Have you ever been so inspired by an author’s work that you wish you could tell them exactly how much they have impacted your life? In our new series, Literary Love Letters, we will be doing just that – sharing open love letters to inspiring authors. Today, Vigilante author Shelley Harris writes to Sarah Waters.
We have met before: once, and only briefly. You may remember me as the person who was so thrown by being in your presence that she warmly recommended a novel called Miss Bunce’s Book by Robert Louis Stevenson. You seemed perplexed, but took it in your stride.
Or you may remember me as the person who … I can barely bring myself to write it … who curtsied to you when she said goodbye.
There are a couple of things I want to say about this incident. The first is that the wonderful novel I tried to recommend is Miss Buncle’s Book. It was written by D E Stevenson (in 1934, a good forty years after R L Stevenson put down his pen for the last time). The second is that I’m still mortified by the curtseying thing, but I did it as a kind of reflex because of how totally bloody fantastic I think you are. This is my chance to tell you why.
I was sent to hospital once, on very short notice (literally from the GP’s surgery straight into hospital). When I called my husband, I asked him to bring me two things: my toothbrush and my copy of Fingersmith. That hospital stay wasn’t brilliant, but it was bearable because Fingersmith took me far away from where I was. I’m a worrier, and it helped me forget my worries. For that alone, I would curtsey.
But I’m also a writer, and what I aspire to do in my own work is what you do in every single novel you produce: to ally beautiful writing with an utterly gripping story. You don’t compromise on a single thing: not the intimacy we have with the characters, not the clarity of the prose, not the relentless drive of the plot.
I love that you keep yourself to yourself and just get on and do the work. I love that you don’t indulge in literary blah blah, but let the books talk instead. And – on a more personal note – I love that you were very classy that time when a newbie writer actually curtsied to you.