Sarah Hall on Creating Female Characters with Agency
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Sarah Hall is the guest. Her new novel, Burntcoat, is out now from Custom House.
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From the episode:
Brad Listi: So Edith Harkness is the protagonist of this book. And as you’ve alluded to, she’s an artist, she’s a sculptor. She is held in high regard. She’s commissioned by the nation to make the the Nova Virus memorial. So high profile insofar as a visual artist or a sculptor goes. The kind of person who gets big commissions and gets paid well to do her work and is known, at least to some degree. I’m curious to know how she came to be in your mind. Do you have an interest in sculpture? Do you have any training or education in that realm? Or was this something that you just had a fascination with and took on as a research project?
Sarah Hall: I have a degree in art history. It’s probably a little bit of wish fulfillment creating another artist—I’ve done this before—because I wish I was practically artful. I’m not. I’m hopefully artful on the page. But I can’t paint, I can’t draw, I can’t really make stuff. I wish I could. But I am interested in the history of art and I’ve studied it. I’m aware of the areas where it’s been very tough for women to take up space and make a name for themselves, and land art is is one of those areas.
So it was important to me, it’s always been important to me, to create female characters that are agents, that are capable, that are history makers. They’re not the wives and daughters of the history makers. They’re in their own right agents in their lives, in their professions and their craft. So it was quite exciting to me to think of Edith as a successful sculptor in a field where it’s been very hard for women to, as I say, take up space. And I love the fact that her sculptures were really taking up space. She makes these huge burnt wood creations, often quite provocative. And some of them are based on big public art that we have in this country with a few little tweaks, the kind of feminist version of it. So yes, I do have that background, but I’m not an artist.
Sarah Hall was born in Cumbria. She is the prizewinning author of six novels and three short story collections. She is a recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters E. M. Forster Award, Edge Hill Short Story Prize, among others, and the only person ever to win the BBC National Short Story Award twice.