Sarah Waters Writing Tips and Best Books by Young Authors

Posted on 3rd November 2015 by Sarah Waters
The Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist is announced on Sunday and in the run up, we have asked previous years' winners to share writing tips and favourite texts by young authors.

Sarah Waters won the award in 2000 for Affinity; she is also a 2015 judge.

Writing Tips:

1. While you’re writing, read like mad – but read analytically. You will never be able to put a book together without an understanding of how other books work. I suspect that this is more a matter of instinct than anything else – but you can nurture that instinct by looking at other texts and thinking, ‘What’s successful here? What’s failing? And why?’

2. Don’t write for the market. Clue yourself up about what’s out there and what sells – and then forget it. The best novels are written with passion, not calculation. Your writing has to come from your heart, not from your desire to the Next Big Thing.

3. When you submit to an agent, be professional about it. Do your research: there’s a lot of advice available online, for example, about writing synopses and covering letters. Approach agents whose lists are a good match with your work. And don’t be squeamish or apologetic! Agents need books to survive, as do publishers. There is no reason why they shouldn’t want yours.

Best Books by Young Authors:

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Mary Shelley was just twenty when she published this gothic masterpiece in 1818. It would prove to have an extraordinary impact on high and popular culture, tapping into enduring anxieties about life, death and science.

2. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West - West began causing a splash with her journalism whilst still a teenager in the 1910s; by the 1940s she would be hailed as ‘the world’s number one woman writer’. This novel - her first, published in 1918 – is a slim but powerful meditation on the corrosive effects of militarism and snobbery.

3. The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith - Highsmith published four novels by the age of thirty-five, including the sublime lesbian classic The Price of Salt (later reissued as Carol). But my favourite of her books is this one, the first of the series of thrillers starring the worryingly likeable psychopath Tom Ripley.

4. A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro - Loss, grief, frustration, unreliable narration: all the trademarks of Ishiguro’s fiction are in place in this brilliantly unsettling first novel, published while its author was still in his twenties.

5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt - Tartt’s debut is still my favourite of her novels: an engrossing, fantastically entertaining study of murder and guilt set among a group of Classics students at an elite American college.


Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966. She has a Ph.D. in English Literature and has been an associate lecturer with the Open University. She has written six novels: Tipping the Velvet (1998), which won the Betty Trask Award; Affinity (1999), which won the Somerset Maugham Award, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday / John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; Fingersmith (2002), which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, and won the South Bank Show Award for Literature and the CWA Historical Dagger; The Night Watch (2006), which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize; The Little Stranger (2009), which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the South Bank Show Literature Award; and The Paying Guests (2014), which was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.



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