Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sarah Hall: ‘I love writing about sex, the civil veneer stripped off’

The books interview: the author of The Electric Michelangelo talks about her new book, The Wolf Border, how motherhood has affected her work and why avoiding politics in fiction is juvenile

Sarah Hall at home in Norwich.
Sarah Hall at home in Norwich. Photograph: Si Barber for the Guardian
Want to know what it takes for a literary author to become a household name? Ask Hilary Mantel. Never mind the three decades-worth of praise and prizes she garnered for her pre-Wolf Hall output, it wasn’t until she tackled the Tudors that she made the step-change. These days, of course, she’s Dame Hilary, universally revered – but not so very long ago she was writing in relative obscurity, vigorously championed by her supporters, but little known by the wider public.

Four novels and one short-story collection into her career, Sarah Hall finds herself in a similar position. On the back of her fifth novel, out this month, her publisher, Faber, lists her achievements in bold. “Winner”, it declares, simply: “Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. BBC National Short Story Award. Portico Prize for Fiction. John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. EM Forster Award.” It’s an exceptional record for a novelist only just entering her 40s – and that’s without her inclusion in the Granta list of best young British novelists and her numerous short- and longlistings: for the Man Booker (twice), the Impac, the Frank O’Connor prize, the Arthur C Clarke award. But despite the laurels, the eulogies (“the best British writer around right now”, according to Foyles’s Jonathan Ruppin) and glowing comparisons to the likes of Raymond Carver and Alice Munro, the odd sense lingers of Hall as a well-kept secret. If you’re currently revelling in your membership of the initiate, however, be warned: her new novel looks set to blow the lid off. “Honestly,” says Hall, “I think it’s the best thing I’ve done. Everything I’ve learned about writing over the years, it’s in this book.”

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