Page last updated at 09:18 GMT, Sunday, 31 May 2009 10:18 UK

Author's promise to gay readers

Keeley Hawes as Kitty Butler and Rachael Stirling as Nan Astley
Tipping the Velvet was a televised into a three part drame

Tipping the Velvet author Sarah Waters has promised she has not abandoned her gay readership in her latest novel The Little Stranger.

The work, set in the 1940s, is the first of her novels not to contain any openly gay characters.

But Waters, who grew up in Pembrokeshire, told an audience at the Hay Literary Festival, that she was horrified by the thought that she was ready to abandon gay characters "just to get a few more readers".

She insisted that her latest work which investigates middle class Britain after World War II was not a "lesbian story" and it would have been "tokenistic" to have put gay characters in it.

However, she said The Little Stranger, which is a ghost story, is not without some romantic interest, between the daughter of the struggling aristocratic family at the centre of the novel and the novel's narrator.

Waters said she wanted Caroline, the daughter "with thick ankles and a bad dress sense" to be a traditional woman but she might just be a "nascent lesbian".

'Nice continuity'

The novelist outlined the painstaking research she had put into The Little Stranger describing her and her partner's visits to National Trust and privately-owned large country homes.

She described the joy she gets from her research - the novel which became the televised Tipping The Velvet grew out of her academic research.

And, for her latest work, she described how at the end of a day of research she would immerse herself in a 1940s novel or watch a period film to relax.

Questioned by a member of the audience about students now studying her work, Waters admitted that it was "amazing... I keep saying don't waste your time".

But she admitted there was a "nice continuity" in that because she had started her own writing career though her academic writing.

"It's almost seamless for me," she said.

While her works have moved from the Victorian era into wartime and post war Britain, Waters also admitted she was not yet ready to write a contemporary novel, although maybe she would be one day.

And there was a big surprise for her as she was questioned by a member of the audience by a school contemporary at Milford Haven about the influence of her English teacher on her career.

She paid tribute to the school and said her English and art teachers had been a "great inspiration".

Meanwhile Brick Lane author Monica Ali spoke of year-long research for her new novel In The Kitchen. The main character is a chef with a multi-national staff, whose life unravels, and she spent time in five large hotels in London.

"Hotels are a microcosm of the world, from the penthouse at the top to porters sorting through rubbish at the bottom, and everything in between," she said.

"The hardest thing was getting in there - there were negotiations, you have to build up trust."



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