with Dr Seeley but I did come to that conclusion later when I came to the end of the novel. I suppose his name - Faraday - also suggests he might be 'conducting' an unusual force.

Was Caroline actually a lesbian? Aside from certain masculine attributes and taking a dislike to the doctor (didn't we all?!) I wasn't sure.

There's more I'd love to say but I need to go and I just wanted to ask people who they thought the little stranger of the title actually was - I assume Faraday? Also, how inevitable do people think the downfall of the Ayres family was? Was Faraday himself the most important catalyst or were changing social times, the legacy of the war and possibly hereditary madness (not sure about that one) actually more important factors in their demise? I couldn't decide so I'd like to know what people think.

Finally, I wanted to ask Sarah - what inspired you to write a ghost story, as this has been a step away from some of your previous work? In particular, do you think you were influenced by any specific novels?

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 19:23:34

testing, testing, 123 (by MNHQ, sarah will be here at 8pm)

policywonk Tue 03-Nov-09 19:24:46

Not read TLS and can't be here for 8pm (SOD OFF THEN I hear you cry) but just wanted to say how much I love SW's books, especially Fingersmith and The Night Watch.

If it's not a terrible breach of Book Club etiquette to ask a question having not read the book, I'd like to ask Sarah: do you think you're part of a literary movement that's rehabilitating the historical novel (Mantel, Susannah Clark, Michel Faber's Crimson Petal stories spring to mind)? Or did the historical novel not need to be rehabilitated? Or do you just reject the entire premise (I'd still love you even if you did) grin

If it IS a big breach of etiquette then just ignore me.

juno60 Tue 03-Nov-09 19:27:55

Hello Sarahsmile

Wow, well done MN Towers!

Hoping DD doesn't put up a fight and I can get back to PC in time for this but in case not.

Just wanted to say, I thought the book was brilliantly atmospheric and a real page-turner (sorry that's a bit R&J, isn't it?!blush)

I did actually feel like I was there - how did you build such a brililant picture of Hundreds?

How do you feel about others comparisons to e.g Manderlay?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 03-Nov-09 19:38:37

Sarah, another advance question or two (and thank you very much for joining us).

Was there a real house that inspired you for this novel, or was it entirely imaginary?

Were you tempted by any alternative endings? It seemed like we were being led into thinking that possibly it was Faraday who was the malevolent force, that his was the "troubled unconscious" consuming the Ayres, but the ending was ambiguous.

Not a question but a comment: the the dog bite scene and the fire in Roderick's bedroom were great. And poor Betty!!

BellaBonJovi Tue 03-Nov-09 19:49:06

Hi Sarah

Just wanted to sneak in an advance question or two.

I enjoyed the book and loved the descriptions of the house, but I did find the ending ambiguous.

At one point I thought I could see the ending coming - Caroline was dead, Faraday had keys to the house and no alibi! Did you consider that - was that a red herring?

I couldn't understand why Faraday seemed to oscillate between desire and hatred for Caroline. Was that the work of the malevolent force?

Or was the force really created by him in some way? After all in the end he got what he desired above all else: the house.

And last question - the one that comes to me as I lock up a dark house at night - what exactly did Caroline see to make her call out: 'You!'?

Thank you.

Evening everyone

This book throws up so many questions, and now we may just get some answers... I am thrilled to introduce Sarah Waters, author of Tipping The Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith, The Night Watch and The Little Stranger, our utterly absorbing and appropriately creepy October Book of the Month. Sarah will be with us until 9pm, and then the normal bookclub chat will continue after that.

Sarah, thank you very much for joining us. Your books have given Mumsnetters enormous pleasure and much cause for discussion. I thought I would start tonight’s chat by asking: what childhood book shaped you most, and why?

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:07:37

Hello everyone! It's very exciting to be joining you. Thanks for all your interest in The Little Stranger.

