SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Sadie Jones' novel, "The Outcast," opens with a young man, Lewis Aldridge, getting out of prison in Britain in 1957. He goes to buy a grey suit and two white shirts, lights a cigarette and decides whether to catch a commuter train back to the small, suburban home he'd lived in before his arrest.
Sadie Jones joins us from London, and let's ask her to read what's going on in her character's mind.
SIMON: (Reading) He'd never bought clothes for himself before. It was odd that he could've done the things he had done and not know how to clothe himself. His father had sent him enough money not to come home, but he hadn't asked him not to. Thinking about what he had done and what his father thought of him wasn't helping, so he'd watched the people on the streets instead.
The colors were still very bright. There was a lot of blue sky, and the trees on the pavement seemed marvelous, and the women looked wonderful, and he had to stop himself from staring at all of them.
Trying not to stare at women, but still looking at them as much as he could was a game and a good way to stop his head from getting away from him and made him feel alive again. He wondered if he could get arrested for staring at women for an hour outside Victoria Station and imagined the judge putting him away again, the day he got out, for picturing them under their clothes, and after a while he was able to cross the street and go into the station and buy his ticket.
SIMON: Sadie Jones, author of "The Outcast" joins us from London. Thank you very much for being with us.
SIMON: Well, thank you.
SIMON: Tell us a bit about Lewis Aldridge, your character, because the - what he'd done, as you put it in this passage, is to burn down a church.
SIMON: Is it hard to make a character like that sympathetic?
SIMON: I find him entirely sympathetic, and I'm always surprised when people say to me oh, you know, he's a dark character or a difficult character to like because I was entirely on his side, and everything that he does seem to me to make sense.
SIMON: What makes him go back to this suburban town, Waterford, where everybody knew him and knew the story?
SIMON: Well, he's a child still, really. He's 19, but he has had a sort of arrested development, and he's very much tied in to trying to please his father and trying to - he's not a natural rebel. He doesn't want to be against the society that he's in, and he wants to please, and he wants to conform, and that's something - it would be unimaginable for him to go anywhere else.
SIMON: Could you describe Lewis Aldridge to us?
SIMON: When it came to his getting his call-up notice for his national service, I had to sort of consciously think what might he be like because I don't have a sort of outside image of him at all. I knew he had to be moderately attractive because all these women are attracted to him.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIMON: Yes, we should explain he has a fatal, if inexplicable, charm.
SIMON: Yeah, he seems to. So I had to make myself decide what color hair he had or what color eyes he had because I've never seen him from the outside.
SIMON: Did it help to set this story in the '50s, in a time when - and I'm not comfortable with this truism, by the way - but a time when we think a lot was concealed below the surface?
SIMON: I was using the '50s to describe the story rather than the story to describe the '50s. From what I know about America, it was more of a boom time than it was in England, where we were still - we had rationing. The villages around London, which are traditionally always been sort of the commuter belt, stolidly middle class and everything done properly, and they're still that way, and affluent as well.
SIMON: You are a screenwriter by trade, I understand.
SIMON: Yup. Yup.
SIMON: What do you learn about novel-writing from screenwriting?
SIMON: Well it was interesting because when I started to write prose, you think that you'll be able to indulge all your imaginative processes and descriptive urges, and then you realize that it's the same thing as with screenwriting, which is, you know, what you take out and what you leave in, it's a sort of constant editing process of trying to make the narrative move and trying to make it visual. That's something that's always important to me is to write what I see.
SIMON: You're still working at screenplays?
SIMON: Yes I am. I'm hoping to have the career I was trying to have, but I do - you know, I love - I'm writing another novel, and I think now I've tasted that, I don't think that I would stop doing that, but it's very distracting when you have a story living in your head. You've got to sort of - it's like having a film playing all the time. It can be quite distracting. Sort of to some degree or another, it's always playing.
SIMON: Speaking with us from London, Sadie Jones. Her new novel, her first, is "The Outcast."
Ms. Jones, so nice to talk to you.
SIMON: Very nice to talk to you, Scott.