shining the spotlight on short story collections
These are stories which I have written and revised over the past 30 years; some of them were quick to write, and some have taken a very long time to see the light of day. Some have been previously published, in magazines or on radio. It is my first collection, because there were never enough to collect before. I find it more difficult to write stories than novels.
Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
Obviously not, in the past. Ra Page at Comma suggested a collection to me in 2009, and I have been thinking about it since; in 2010-12 I was working consistently on revising old stories, and writing new ones. The final collection consists of about half older material, and the other half, written in the past two years.
How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I tried to choose the best! A lot were thrown out on grounds of quality.
Order was very difficult. In the end I looked at voice. A lot of my stories are first person, and when I read other writers’ collections, I sometimes find it quite hard to go from one distinctive first person voice to another in a short space of time. It is fine if the narrator/narrative voice is the same from one story to the next, but sometimes hard to adjust if it changes radically, and is still first person. So I decided to alternate first person stories with 3rd person, there are 10 of each. I was also looking at obvious things like contrast of gender, age, setting, humour/tragedy, and so on, and trying not to have a run of stories which might be similar in one of these ways. There are a wide range of settings, and I tried to separate eg. the two Ugandan stories, the Australian stories, etc. But it did feel appropriate to have the two stories about old age and approaching death together at the end of the collection.
What does the word “story” mean to you?
Experience which has been shaped; material which has been selected out from the everyday mass for a reason; a space to explore an idea or a feeling; a glimpse or insight into another world; a teasing out of a satisfying collection of images; a journey.
Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
Not really. Myself, I suppose. When I am revising and rewriting I obviously try to put myself in the position of a reader who is coming to the material for the first time, but I don’t know who that reader is!
Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
What works and what doesn’t, what they like and dislike. You live with stories for so long, it is good to know if they resonate for other people. And it is good to learn, if they don’t!
How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
Well this is my 9th book, 8 novels precede it. My main feeling is that I wish more people would buy the books. Sales of my 7th novel were poor and I have worried a lot about sales since. It does not feel remarkable to me: I buy the books of other writers, everyone buys books. Or, if they don’t, I wish they would!
What are you working on now?
A story that I can’t tease out, plus an adaptation of The Testament of Jessie Lamb (last novel) for Woman’s Hour drama. (radio)
What are the last three short story collections you read?
Mud Stories Michele Roberts
BioPunk ed Ra Page, Comma
The Stone Thrower Adam Marek