Childhood books... Well, I didn't actually read much memorable children's fiction as a child, and though I can recall a few exciting novels - The White Mountains, by John Christopher; The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster; The Silver Sword, by Ian Serraillier - I'm not sure any of them 'shaped' me, exactly. I think I was much more influenced by ghost and horror stories, and one that still stands out for me is 'The Monkey's Paw', by WW Jacobs - a really brilliant little tale, in which a couple make a series of wishes on a shrivelled oriental talisman, with dreadful results... I must have been rather a macabre child. But a lot of that early affinity with the gothic has found its way into my own fiction, and I enjoy feeling that I've connected with my childhood self like that.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:12:29


I don't exactly believe in the supernatural: I think it's something that, as humans, we have a need to create, sometimes for the purposes of comfort and consolation, sometimes because of guilt or remorse - unfinished business. In a way, that makes it all the more interesting to me: I think ghosts tell us a lot about the people who 'see' them; and poltergeist stories are always very revealing of domestic conflicts and tensions. So yes, I did did do a fair bit of research into the supernatural, and found the stories and cases I read really fascinating. Some are very convincing! But ultimately, I'm drawn to them as an idea. I don't think I'd like to experience anything genuinely supernatural myself - I'd find it too unbalancing.

blimey Tue 03-Nov-09 20:13:25

Hello Sarah!
sorry for being blunt but is Dr Faraday the malevolent force behind all the bad things that happen to the family at hundreds?

NecromancyRocks Tue 03-Nov-09 20:14:06

Hi Sarah

When writing The Little Stranger, did you decide to write a ghost story and go from there or did some other element ( historical setting or specific characters, for example) come first?

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:17:24


As I've said above, I've always loved ghost stories, and there are a few gothic moments in my earlier books - esp Affinity, which is set among Victorian spiritualists. So I saw The Little Stranger as an opportunity to really go for the genre, and enjoy it. I'd like to write another, different kind of, ghost story some time. I was definitely influenced by other ghost stories and films: The Haunting, by Shirley Jackson, The Turn of the Screw, The Woman in Back, by Susan Hill (extremely creepy), the stories of MR James...

But the historical setting came first - specifically, the post-war scene, with all its social changes. It just seemed to me that a haunted house novel might be an interesting and effective way of exploring those changes.

blimey Tue 03-Nov-09 20:18:12

And if so do you see him as entirely dissociated from that aspect of himself almost like an old style "hysteric" or rather as someone who can just lie very well. I wonder who this unreliable narrator is narrating to?

JaceyBee Tue 03-Nov-09 20:19:25

Hi Sarah

Was the last line supposed to be read as a revelation of Dr Faraday being the phantasm behind the hauntings? That's how I interpreted it but I actually liked that it was left fairly ambiguous.

Big fan by the way!

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:21:10


Hmm, what do you think? I can see that Dr F and his role in the family's decline have come up a lot in discussion here; I've found that with other readers, too. I have my own ideas about what's been going on at Hundreds, and as far as I'm concerned Dr F is definitely more of an agent in the supernatural events than he can or will acknowledge. But I also wanted the novel to be open-ended enough for there to be a certain amount of ambiguity. Sorry if some readers have found that frustrating, rather than intriguing. I felt partly that, is something genuinely supernatural has happened, I couldn't tidy it away with a neat explanation.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:22:03


Yes, the last line is definitely significant. Glad you liked the ambiguity!

NecromancyRocks Tue 03-Nov-09 20:23:55

I'm afraid I have to go now, so I just wanted to ask you whether you always intended to end the novel in a slightly ambiguous way or whether that became the way you wanted to end it as you wrote.

Oh, do you have a favourite biscuit? It's a good question to be asked on MN!!

Thanks for coming to chat to us!!

blimey Tue 03-Nov-09 20:24:34

to me he seems to be the instigator of all the bad stuff, he is so cut off in his description of everything, he touches on his dark feelings about the family when he first meets them but then like most of his feelings they disappear quickly from his account of things and his actions belie those feelings without any explanation

PutDown Tue 03-Nov-09 20:24:47

Hi Sarah,I loved the book,read it in one weekend.
When will your next one be out?grin

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:25:28


What did Caroline see? Again, I have my own ideas on that, but want to leave room for a range of interpretations... But do you think Dr F oscillated between desire and hatred for her? I wanted it to be more that his feelings are complicated. He's drawn to her, but what really draws him is what she represents to him: the house, status - the whole package. Isn't desire always a mixture of things - fantasy and projection, as well as 'true' attraction? In his case, it's just all a bit more extreme.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:27:04


Sorry you have to leave us... Yes, the ambiguity was planned right from the start... Biscuits - hmm, I'm more of a savoury girl, but always find it hard to say no to a piece of all-butter shortbread.

bran Tue 03-Nov-09 20:27:49

Did it remind anyone else of Turn of the Screw? I think it had the same slow build of creepiness, a feeling of remoteness and removal from the real world. I found The Little Stranger to be an easier read though, especially as there is a proper plot in terms of developing relationships. There are sections of Turn of the Screw that have to be waded through and don't seem to add much to the plot.

