Stacey Bartlett: So your novel’s doing pretty well then?
S. J. Watson: Yes, it’s completely surpassed all expectations. It’s been a best seller in the States, and was number 7 in the UK, as well as being number 9 in the Sunday Times. When I was writing it my biggest hope was just that it would be published somewhere.
SB: How did you come up with the concept of the novel?
SJW: I did lots of reading and I read an obituary in the Economist about a man called Henry Molaison. He was born in Connecticut in 1926 and had developed severe epilepsy, which meant he suffered from severe seizures and couldn’t work. At 27 he had an operation – an experimental procedure. They removed the parts of his brain they thought were causing the epilepsy, and didn’t realise that it was the parts of the brain that formed memories. He couldn’t form any memories from thereon, and was 82 when he died. So he went from being 27 to 82 without forming any memories. He had been working with the same doctor for decades and every time they met she had to explain who she was and that she was trying to help him. Straight away this mental image came to me, of a woman who woke up one day and didn’t know how she’d got there, and didn’t recognise the man sleeping next to her. I carried on looking at other ideas but that one was the one that gripped me and pulled me back, and I realised that I had to know how it ended. This person became real.
SB: And the film rights have been bought?
SJW: Ridley Scott is hoping to start making it at the end of the year. An A-list actress is interested and is currently reading a script – I won’t say who it is because I don’t want to jinx it.
SB: Can we guess?
SJW: Alright then, I’ll tell you if you get it right. She’s won Oscars before.
SB: Julia Roberts? Sandra Bullock? Hilary Swank?
SJW: No, but it’s that sort of actress. As I was writing it I was fantasising about seeing it one day on the screen, so it’s amazing that it’s actually happening.
SB: And what are you working on now?
SJW: I’m working on a new novel. It’s different to Before I Go to Sleep in a lot of ways, but it focuses on the concept of identity, and how identity is fluid. That’s all I’m going to say at this point.