shining the spotlight on short story collections
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Three years or so.
Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
No. I write stories (as I do poems) when I can, which is not all that often.
How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I included all those I had written since The Shieling. The order had something to do with positioning the longest among the shorter ones. And Romantic seemed a good one to end on. The interconnections among the stories are not determined by order. They work, I hope, in various directions throughout the volume.
What does the word “story” mean to you?
I can more easily say what, in my own practice, it doesn’t mean: a thing proceeding in a linear fashion to a close. A story, for me, is a fiction in which something is under way, at work, at stake; in which possibilities for good or ill are opening up. I write against the very idea of finality and closure.
Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
No. I might think of particular people afterwards. But to worry what any putative reader might think of what I am writing while I am writing it, would inhibit me.
How has winning the BBC National Short Story Award in 2010 helped your writing career?
I was greatly encouraged.
You are a translator of fiction and poetry. To what degree have the skills you have learned as a translator assisted you in your own writing? I’ve never read anyone to match you when it comes to selecting the right word for the right job.
Translating makes you very aware of what your own language can do, can’t do, might be induced to do. You learn to write your own language better in the struggle with the foreign.
In “Doubles” we meet a character who flat-sits. If you had to flat-sit for anyone, who would it be?
Nobody living. Some poet c. 1798, in Britain or Germany, perhaps.
Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
I can think of particular things I might ask particular people.But I don’t have questions for ‘the reading public’, nor for ‘the average reader’, not for ‘the ideal reader’, since they are abstractions and as such don’t exist.
How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
I never think about it in a general way. But if people tell me they have read books of mine then, of course, I’m pleased, touched, encouraged. And I like trying to answer questions that have occurred to such people as they read.
What are you working on now?
I’m translating poems by Brecht, adding the last poems to a new collection of my own, and finishing a long fiction.
What are the last three short story collections you read?
Alice Munro’s Dance of the Happy Shades, and a good deal of Jean Rhys and D. H.Lawrence from various collections.