Was Mrs Ayres having an affair with the father of the child who was bitten? It wasn't clear to me whether all the tension was centred around wanting to marry Caroline off or whether there was something else going on?

JaceyBee Tue 03-Nov-09 20:28:09

Sarah, are there currently any plans to adapt it for TV as with some of your previous works?

If so who would you like to play Caroline/Faraday?

BellaBonJovi Tue 03-Nov-09 20:28:46

Perhaps she 'saw' Faraday?

Did you set up the no-alibi situation as a red herring?

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:28:53


Glad you liked it! As for the next one - you tell me. I've been so busy promoting The Little S, I haven't written a word in months. I'm just beginning to want to get cracking on the next book - but it's still very early days. Ask me again in three years' time...

EmNotPGYet Tue 03-Nov-09 20:29:11

I'm afraid I haven't had a chance to read this book yet, but I just wanted to say I'm a big fan of your work and I'm looking forward to reading the book.

PutDown Tue 03-Nov-09 20:30:59

O h no Sarah,three yearssad
Cannot wait t hat long.Will reread The Night Watch!

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:31:46


Mrs Ayres having an affair with Peter Baker-Hyde? Oo-er, I hadn't thought of that. I wanted the tensions in that scene to be both about Caroline, and about class. The Baker-Hydes represent a different kind of family from the old, landed Ayreses. They've got money, without the responsibility of failing estates etc. So the party's a bit of a car crash, in all sorts of ways. There are also Dr F's own feelings of sexual and social inadequacy...

twoflakesanight Tue 03-Nov-09 20:32:26

Hi Sarah - very exciting to be talking to you - love your books!

I'd like to ask how one writes using an unreliable narrator. Are you totally in the character's head, with a comprehensive understanding of what drives them? In which case, isn't it terribly difficult not to get too heavy handed about it. There must be a temptation to spell things out to your readers - how do you keep things subtle and ambiguous? I imagine it must be very difficult across a whole novel to know that you've kept the character just credible and sort of likeable enough to keep people reading.

I might be reading too much into it, but the last line for me was Faraday representing the non-aristocratic class, having finally taken over all the trappings of the rich by bullying them out of their home. But now all there he has is a distorted, cracked confusion that he is not as satisfied as expected.

I thought the evocation of an aristocratic era dying was incredibly strong - do you feel a sense of warmth toward those aristocratic heydays of big parties, beautiful houses, doing one's duty? Would you say pre-war British society was better than post-war?

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:33:14


'Hysteric' is good - I like that. I don't think Dr F is unreliable in the sense that he's lying to us. I think he's quite a decent bloke really, trying to do his best.

Pluto Tue 03-Nov-09 20:34:31

Hi Sarah, I could see the influence of the Woman In Black - I've only seen the stage play - but the sections on the upper floor and the descriptions of the glimpses of the shadow moving along the corridor were really frightening and reminded me a lot of The Woman In Black.

I really enjoyed your novel and it has inspired me to read your other books, which I've been meaning to do for a long time.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:34:38


The 'non alibib' - not a red herring, exactly; more that it just opens up another kind of possible explanation.

Hi, I have literally just finished the last page in time for the discussion! I must admit that I didn't think of Dr F as being the reason behind all the disturbances initially as there was so much about Roderick earlier in the book. I wonder what becomes of him? Will the 'ghost' eventually get to him too? Or is he safe while away from Hundreds?

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:36:51


I have sold an option on the film rights, and the idea that it might get made into a movie is very exciting. It's very early in the process, though. Not sure about casting. Kate Winslett would be good for Caroline - but she's too old, alas. I pictured Dr F as being a bit like Johnny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley, in the latest tv Emma - but more uptight.

bran Tue 03-Nov-09 20:37:41

I wondered about whether there was an affair because Mrs Ayres was very attractive and well-turned out up to that point, and the rot set in about the time that it became clear that the incident couldn't be smoothed over.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:37:41


Hope you enjoy it!

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:40:46


Yes, unreliable narratives are a bit tricky. You have to be kind of a split personality: one part of you writing a sort of 'surface', the other trying to remain aware of what's going on underneath. But I try and do that anyway, when writing characters and interactions. Any moment of human interaction has a lot of other stuff going on just under its surface.

TuttiFrutti Tue 03-Nov-09 20:40:50

Sarah, did you plan the ending when you started the book, or did you ever have another ending in mind? I'm interested because I was convinced it was going to end differently - it felt as if the rug was being pulled from under my feet!

