Alumni profile: Sarah Waters, BA (Hons) English and American Literature

  "Sarah Waters" by Charlie Hopkinson.

We spoke to English alumna Sarah Waters, to find out how Kent supported her career as a writer. She is currently writing her seventh novel.

What are you doing now?
I’m an author, currently hard at work on my seventh novel.

What attracted you to your course, and to Kent? 
My degree at Kent was in English and American Literature. I knew already, from school, that I liked English literature, but American writing wasn’t something I had much clue about; so I was interested in the idea of exploring that. I also visited the university for an open day, and found it friendly and welcoming. And I liked the feel of Canterbury – the history and charm of it.

Which aspects of your degree did you enjoy the most, and why?
I liked the range of the literature we studied at Kent – the fact that we looked at all sorts of genres, from all sorts of periods. It gave me a good literary grounding, a great sense of the way that literature in English has developed over the centuries.

How has your time at Kent helped you in your career so far?
I did well at Kent, which meant I was able to secure a grant to do some postgraduate study: I went from Kent to Lancaster, where I did an MA, and from there to London, where I did a PhD. The PhD left me with an itch to try writing fiction, and my first novel, Tipping the Velvet, was partly inspired by the time I’d spent living in Whitstable as a student. So there’s an absolutely direct line from my first degree at Kent to the career I’ve had as an author.

Are you still in touch with any of your friends from University?
One of the people I met in my very first week at Kent went on to become my first girlfriend, and more than thirty years later she is still one of my closest friends. Other friends I’ve lost touch with, but I still have very intense, happy memories of our time at the university together.

Could you describe a typical day in your current role?
I like to be at my desk by about 8:30am, and after that – since most of writing is really rewriting, plugging away at a novel section by section, trying to get each element absolutely right – it’s just a question of keeping going for as long as I can! If I can make it to 4pm, I’ll consider that a decent day of creative work. After that there’s always research reading to be done, or work emails to answer. I try, too, to go for a walk – which is a great way of clearing my head and shaking off the book for a while.

What are your future plans/aspirations?
My work aspirations are simply to keep writing, if I can. I love telling stories – I feel it’s what I was born to do. So I’d like to hold on to that excitement, and try to push each new novel into slightly new territory.

Are you currently working, or have you recently worked on any interesting projects that you would like to tell us a bit more about? 
I’m a slow writer, and a book usually takes me several years to write. The novel I’m writing now – set in the 1950s – has been about four years in the making, so far; but I feel I’m on the home stretch with it now! I’ve been completely immersed in it, so I’ve been living a bit of a hermit’s life recently. I shall be sorry to finish it, but I’m also looking forward to getting involved with something new.

What is your favourite memory of Kent?
I worked hard as a student, and have lots of great memories about the books I read for my degree. But my most intense memories are about Whitstable, where I lived in my second and third years. My student house was right on the beach at Seasalter: newly in love, my girlfriend and I would lie in bed and hear the sound of the waves, and the crunch, crunch of people’s feet on the pebbly beach. I feel really lucky to have lived there, especially at such a key time in my life.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of coming to Kent?
The university is a great place to study, and Kent itself is in a beautiful part of the country. So I’d say: go, and enjoy the work, enjoy the campus, and enjoy Canterbury, but get out and about a bit too. There are some lovely Kentish villages nearby, and some wonderfully quirky historic towns like Faversham, Broadstairs, Sandwich and Deal.

How would you describe your time at Kent in three words?
Creative, romantic, and fun.