Hannah interviews: SJ Watson

23rd August 2023
Hannah interviews: SJ Watson

Library Assistant Hannah is passionate about books and reading. In the fifth of our blog series, Hannah chats to writer SJ Watson. Watson is an English writer whose debut novel Before I Go To Sleep became an international success and has now sold over 6,000,000 copies worldwide. It won the Crime Writers’ Association Award for Best Debut Novel and has been translated into more than 40 languages.

Watson’s latest novel Final Cut is a psychological thriller. Blackwood Bay - an ordinary place, home to ordinary people. It used to be a buzzing seaside destination. But now, ravaged by the effects of dwindling tourism and economic downturn, it's a ghost town - and the perfect place for film-maker Alex to shoot her new documentary.

But the community is deeply suspicious of her intentions. After all, nothing exciting ever happens in Blackwood Bay - or does it? Blackwood Bay. An ordinary place, home to an extraordinary secret.


Hannah: Your award-winning debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep was adapted into a film with an all-star cast. How does it feel to have your work adapted to film? Did you enjoy the film?

SJ: It was an amazing, inspiring, exciting time! I made the decision not to be involved as I wanted to allow the director and producer free reign to do what they wanted to do with the material and make their own film. I see the film very much as a cover version, and I was excited by the changes they made. I think they brought something new and different to the story and found an exciting way to tell it through the medium of film. I love the film, yes. I think everyone involved was fantastic, and Nicole Kidman in particular. She’s quite a phenomenal actor!


Which is your favourite book that you’ve written?

My next one! It’s always the book I’m working on, as I’m always trying to push to write better books, and I’m always most excited about the project I’ve got on the go at any given time, or the one I’m planning next. As far as the books I’ve published, I like them all for different reasons. I think Final Cut is my most accomplished in terms of characters and having satisfying twists. Second Life was a conscious decision to bring some different colours and textures into my work and is much more expansive than Before I Go to Sleep, but that book is the first, it’s the one that kicked everything off and completely changed my life, so I love that too.


Is there a lot of research involved when you write?

Not that much compared to some authors I know. My guiding principle is that anything scientific or technical should be researched enough to be believable to the average reader. I don’t mind if an expert in personality disorders tells me one of my characters wouldn’t quite behave like that, as long as the reader can believe they might. That said, I do like to get things right, so there’s a lot of online research.


Do your characters stay with you after you finish writing?

Some have. Christine in particular (from Before I Go to Sleep). She feels like an old friend I never hear from. I hope she’s okay…


Are you working on anything at the moment?

Yes, three books. I’m editing one, writing another, and planning a third. I’ve just come out of a rather difficult time in my life, and I emerged to find all these projects stacked up on the runway. So here we are!


Which writers inspire you?

Loads. I love Margaret Atwood in terms of the power of her writing and her ideas. Daphne du Maurier, and Rebecca in particular. I love Shirley Jackson and aspire to write something as dark and gothic as that. But almost every book I read inspires me in some way. 


Have you ever had writer’s block?

Not really. Some days the words don’t flow, but I try to understand why. Usually, it’s the work trying to tell you something. Writing a book is more like riding a horse than a bike. The work has a mind of its own and you’d best pay attention to what it’s trying to say!


Do you have a library card?

I support libraries one hundred percent. I have so many unread books lying around I certainly don’t need to go to the library to borrow more and am lucky enough that I can afford to buy any I need. I do have a library card for research, though, and I will occasionally work in the library when I’m tired of my office space.


In March last year you launched The Writers’ Lodge. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I think writing, for a debut or aspiring novelist in particular, can be very lonely. I wanted to create a space where I could share some of the things I’ve learned over the years, but also make it a space where writers can come together and support each other. We’ve got quite a few people on there now, and it’s a nice place to go and get some support or ideas of how to move your way forward. You can take a look at https://sjwatson.substack.com/s/the-writers-lodge


What advice would you give to any budding writers?

Don’t do it! However, if you hear that and think ‘I’m going to anyway’ then maybe you have what it takes. You have to write despite all the voices telling you it’s a bad idea. But, on a more practical level, I’d say ‘Write as much as you can, and read as much as you can’. You can only learn to write by practicing it. Other people can give you hints and tips, but you need to get out there and make mistakes and learn from them. So… get writing!


You can borrow books by S.J Watson from the Library here.