I absolutely loved the book by the way.

blimey Tue 03-Nov-09 20:41:09

gosh, aren't they both way too good looking!

that's so interesting that you see DrF as a decent chap, I suppose I did. .dunno what I thought now, very dangerous though!

BellaBonJovi Tue 03-Nov-09 20:41:11

Hmm..thank you, Sarah.

Yes, I suppose there are many possibilities - I did wonder at one point if the malevolent spirit was brought about by the young maid.

Wherever the force came from, it had the same effect as the encroaching council houses on Hundreds Park: the old order gave way to the new.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:43:00


No, I don't feel nostalgia for the pre-war world: it was a world that had to go, in order for Britain to become a fairer society. But I did end up feeling more affection and sympathy for the Ayreses than I'd expected. They had inherited a house, and a role, that was losing worth and meaning: that was very hard for them.

tattycoram Tue 03-Nov-09 20:43:32

Aaargh. Sarah, I've loved all your books I've read so far, especially Fingersmith, but I daren't loiter too much on this thread in case the ending of The Little Stranger is revealed - I haven't read it yet.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:43:56


The Woman in Black - yes, seriously scary. There's a good old BBC version of it.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:45:15


Poor Roderick. He seems to me to suffer almost as much as Caroline and Mrs A.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:46:35


Yes, I planned the ending right from the start - I almost always do; then I know what I'm working towards. Sorry it took you by surprise!

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:47:53


I hope we're all being careful not to give too much away!

carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 03-Nov-09 20:48:43

Same sort of question as Tutti Frutti, how much of the your novels is mapped out before you start writing (and does it really take 3 years??) Do you ever get so involved with your characters as you're writing that you change or want to change what happens to them... are you ever tempted to go for an "and they all lived happily ever after..." ending?

snice Tue 03-Nov-09 20:49:32

Hello Sarah

I loved the book so thak you.

I'm surprised at your description of DrF as a decent bloke-I thought he was a bit of a shit actually so perhaps I didn't pay attention! I thought he was slightly repulsed by Caroline as she wasn't as good looking or sophisticated as the usual 'doctor's wife' material he thought he should aspire too(like his partner's wife perhaps) but he desired her almost despite himself.

Pluto Tue 03-Nov-09 20:49:48

I finally saw Dr F as decent when he went shopping for all the wedding goodies for Caroline.

I'm thinking about how your book relates to the present as well as shifting society at the end of the war...all the changes that happened so quickly in the post-war era that have changed our political and social landscape. Do you think that we are currently in an equally rapid climate of social change?

bran Tue 03-Nov-09 20:50:08

I was very shocked that Caroline died, I thought she was going to succeed in making a break for it. I had expected it to end with the estate being sold and DrF watching it being done up by a new family and for the rest of his life rueing that he didn't live there.

I suppose I'm looking at it from a modern viewpoint, but I wasn't clear about why Caroline moved back home after the war finished. My family have a very similar background (although in Ireland not England which may make a big difference) and the family tree is full of feisty women who often married late or not at all but still grabbed life by the throat. I suppose in the end she did try to take charge of her own life, had she not died she would have emigrated and done something, but she could have done that earlier.

(BTW, Jonny Lee Miller is too fanciable to be Dr F)

bran Tue 03-Nov-09 20:51:08

Oh Pants! Tattycoram, don't read my last post as it has a spoiler. sad

I'm just going to flag up a question from policywonk that came earlier:

do you think you're part of a literary movement that's rehabilitating the historical novel (Mantel, Susannah Clark, Michel Faber's Crimson Petal stories spring to mind)? Or did the historical novel not need to be rehabilitated? Or do you just reject the entire premise

snice Tue 03-Nov-09 20:51:11

thank you obviously not thak you

blimey Tue 03-Nov-09 20:51:57

really pluto - didn't he do that so it all looked good?

JammyOLantern Tue 03-Nov-09 20:51:58

Hi. This was the first of Sarah's books I've read, and I did enjoy it very much. But I don't know if I missed something - reading some of other's thoughts I I think I might have done - but I found it rather unsatisfying, especially the second half. I wasn't so keen on the ambiguity, but that's just me. And I'm afraid quite early on I thought "oh please don't be so predictable as to set up something between the doctor and Caroline" and was very disappointed when it looked like it was happening.

Having said all those negative points, I must repeat I still enjoyed it. I still really wanted to finish though, kept reading late into the evening, so I guess that's a sign it was still good

Sorry if I've not been full of praise Sarah, but it won't put me off reading your other works.

