Sarah Waters published her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, in 1998. The Paying Guests, the British author's sixth and most recent novel, concerns a household taking in new lodgers in London after the First World War.
Why did you write your new book?
To begin with: because people seemed to be expecting one, and I had to write something. But then my characters came to life for me, and I really wanted to do justice to their very turbulent story. I've ended up feeling fonder of The Paying Guests than of any of my other novels.
Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?
Rebecca West's, because of the richness and the rightness of her prose. Her novels have a leisurely pace, yet every word feels necessary, and every metaphor and simile are absolutely perfect.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
"It would be a miracle if you got it right first time." It's the re-writing that counts.
Which historical period do you wish you'd lived through, and why?
I wouldn't really want to have lived any time but now. But I wouldn't mind being a fly on the wall in a few Victorian parlours.
Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten, or legendary after death?
No contest: success while I can enjoy it. I never expected my books to do even as well as they have. I still feel grateful for it, every single day.
What agreed-upon classic do you despise?
Despise is a strong word. But I've never managed to get very far with Henry James.
Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?
Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde.
Which fictional character do you wish you were?
Someone completely fearless and rude. Maybe Susie in Curb Your Enthusiasm.
What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?
"What do you think your weaknesses are?" This might sound a bit self-defeating. But as a writer you spend a lot of time running up against your own limitations, and so you end up musing on them quite a lot. I think it's good to have a sense of them, along with your strengths.