‘I need to find, either within myself or elsewhere, enough information to feel I can place myself there, mentally’ – Katherine Woodfine interviews Sadie Jones, author of The Outcast & Small Wars
With a brace of awards and the helpful hand of Richard & Judy behind her debut novel, The Outcast, Sadie Jones didn’t have to worry overly about the ‘dreaded second novel’ syndrome when she came to write her follow-up, Small Wars… Katherine Woodfine asks the questions…
Katherine Woodfine (KW): You worked as a scriptwriter before becoming a novelist. How do you feel your experience writing for the screen has affected your writing for the page?
Sadie Jones (SJ): It was an apprenticeship in storytelling. I spent many years discovering my own strengths and weaknesses. In screenwriting the skeleton of the story is absolutely exposed; there’s no prose to distract people, you’ve nowhere to hide. In writing The Outcast and Small Wars the prose was the flesh, muscle, skin, eye-colour, smell – but it was laid upon the skeleton of the story. I tried to make the skeleton as soundly as I could, first.
KW: Do you feel the runaway success of The Outcast has affected you as a writer? How did this impact upon the writing of Small Wars?
SJ: The success I had with The Outcast gave me a confidence; I started Small Wars with a certain level of self-belief. I decided early on not to be sabotaged by ‘second novel syndrome’ and I determinedly didn’t think about what the reaction to the book might be. The book demanded to be written, and I needed to do my best with it. It was a very tough book to write, in many ways, and dwelling on comparisons would have been very unhelpful.
KW: Both The Outcast and Small Wars share a 1950s setting. What is it that draws you to write about this period in particular?
SJ: I wasn’t going to set another book in the 1950s; I didn’t want to be ‘that ‘50s writer’, but when I came across the Cyprus Emergency I had no choice. The Outcast was a 50s story in quite a different way to Small Wars. The Outcast was a ‘1950s Outsider Story’ – it was a genre tale, it was cinematic in its conception. Small Wars had quite a different flavour, but I was using the 50s in the same way in both: as a canvas on which to set universal stories.
KW: Small Wars is set in Cyprus, and deals with one of the 20th century’s lesser-known conflicts. What interested you about the situation in Cyprus and why did you choose this particular “small war” as the focus for your novel?
SJ: The first thing that struck me about Cyprus was its physical similarity to Afghanistan. On finding out more about it, I found that the logistics of the soldiering were similar too. The soldiers are building relationships with local people one minute and raiding their homes the next. I wanted to tell a story about how the things that soldiers are compelled to do effect them – and their families’ – emotional well-being. Cyprus was the ideal place to do it.
KW: Both your novels are characterised by meticulous attention to detail. Can you tell me a little about how you go about the process of researching your novels, and how this shapes and informs your writing?
SJ: I researched Cyprus and the military for six months before starting writing and then on and off throughout the process – about another two years. With The Outcast, the world came very easily to life in my imagination and the research was limited to detail – girdles and car models. With Cyprus I had to build the world from the ground up, because I didn’t know anything about it before I began. I approach factual research much as I approach psychological and emotional research: I need to find, either within myself or elsewhere, enough information to feel I can place myself there, mentally. The writing process then is about describing what I already know to be true.
KW: Your work has been compared to that of writers ranging from JD Salinger to Camus to Richard Yates; but which authors do you look to when you are in search of inspiration?
SJ: I try not to think about other writers when I work – particularly not the great ones! Writing is tough enough, without a ghostly hoard of demi-gods at one’s back. All of those you mention are amongst my heroes.
Small Wars by Sadie Jones is out now!
About this entry
You’re currently reading “‘I need to find, either within myself or elsewhere, enough information to feel I can place myself there, mentally’ – Katherine Woodfine interviews Sadie Jones, author of The Outcast & Small Wars,” an entry on Bookmunch
- October 20, 2009 / 1:13 pm