shining the spotlight on short story collections
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
The oldest was written in 1998, the newest in 2012. But the oldest was rewritten fairly extensively. Most of the longer ones were written (and rewritten) around 2004-2009, and most of the shorter ones in 2010/11. That’s a muddled answer, I know. I guess the point is that some of the stories had a very long development time, in the sense that they kept coming out of the drawer and then being put back again, but that once I knew I was writing a collection I worked with a lot more focus to that end.
Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
See above, sort of. As of late 2009 I was thinking about a collection; probably about half the book was written after this point.
How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I left the duff ones out, hopefully. I also, once I’d settled on the “looming apocalypse in the Lincolnshire fens” motif, had to leave out the stories which weren’t set in the Lincolnshire fens. (Or, for the shoehorn fans, didn’t at least have characters who were on holiday from the Lincolnshire fens.)
What does the word “story” mean to you?
I don’t know. What does the word “string” mean to you, in terms of measured distance from one end to the other? I once told some students in a writing workshop that a story had to include some element of change; that a description of a bowl of fruit wouldn’t be a story, but that as soon as you introduced the passing of time and thus the implication of decay you would be writing a story. This is as close as I’ve come to a meaning for the word “story”.
Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
No. I’m trying to resolve problems I create for myself. I’m trying to write the story I want to read. Later, when re-writing/editing, I think about a notional reader in terms of clarity, pace, revelation, etc. And of course the whole point of writing, for me, is to connect with readers. But I don’t think I have any in mind at the time of writing, no.
(Having said that, there is a small part of me which is still that seventeen year old boy trying to impress girls..)
Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
Did you get any of the song references in New York? I mean, any of them?
How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
It feels nice. No doubt about it. And at this point in publishing history, it feels more and more like a privilege. Knowing that people are reading my work, which is a different knowledge, is tremendously rewarding; and is the only reason I keep writing, I think.
What are you working on now?
I can’t tell you.
What are the last three short story collections you read?
At the moment I’m reading Vicky Swanky Is A Beauty by Diane Williams, Stories in the Worst Way by Gary Lutz, and Forty Stories by Donald Barthelme.
Read the review of This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You