Bookish Birthdays: Sarah Waters

20th Jul 2012


Sarah Waters was born in Pembrokeshire in 1966.  Unlike many of previously featured authors, Waters describes her childhood as “pretty idyllic, very safe and nurturing.”

While she wrote during her childhood, Waters has stated that she never felt that writing would be a possible career move. When talking about her ambitions as a child, she has said:

“I don’t know if I thought about it much, really. I know that, for a long time, I wanted to be an archaeologist – like lots of kids. And I think I knew I was headed for university, even though no one else in my family had been. I really enjoyed learning. I remember my mother telling me that I might one day go to university and write a thesis, and explaining what a thesis was; and it seemed a very exciting prospect. I was clearly a bit of a nerd.”

Her passion for learning is reflected in her many qualifications. She earned her undergraduate degree in English literature from the University of Kent, and went on to study her MA at Lancaster University, and her PhD from the University of London.

Her love of Victorian literature was clear from her PhD thesis, entitled Wolfskins and togas: lesbian and gay historical fiction, 1870 to the present.

Before her career as a full time successful writer, Waters worked as a full time academic and teacher. She gained the idea for her first novel whilst studying for her thesis and began writing her novel once the thesis was complete.

Incredibly popular amongst the For Books’ Sake editorial team, ask us about our favourite authors and you’ll be sure to find Waters name popping up amongst the most popular.

Perhaps this is to do with the richness of her writing; people and places in her novels are vividly drawn right down to the last detail. Drawing upon a habit that started from childhood, Waters has stated how much she enjoys the intensive research process for her books.

Her knowledge even stretches to the titles: Tipping the Velvet, her 1998 début novel, comes from a Victorian slang term for cunnilingus.

Her popularity may also be attributed from being one of the few lesbian writers that has gained mass popularity and who embraces the label, something many authors are said to resent.

She has said that she writes with a clear lesbian agenda and enjoys writing lesbian characters during periods of time that are dominated by heterosexual history.

But she also claims that on balance her lesbian protagonists are generally “incidental” due to her own sexual orientation: “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 just sort of there in your life.”

Waters could be described as your typical over-achiever; alongside her huge academic success, she has won awards for all five of her novels, as well as winning Writer of the Year in several different award ceremonies.

Fans of Waters will not have to wait long for their next fix; her next book is due to be finished by the end of the year. She has said of her next novel:

“I did kind of miss lesbians when I did The Little Stranger. I was ready to return! I was looking for a 1920s lesbian story and I’ve settled on a romance – lots of drama and complications, so definitely some lesbians this time.”

We’re already counting down until we get to read it, but in the meantime – happy birthday for tomorrow, Sarah Waters! And if you missed it last time it was on, you can celebrate with a repeat of the BBC adaptation of The Night Watch, next week on BBC2.

Which is your favourite Waters novel? What do you most admire about her?

Gina Kershaw

(Image by Rebecca Bruce, from World Book Night 2011)


  • Libby says:

    Great news about Waters’ new book. My favourite is Fingersmith – I love all the plot twists and turns and the descriptions of cheeky WINKS. What could be better?