TBMOM Tue 03-Nov-09 20:52:47

Do you know what I think? That night Dr farrady went to sleep in his car by the house, the night Caroline died, he had a strange dream. I think he had an out of body experience and it was him who Caroline saw as a 'ghost' on the landing and in her shock she stumbled backwards, or he pushed her out of revenge for not loving him.

Is this what happened Sarah?

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:52:55

policywonk (from earlier):

It seems to me that the historical novel has been being reinvigorated for a while now. Perhaps the really significant novel was The French Lieutenant's Woman, back in the '70s - that sort of allowed historical fiction to become a bit more sophisticated. I was influenced by books like Possession and Oscar & Lucinda, which seemed to be doing something new again in the 1990s. I always fear that interest in the genre is going to fizzle out, but it's great that historical fiction seems still to be thriving - in fact, it's thriving more than ever at the moment.

bran Tue 03-Nov-09 20:55:16

I don't think Dr F buying clothes for Caroline was necessarily a sign of decency, I read it as a possessive thing. He took great care over it, but not necessarily to make her happy more because he felt she wasn't making enough effort and he wanted the wedding to look good. If he had really wanted to make her happy he would have picked up on all her talk about wanting to escape from the house.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:56:00


Yes, unbelievably, my books take about 3 years each - well The Little S took two and a half; The Night Watch took four! I hardly even change the action once I've mapped it out in advance - but what does change is how I feel about my characters, and how they feel about each other, and about the things required of them by the plot. That's the exciting part, though - getting to know them, and hopefully making them more complex.

TuttiFrutti Tue 03-Nov-09 20:57:09

He was definitely at least as much in love with the house as with Caroline, wasn't he?

twoflakesanight Tue 03-Nov-09 20:57:56

And Kate Winslet too old! How depressing.
Yes, agree about JLMiller. I know you have to have big names tho' - maybe Ewan McGregor - he could be a bit creepy. And to stray from the point even further, I met my husband while watching that old BBC Woman In Black when I was 14! Fond memories... (we didn't get together until much later. I think it had gone midnight - boom boom).

Dr F - yes, in his eyes he was a decent chap. A lot of his unappealing motives/opinions were surely from his being a product of that time; the strictures of gender and the class system. Perhaps, too, we'd all be appalled to see how unlikeable our innermost thoughts and machinations were if they were laid bare on paper?

snice Tue 03-Nov-09 20:58:21

Oh and Sarah I also wanted to say that Fingersmith is the only book I have ever read where in the middle of reading I shot upright and shouted "NO!!!" before carrying on for another late night session. Anyone who has read it will know why!

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 20:58:32


I think perhaps we are in the grip of large and rapidly-changing historical forces right now - but maybe it always feels like that? One of the reasons I like looking back at the past is that you can get a bit of distance on it - a bit of perspective. The present can often seem a bit hard to get hold of.

Pluto Tue 03-Nov-09 20:58:37

blimey - no, I really do think he went shopping because he wanted things to be "right" for them - not just keeping up appearances - although if the book was set in 2009 I think I would agree with you.

blimey Tue 03-Nov-09 20:58:47

I have read and loved fingersmith and night watch. I liked this book less because Dr F is so out of touch with his feelings that he makes a slightly dull narrator. I still read the whole thing and was definitely more and more drawn in by what would happen.
So Sarah thank you so much for saying you like one of my comments - I think you are such a great writer! I guess ghost stories are just not my thing really.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 21:00:34


No prob, thanks for being honest! Sorry it didn't quite work for you. Funnily enough, the romance between Dr F and C took me by surprise - I hadn't planned it, it just seemed to happen by itself. (So there you are: I guess I don't plan everything...)

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 21:01:26


I couldn't possibly say.

twoflakesanight Tue 03-Nov-09 21:03:33

Children's historical fiction never seems to wane in popularity either.

There's something so cosy about hist. fiction. I have to say, I felt like I was slipping into a warm, rose scented bath reading the first couple of pages of TLS - that lovely feeling you have where you know you've got a really good read ahead of you... so rare. I went on to find the ambiguity a bit difficult too, though; I understood what you were doing, and that ultimately there are no clear-cut answers, but it can be hard reading a novel where one is constantly trying to make sense of the last bit and how it all fits in with what you know so far, only to find that there's no ultimate understanding to be had.

then again, it raised so many things to think about, and perhaps one should just relish the suspense and being frightened for its own sake - that was done so well.

