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Author, Performer Sarah Winman Discusses Her Latest Novel, 'Tin Man'

Patricia Niven

Tin Man is the latest release by author--and performer--Sarah Winman. The novel is a departure from her previous works and reinforces the actress' creative diversity.

If you're a fan of Winman, it's likely because of her work on the screen and stage. But the British actress's latest success has been on the page, most recently with her third novel, Tin Man.

"It was published almost a year ago. It was published in late July, nine...  nineteen... Good Lord, where am I?" she laughs.


It was last July. And when it was released in the United Kingdom last summer, Tin Man received much acclaim from readers on both sides of the pond, including booksellers in the United States who had early access to the novel. The much-anticipated title hit shelves in the States on Tuesday.

"It's incredible that it's sort of got under the skin of booksellers in America at the moment and wonderful and not something that I imagine will probably happen again with another book," says Winman. "These things, as I said, are unpredictable and you just enjoy them in the moment. And I think that's the right thing and it's lovely to have this moment and it will probably be very fleeting as well."

Like her first two books, Tin Man is a novel. But Winman wanted to try something different with this story. At just 200 pages, it's very spare, penned with an economy of words. But in those 200 pages, Winman was able to include multiple lifetimes. Although she maintains she's not a short story writer, with Tin Man she wanted to prove that she could write short form.

"The whole idea of rewriting--that for me is if you just rewrite and you rewrite and you rewrite and it's as if you're carving away--it's almost like sculpting," she says. "And what you're doing within that--you're taking away everything that it isn't, until you're left with what it is."

What she's left with is a quiet, unassuming and quite powerful novel featuring a love triangle of sorts. The trio of characters is always made up of two constants--Ellis and Michael at various stages in their lives. And at each stage, the triangle is completed with a woman--Ellis's mother, Michael's grandmother, and finally, Ellis's wife.

"Basically what I'm saying is that the women are the most important characters in this book," she says. "They are the ones at all of the various stages of these boys', and then young men's, and then mature men's lives, that they have been held. That they have been held by women who believe in the essence of who they are before society gets hold of them."

The cliche of masculinity in society is one of the themes woven throughout the book, as are homosexuality and estrangement. 

"But what I wanted to is I wanted to take the drama out of the reason maybe why people became estranged. That actually when I think back in my own life that you don't need great fallings out," Winman says. "You know, people aren't black and white. Sometimes you just aren't in their life anymore."
Even with these themes running through the plot, Winman says her writing is very much character-driven instead of plot-driven, and her creative style stems from her experience in theatre, film, and television.

"You know I come from acting so I feel there's a chameleonic presence already in my creativity. You know, I love cinema," Winman explains. "I'm very interested that there be a director who might think about, 'Well, what's the aspect ratio of how I want to shoot this film?' Or color grading? I like to bring in a style that's going to suit the story."

Winman feels that the takeaway from Tin Man depends on the reader.

"I hope the very least it will make people feel a little less lonely. I think it will be informative to some people about different people's relationships, sexuality. I hope people understand one of the motifs that run through the book or to celebrate--that is the kindness of strangers," she says. "I hope people will take away that it's a very kind book, that it is a loving book, and it's a very accepting book, and I think these are qualities that resonate in the world that we're living in right now."

Winman is on a 5-city tour in the U.S., with stops in California, D.C., and Wichita. She'll be at Watermark Books Friday night for a book talk and signing beginning at 6:00 p.m.