I agree with… Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters “I tend to write about houses quite a lot… I’m very interested in the dynamics of relationships [that occur] within houses and it seemed like a bit of a pressure cooker – bringing these two households together with their very different agendas in life and the class tensions between them, and adding this element of desire between the two women and seeing what happened.”
[interview in ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, June 13, 2014]

Sarah Waters

[photo: www.aestheticamagazine.com]

Waters is talking here about plotting her new book, The Paying Guests. It is set in London in 1922 and the house she refers to above is the villa in Champion Hill, Camberwell. Spinster Frances and her widowed mother Mrs Wray take in lodgers in order to make ends meet. From this, Waters spins her magic: a tale of class and sex.

The quote reminded me immediately of a new creative writing book by my former creative writing tutor, Shelley Weiner. In Writing Your First Novel: A 60-Minute Masterclass, Shelley describes the ‘desert island’ plot used by writers such as Thomas Mann [The Magic Mountain], Agatha Christie in numerous whodunits, William Golding [Lord of the Flies] and Daniel Defoe [Robinson Crusoe]. According to Shelley, Ann Patchett, author of Orange Prize winner Bel Canto, admits she has used the ‘desert island’ plot in just about everything she’s written.

The set-up seems straightforward. Simply mix together the following:-
A group of strangers;
A common predicament;
A confined location;
Individual desires and motivations.

The mix in The Paying Guests also includes class and sex. A potent mixture for a master storyteller such as Waters to explore.

To read more about Sarah Waters’ other novels, click here for her website.
To read more about Shelley Weiner’s thoughts on plotting and writing, click here.
To order Writing Your First Novel: A 60-Minute Masterclass by Shelley Weiner [Guardian Books] on Kindle, click here for Amazon.
Sarah Waters

If you agree with Sarah Waters, perhaps you will agree with:-
Joel Dicker – on killing secondary characters
Hilary Mantel – on the first time she read Jane Eyre
Lynn Barber – on not making your mind up too early what it’s about

‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters [UK: Virago]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Putting people together & seeing what happens: I agree with… Sarah Waters #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-16S via @SandraDanby


  1. I do love a ‘desert island’ plot Sandra – there’s something so evocative about putting people together in a confined location, particularly if it’s a very atmospheric one.