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Sarah Waters: Of writing women and lesbian fiction

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Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters: Of writing women and lesbian fiction

Sarah WatersIt’s interesting to note that though the author Sarah Waters writes lesbian fiction, her fiction is also about lesbians as characters that are integral to the story.

But then again, Sarah is also a lesbian herself. As she once told After Ellen: “I’m writing with a clear lesbian agenda in the novels. It’s right there at the heart of the books.”

“And it’s both at the heart of the books and yet it’s also incidental, because that’s how it is in my life, and that’s how it is, really, for most lesbian and gay people, isn’t it? It’s sort of just there in your life,” she said.

This can also be seen in Korean Director Park Chan Wook’s movie The Handmaiden’s Tale, which was loosely based on Waters’ Victorian-era novel, Fingersmith.

Sarah Waters: Chronicler of our secret lives

Sarah studied lesbian and gay literature, before writing her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, a Victorian-era story that had a lesbian relationship among its characters.

From there, she wrote five more novels: four of them had lesbian relationships, while the fifth novel– The Little Stranger— had no overtly lesbian protagonists.

When asked about why her readers– both gay and straight– love her work, Sarah told The Independent: ““Maybe it’s because I pay attention to women’s history. To their secret history and lives, acknowledging meaning in their domestic lives.”

Sarah Waters: Still a romantic at heart

After Sarah wrote the non-lesbian book, The Little Stranger, she felt that she missed writing about lesbian relationships.

“I missed writing about love. Once I realized that, at its heart, I was writing a love story, I was very excited, because I have never really written a love story before,” she said about her last book, The Paying Guests.

Likewise, she said: “I had understood that the novel should be, in the truest sense, a love story– that it was about the negotiations that must be made by a passionate relationship as it braves the tangle of courage and cowardice, generosity and meanness, splendid ambition and awful misjudgment that constitutes ordinary life.”

Sarah Waters: Writing as a lesbian

With recognition from the mainstream, Sarah is happy about being recognized more than a gay writer– but is torn about it at times.

“I do feel cheered about it, but at the same time if I do an event where it doesn’t get mentioned, I think: “Hang on a minute, the book is about lesbian experience; this story could only happen in this particular way because the characters are involved in a lesbian relationship.” I’d hate that to get blurred or lost,” she told The Guardian.

However, though she doesn’t mind writing a novel set in the present day, she’s not sure if it would be a gay story.

“I live a lesbian life in the modern world– why would I want to write about it when I live it? It’s the bits I don’t know about that I want to explore,” she said.

For more about how Sarah’s novel, Fingersmith, was adapted into a Korean drama, check out the latest issue of Lesbian News for this month.

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