Small talk: Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall wrote poetry before publishing her debut novel Haweswater (2002), which won a Commonwealth Writers Prize. Her second novel, The Electric Michelangelo, was shortlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize. Hall was born in Carlisle in 1974. After graduating in English and history of art, she studied creative writing at the University of St Andrews. She now lives in Norwich.

Who is your perfect reader?

I don’t know if I have one. You always hope you’ll surprise somebody with the work. If you write something human and appealing, the perfect reader could be anyone.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Pack Men by Alan Bissett. It’s about football and it looks at dark male psychology with a redeeming eye.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell; Burning the Days by James Salter; Tiffany Atkinson’s poetry collection Kink and Particle, and a new novel by Chris Burns called A Division of the Light.

What book changed your life?

Various books revolutionised what I think about novels and showed me that they’re not strict, formulaic things. Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje was one of them.

Where do you write best?

I’m nomadic. I wander around the house and write in bed, at the kitchen table, by the window, in the yard.

What do you snack on while you write?

I don’t – I starve when I’m writing. Then I leave the computer and gorge myself.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Possibly Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird for her feral element and inquisitive nature.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Jack the Ripper. Then we’d know who it was and I could do the big reveal afterwards.

When do you feel most free?

Outdoors in the Lake District, walking in the mountains or swimming in waterfalls.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

An Egon Schiele – just to upset people when they walk in.

What book do you wish you’d written?

Light Years by James Salter. It’s a portrait of a marriage breakdown – really challenging but so beautiful.

What are you most proud of writing?

My short stories. They’re a different aesthetic – art reduced into something more pure.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I’d walk up a mountain every day to check weather equipment readings. I’m not sure there’s much money in it though.

What does it mean to be a writer?

It’s a joy that you’re trying to give to other people too.

Sarah Hall’s latest book is ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ (Faber)

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