Jammyolantern, I did enjoy the book but not as much as Fingersmith I must admit - you should try that one, full of twists and turns in the plot.

I can see why it was left ambiguous in the end - I had guessed at all sorts behind the haunting - I had suspected each of the main characters as being behind it by the end. Initially I thought it was Caroline because of all the upset with Gyp and even Dr F suspects this doesn't he?

I agree with Sarah - I saw Dr F as a bit misguided and aspirational but not really 'bad' - I only began to see that later in the book when he was losing it.

Sarah, can you tell us who Caroline saw when she said 'You' on that fateful night?

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 21:04:15


I think a lot of women came out of the war with a new sort of confidence and purpose; but lots went home and felt trapped and dulled by domesticity. Caroline, too, feels the pull of the estate - is needed there to help run it, and to help look after Rod.

Pluto Tue 03-Nov-09 21:04:24

Can you tell us a bit about your time at the Hedgebrook women writers' group and how this formed your start on The Little Stranger.

bran Tue 03-Nov-09 21:04:37

Dr F should be played by Ben Miller (of Armstrong and Miller), and Caroline should be the woman who played Daisy on Spaced (would she be too old/not posh enough?).

carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 03-Nov-09 21:05:24

Oh no... battery dying and have left charger at work. Will have to catch up tomorrow. Thanks so much Sarah fantastic to have you on and really looking forward to the next book. Carry on everyone

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 21:06:04


The 'you' issue: I'd rather leave that ambiguous...

twoflakesanight Tue 03-Nov-09 21:06:39

Anyway, on balance I liked TLS less than FSmith & Tipping the Velvet, then Night Watch but still thoroughly ebnjoyed it; bought the hardback as soon as I saw it (a great extravagance) and will do your next book, so thank you Sarah - the last hour's been a real pleasure. xxx

TBMOM Tue 03-Nov-09 21:07:49

It was, it was. I sure of it! grin

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 21:08:15


I spent a month at Hedgebrook, right in the middle of writing the book. It was there that I started to see the romance potential between Dr F and C (I wrote the 'dance' chapter) - so maybe it was being away from home that pushed the book in a slightly unexpected direction. The retreat was great - Hedgebrook is a very nurturing place.

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 21:09:39


Thank you! And thanks to everyone here - it's been great. Are there any questions I didn't manage to answer?

JaceyBee Tue 03-Nov-09 21:10:12

I also warmed to the Ayreses more than I thought I would. At first I had little sympathy that they couldn't afford staff any more, boo hoo, and that the world they knew was changing beyond all recognition.

I think the fact that Caroline was such a strong and resilient female character helped me to empathise with her but then all your books seem to feature women with similar traits.

I think that's about all we have time for... Sarah, you are undoubtedly one of the best webchat authors we have ever had, thank you for answering so many questions with such energy and thoughtfulness.

Congratulations on all your brilliant books, and good luck for the next. Please come back and tell us about it in 3 years.

Pluto Tue 03-Nov-09 21:13:54

Thank you Sarah. Off to borrow the rest of your books from my mum now.

BellaBonJovi Tue 03-Nov-09 21:14:27

Thanks ever so much, Sarah.

Good luck with the next book wink

blimey Tue 03-Nov-09 21:16:06

thanks very much Sarah!

SarahWaters Tue 03-Nov-09 21:17:51

Thank you! Good night.

bran Tue 03-Nov-09 21:18:58

Thank you, it's lovely get an insight into an author's mind. smile

Thanks everyone for a really excellent chat - please keep going if you want to carry on discussing.

And just to add, November's choice is now ready and waiting for your vote. Polls close next Tuesday 10 November.

elkiedee Wed 04-Nov-09 11:43:09

Thanks to MN, Sarah and everyone who posted questions, it's been an interesting read.

I was lucky in that I just happened to spot a copy in my local library 2/3 months ago, and I was even able to renew it once so I could finish reading (which you can't do if there's reservations, fairly enough).

3 years seems a long time to wait but I haven't actually read Affinity yet, so I'll have to do that.

lovechoc Sat 21-Nov-09 12:55:57

Finally finished October's book! Really enjoyed the story, even though it's not a book I'd normally go for. Hope to read more Sarah Waters books in the future!

angelberg Sun 24-Jan-10 17:26:51

Re. costly books... Try ordering from They usually have books at reasonable prices, postage is free and they have a gerat second hand service!

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