Sarah Hall’s four novels have already shown her to be a writer of extraordinary talents, whether in the rough magic of The Carhullan Army, about female resistance in a near-future police state, or the passionate intertwined narratives of art and identity that make up the Booker-longlisted How to Paint a Dead Man. With her first short-story collection, her writing takes another leap forward, into a landscape entirely her own.
Monstrous events happen offstage over the course of these seven stories: beatings, maulings, suicide and abandonment. But their force is felt all the more powerfully through the measured precision of Hall’s prose, which is always grounded in the exact immediacy of everyday detail.
Summer with Monika is an honest and touching portrait of a romance, charting the progress of a love affair from the delicious intimacy of the honeymoon, with the milk bottles turning to cheese on the doorstep, through the stage of quarrels, jealousy, recriminations and boredom, to the point where love is as nice as a cup of tea in bed.Re-issued for its 50th anniversary, Summer with Monika is a hidden gem of British love poetry featuring beautiful illustrations from Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell. (Description from the Guardian Bookshop)
She began her second novel, she thinks, 10 years ago, but isn’t sure (“I don’t really remember; I mean, it’s so esoteric”) “the fiction just takes its time. It’s no hurry. I can’t write it faster or slower than I have; it’s like you’re a sedimentary rock that’s just gathering all these layers, and swimming around. The difference between the fiction and the non-fiction is simply the difference between urgency and eternity.
When Arundhati Roy completed her new novel, her first in 20 years, she told her literary agent, “I don’t want all this bidding and vulgarity, you know.” She wanted interested publishers to write her a letter instead, describing “how they understood” her book. She then convened a meeting with them. “OK,” her agent prompted afterwards. “You know what they think. You’ve met them. Now decide.”
“Oh no,” she told him. “Not yet. First I’ll have to consult.” He was puzzled. “You consult me, right?” “No, I have to consult these folks. You know, the folks in my book.” So the author and her agent sat together in silence while she asked the characters in her novel which publisher they liked the best. When Roy announced their choice, her agent pointed out that his bid was half what other publishers were offering. “Yes,” she shrugged. “But they like him.”
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Our book, The Night Visitors, is a horror novella told through an exchange of emails between two women who are investigating an unsolved murder. Gradually, the effects of their mutual obsession evolve into hallucinatory madness and the supernatural begins to intrude on their correspondence. There were two of us writing, and we each composed one side of the exchange, sending the emails to each other “in character”, then swapping sides after the first draft to edit. We like to think it was the joint folly of the writing process – a kind of spontaneous mutual insanity – that spawned a tale of possession, telepathy and bloodshed…
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