Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sarah Haywood

Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. She studied Law at Kent University and Chester College of Law, then worked as a trainee solicitor in London.

After qualification, she moved to Liverpool, working first as a solicitor, then as an advice worker with Citizens Advice. She subsequently joined the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman, where she investigated complaints about lawyers.

Haywood completed an Open University Creative Writing Course, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She lives in Liverpool with her husband and two sons.

Her debut novel is The Cactus.

Recently I asked Haywood about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m an avid reader of novels, but rarely read non-fiction, other than memoir. My shelves hold equal numbers of books that might be termed ‘literary’ and ones that might be termed ‘commercial’, although I’ve always found those categorisations unhelpful. The ‘to be read’ pile next to my bed is getting ever taller and will soon have to be split in two in order to avoid a toppling-onto-my-teacup incident. I’m trying to get my book-buying under control, but there’s just too much good stuff out there. And now I’m an author, I can always kid myself that I need to read more books in order to research the current market.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead has been working its way to the top of my pile for some time, and it certainly lived up to my expectations. It’s the powerful story of Cora’s flight from slavery to freedom, along a railroad that’s not just a metaphor but a physical reality. I found the book shocking and heart-breaking, at the same time as being utterly gripping. I admire Whitehead’s audacity in combining truth-based fiction with fantasy; a risk he pulls off elegantly. The book holds a particular resonance, as I live in Liverpool, which is mentioned on the second page of the novel as the place from which the ship that captured Cora’s grandmother set sail. In Liverpool, now, we have an International Slavery Museum, which marks the city’s shameful connection with the slave trade.

I read Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout with my book group recently and was left in awe of her writing yet again. I’m a late-comer to Strout’s work, starting a year ago with My Name is Lucy Barton and now having just one more book to go. Amy & Isabelle is a nuanced exploration of the relationship between a mother and daughter. I love Strout’s precise and spare use of language, and the understated way she depicts so clearly the innermost feelings of her characters without ever having to spell them out. She shows particular skill in winning over our sympathy for not-immediately-likeable characters by subtle revelations concerning their personal history. Amy & Isabelle is poignant and beautiful, and the fact that it’s Strout’s debut makes it even more remarkable.

Educated by Tara Westover is the book I’m reading currently. I’m about one hundred pages in and am already bowled over both by the confidence of Westover’s writing, and by the incredible story of her life. Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to Westover discuss Educated at an event at my local bookshop in Liverpool. I was impressed by the eloquent way in which she talked about her childhood and the challenges of writing her memoir. Another wonderful debut.

Next up on my teetering pile: Two books by writers local to me -- A Song for Issey Bradley by Carys Bray and You Me Everything by Catherine Issac -- then Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
Visit Sarah Haywood's website.

--Marshal Zeringue