Today we are joined by a bestselling author whose work has been made into a feature film starring Colin Firth & Nicole Kidman – the brilliant SJ Watson. Watson is sharing his excellent & gripping new read, Final Cut which explores an unravelling of stories & secrets in the English village of Blackwood Bay. In this chat, we discuss Watson’s past career as a clinical scientist & his journey to becoming an acclaimed writer. We explore his experience with achieving great success, his artistic process & how the scientist within translates in his work. We also share Watson’s time at the Faber writing course, which has alumni of many of our featured writers at The Great Big Book Club, so if you’re an aspiring novelist, this is a chat you won’t want to miss.
The book opens with a vignette of a girl running away from unknown forces. The book then flashes forward to a documentary filmmaker called Alex who is following up her previous film with a new piece. This new film sets out to share the stories of ordinary people who live a regular life in a village. Alex wants to make the film with footage that is created by the people themselves. As Alex is looking, her producer receives a mysterious postcard from an anonymous person persuading her to head to a village called Blackwood Bay. After a mysterious suicide for a girl & a missing young woman in the town of Blackwood Bay, Alex realised she has a little more ties to the village of Blackwood Bay then what she initially suspected.
In this chat we discuss:
- SJ Watson on his need to understand the ‘psychology’ of his characters – even the antihero or antagonist: “I’ve always been very interested in psychology … I do physics at university & used to work as a clinical scientist… I’m very restless unless I can give a person a reason for their behaviour.”
- Steve on writing as a woman with a female voice. “All my books have been narrated by female characters. It was never a conscious decision…”
- “I was fascinated by the way the brain protects itself in shutting it down & shutting things out” says Watson on writing about child abuse. “I read a lot of books, watched a lot of documentaries & read a lot of articles on the internet. It was a very sobering thing to read about.” “I actually had to tone things down a little bit… if I had included everything I read, it would have been horrific.”
- “Any author in a sense is a bit of a vampire” says Watson on second & third hand research, “stealing” peoples stories & experiences & rewriting it on pages.
- Watson on writing plots for thrillers then & now. “I had the take off point & the destination in mind… & then I kind of winged it for everything in between the two.”
- Watson on his own frightening experiences stalling the car in late nights on old country roads.
- SJ Watson on the feeling of ‘overwhelm’ which came from the success of his debut novel: “It was a strange change… everything in my life changed already.” The book was then made into a film produced by Ridley Scott starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong & Anne Marie Duff.
- Watson on the surreal experience being behind the scenes on the film set for Before I Go To Sleep: “To be there & be watching Colin Firth & Nicole Kidman anyway would be weird. But watching them play & them inhabit characters that I’d invented – that’d started off in my brain was just the weirdest thing. It was very, very odd.”
- Bouncing back & the ‘second album syndrome’. “It’s a luxury problem to have… but yeah it was difficult.”
- Watson as his time as a pediatric audiologist at the start of his career.
- Watson on his transition to writing from being a scientist. “I saw an advert for the Faber course…. had to submit a thousand words & short-ish letter saying why I wanted to do it & the rest is history.”
- The Faber Course & the success & failures of writers who participated in the course. “One of the biggest things that I got out of it was for the first time in my life I was around people who felt the same way I did about writing. My ambitions & my goals felt like something I shouldn’t hide for the first time.” says Watson.
- What’s next for Watson… upcoming books & plans for the future.