A Candid Interview With Sarah Winman

By Holly Cara Farr

On a grey Sunday afternoon, people crowd into a cosy marquee tent to hear actress and author Sarah Winman’s interview about her new book, Tin Man. Her interviewers, James Naughtie and Patrick Gale, are eager to hear about it.

Jumping straight in, James opens with a comment that the book ‘reads like it could only be written by a man,’ followed by gasps from the audience. Sarah, finding this amusing, says “well thank you,” and takes it as a compliment. Despite a focus on the male characters in the book, Ellis’s wife, Annie, is ‘the catalyst’ and ‘most important character in the book.’ She encourages Ellis to find Michael, a man he had an affair with when he was younger.

Sarah reads from a part of the book where Michael has a fling with a younger man and the audience falls silent, captivated by her reading as she brings the story to life. It is evident Sarah has a fondness for the story and characters within. Brief comedic moments throughout the passage give it a light-hearted feel and garner laughter from the audience. When she finishes, applause fills the tent.

James then asks about the tone of the book; Sarah comments, ‘The book is about time, and letting go of things… Ellis has to accept the loss of time.’ When asked how she would describe Ellis at the end of the book, she says, ‘He understood Michael’s loneliness, so maybe his is more acceptable now.’

The tone of the talk becomes more philosophical; as important life lessons are brought up, Sarah shares a nugget of wisdom with the audience. ‘I think people can handle things, so it’s quite an optimistic story. As humans, we look for those chinks of light and we grasp them.’

When the time comes for the audience questions, Sarah talks candidly about her influences and inspiration for Tin Man and for her other books. She touches on the less spoken about problems of the past, everything from married life after war to the HIV epidemic of the eighties, which played a big part in her character Michael’s life. She goes on to talk of the importance of educating the younger people: ‘there is a generation who don’t know this story. Nobody knows what they went through.’ Her compassion for the very real problems facing the world both in the past and today comes across not only in her work, but in her message to the audience: ‘it is important for young people to understand history, and the patterns in history.’

One audience member at the back asks, ‘I was wondering if you ever feel words are not enough?’ Sarah jokes, “Well, they have to be,” to which the audience laughs. She pauses for a moment, then replies, “Nothing is happening, and yet everything is happening, that’s why I just write “silence.”’

After countless questions, the audience is seemingly satisfied with her answers. Sarah leaves the tent to go to her book signing, and one comment she says sticks in my mind, as it will in many other’s: ‘doors open, as long as you follow instinctively.’

Sarah’s new novel, Tin Man, is available in stores now.