What's In a Page: How Sarah Winman wrote Tin Man, 2018's biggest cry-fest
Have you cried yet today? Sarah Winman is here to change that.
Her highly-anticipated novel, Tin Man, is finally hitting shelves and bringing with it perhaps the most therapeutic emotional journey of the year. Book industry insiders have been raving about the tome, each confessing to their own sob sessions while reading. Tin Man is, essentially, a love story turned on its head — it opens on Ellis and Michael, two best friends in Oxford who quickly discover something more between them. The story then jumps ahead to follow Ellis’ marriage to a woman named Annie, and it slowly fills in the blanks to explain what happened.
The story is barely more than 200 pages, but it achieves more in that short time than most books twice its length. And therein, of course, lies the challenge. Below, author Sarah Winman lets us in on her process, and where she has turned for her own literary tears.
What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?
It was 1972. I was eight years old and had just gone to the Tutankhamun exhibition and the British Museum. I was mesmerized by this story of discovery, of kings and Egypt and curses. I wrote my own play about it and performed it in assembly at my primary school. I remember the headmistress, Mrs. Dunstan, standing up and saying that we had run out of time and assembly was over and me saying, “But we haven’t finished yet.” A stand-off of art versus life. She won.
What is your favorite part of Tin Man?
The ending. There are three, theoretically. I think all three do justice to the lives that went before.
Which book is at the top of your current to-read list?
I’m actually waiting for a little space to read Constellation of Genius, 1922: Modernism Year One by Kevin Jackson. Basically, it’s a cultural, political, and scientific almanac of the year that began with James Joyce’s Ulysses and ended with the publication of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. I’ve heard it’s a complete joy. Wonderful.
Where do you write?
I write in our small apartment in the middle of the City of London. I sit at our dining table and often wear headphones because of the increasing noise of traffic. Come dinner, I move my things away.
Which book made you a forever reader?
I came late to reading fiction for pleasure. Still bruised by a rather uninspiring school English curriculum, it took until my mid-to-late twenties before I found a book that blasted through that inertia. That book was A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I often quote the first four lines when I’m doing events. I can virtually see people sit up and go, “I know this, I know this…”
Pick a GIF that you think, in this moment, best describes you and your book:
What is a snack you couldn’t write without?
Probably dark chocolate of some sort. I’m not a big snacker, I just like the right piece at the right time. I’ve gone back to a dark chocolate Bounty bar (it’s coconut), a favorite left over from childhood. Always taken with a black English Breakfast tea.
What was the hardest plot point or character to write in Tin Man?
The beginning. It’s always the last thing I write.
If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?
Nothing. They were of me and of my time. There were no ghastly compromises made during editing. I can certainly read over my first book and think that some of the metaphors were flabby, or I wouldn’t have added that line to qualify what’s gone before. But that’s what happens when you’re at the beginning of your craft. You build on what’s gone before.
If Tin Man had a movie tagline, it would be:
Go find him.