alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I started listening to Sarah Waters’ new book The Little Stranger on Friday last week, while I was doing reluctant battle with the rowing machine. Usually audiobooks are exercise-only entertainment.  This weekend I snuck in an extra chapter while toiling over the litter boxes (we have 5 cats – it takes a while) and tuned-in again while driving to work today (time usually reserved for off-key singalongs to ‘Deewangi Deewangi’ and other filmi classics.)

I’m on the 3rd disc of 13, and nothing has ‘happened’ in any great plot-forwarding sense. I could care less. I want constantly to go back there, to be there– ‘there’ being tumbledown Hundreds Hall in 1949 — with the doctor, and Caroline, and watch the wallpaper peel as the days go by.

This is supposedly a ghost story and I’ve been having fun looking for the tiniest crumbs of supernatural foreshadowing, which are both few and shy. There has been no apparition, no bad luck, not even a feeling of unease. If I weren’t pre-fixed with the notion of a haunting, I doubt I’d even catch them.

I usually don’t listen to authors I enjoy this much-I want to savor them on the page, but I came to Waters through audiobooks – first with The Night Watch, then Fingersmith, so I decided not to interrupt a good thing. I think I’d listen to Waters no matter what subject she writes about. She is a storyteller, in the old-fashioned way, like Trollope or Austen or Ursula LeGuin. It doesn’t matter what she’s saying, I just want her to go on saying it.

But don’t you like the UK cover better?

The Little Stranger UK cover

The Little Stranger UK cover

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What’s in a room?

I was critiquing a manuscript yesterday (Hi P&C!) in which a conversation takes place in a writer’s study. I thought there wasn’t enough physical description of this room, this mythical birthplace of creation. I looked around my own desk for examples of detail, and realized that a writers’ room is really rich with possibility — I write at a stained plywood desk from IKEA. The arm of my chair has fallen off twice and is held on with zip ties. The cushion is rank with cat hair. But somebody else might have antique rugs, or a desk their father wrote at, or a mania for pristine surfaces and zero tolerance for clutter.

Sarah Waters' (Fingersmith, The Night Watch) writing room

Writer's room: Sarah Waters (Fingersmith, The Night Watch)

Looking at the space where someone works in solitude, where they produce tangible worlds out of the rag bag of their subconscious, is ripe for voyeurism and salacious speculation. Hence, the Guardian’s incredibly gratifying series, Writer’s Rooms.

Some writers don’t have their own rooms, and claim not to want them. (Bizarro craziness if you ask me. How do  you find yesterday’s thought if you don’t know where you left it?) Most rooms have windows, but not all. Some are tidy, some are not.

Actual dirt is not a problem for me, but I need to have a magic circle of empty surfaces drawn around my immediate viewing area – I need to be able to see ahead. I get how views or busy streets could be distracting, but I think I’d die if I had to work in a poky closet without a single window. How can you imagine the world when all you can see is walls?

People is different. Amazing.