Sebastian Faulks, award-winning author of Charlotte Grey and Birdsong, speaks to Stylist about apossiblelife.com, a digital campaign that celebrates the launch of his latest book by charting human emotion via Twitter hashtags...
Your new novel A Possible Life weaves several different stories across different decades together: what inspired you to take this format and was it difficult to maintain?
I used this structure because it best articulates the main theme: the question of human individuality – whether the idea of a ‘self’ is a fiction, whether we are satisfactorily distinguished one from another and if death is as final as it seems. It was quite easy to stick to the plan, though I worked a lot at the individual parts and on deciding which order to put them in.
You often draw from the past in your works: how do go about recreating the colour and detail of a particular era (e.g. wartime France) and is there any reason why you’re attracted to the past rather than present/future?
My early books were really asking the question: who are we and how did we end up where we are? So naturally you have to find your answer in the past. The detail is drawn from research, from visits, books, films and so on, but mostly it is invented. That’s my job!
The most tweeted emotion is likely to be love, followed by irritation or disgust
Your Twitter project (apossiblelife.com) uses modern technology to chart various human emotions in a live barometer. What do you make of Twitter as a tool of communication – would it have been popular in the past if it was available, do you think?
As book sales are increasingly electronic, via Kindle etc., online visibility and chatter, which is often driven by Twitter, becomes important. I’m sure Twitter would have been popular in the past too. Richard III would certainly have tweeted “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” Or Marie Antoniette: “Let them eat cake then.” The response might have been better too.
Do you think it will be possible for people to express their genuine emotions over Twitter and what do you anticipate the most tweeted emotion to be?
I think you can certainly express emotions in few words. Think of poetry or a haiku. I think the most tweeted emotion is likely to be love, followed by irritation or disgust.
What do you think the significance of knowing you are sharing emotions or experiences with others to be?
In my experience you don’t reap the rewards of sharing things until you meet the person face to face. But it may be different for seasoned tweeters.
Writer's block is God’s way of telling you to shut up
What are your writing routines – do you have anything you do to overcome writer’s block or do you write a set amount of words per day?
When I am writing a book I work from ten till six every day in a small office near my house. I never write less than a thousand words a day. Writers Block is God’s way of telling you to shut up. More people should have it…
A lot of our readers want to be writers. What are your top tips for writing a great novel and getting it published?
Top tip is: Write about what you DON’T know. Research, invent. Write about people of other ages, sexes, nationalities and periods in history. Then find a book you think is similar to yours. Write to the author care of the publisher and find out who their agent is. Good luck.
What’s the difference between real and contrived or artificial emotion in fiction? How do go about creating emotion in the reader?
Real emotion comes from inside the reader. You are unaware that the author has been trying to make you feel something; in fact, you wonder whether the author is really aware of how sad, funny or inspiring this passage is. Artificial is when you feel your arm being twisted. Too many adverbs is a bad sign.
Have you started work on your next book yet and if so, what themes will it explore?
I will start in January, I think. I don’t yet know what it will be about, though I have some character thoughts. While my first books were about Who we are, my last few have been about What we are. I think there is more to say on this fascinating subject!
Author photo: Rex Features