Tell us a little about yourself – how long have you been writing? Any publications?
I live in Liverpool and teach playwriting. I’ve always written, compulsively, since I was young. Scraps of dialogue. Unfinished plays. Half a story. I got interested in acting when I was 20/21 and ended up going to drama school. I was an actor for 20 years. I wrote a play about a wartime comedian called Frank Randle in my thirties, ostensibly to give myself a job. It never ended up getting produced, but it proved to me I could finish something. I began an OU degree when I hit 40, and took a creative writing module as my ‘free choice year,’ thinking it would give me some discipline. This led to me getting a place on the MA at Manchester Uni, thanks to MJ Hyland. I published some stories a couple of years ago, before the MA, in the magazines Crazy Oik, and The Alarmist, and another story ‘Ferndale’ in the Manchester Anthology two years ago. Since then, I’ve been working on a collection.
Specifically, tell us a bit more about your longlisted story – the inspiration behind it, the writing of it…
Patterdale is about a young boy, Tommy, trying to get back to his grandmother’s house, after overhearing a snippet of conversation his foster mother has over the phone. He runs from the middle class suburb of Allerton to Wavertree, a built-up working class area, a mile and a half away. On his journey, which he tells in a stream of consciousness, we learn about his life, and how he has come to be fostered.
I know the area where Tommy’s grandmother lives very well, and this story is part of the collection I’m working on – each one set in a neighbouring road, linked by characters or events.
As with any story, some of what happened is true, and some is imagined. There is an event, central to the story, when we learn the circumstances that led to Tommy living with his grandparents. Something similar happened to a friend of mine.
The story was originally written in third-person, but it wasn’t working, it was too removed from the story I wanted to tell. It needed to be on the front foot, so I rewrote it from his point of view, to try and free it up, and Tommy’s voice spilled out. Ordering the events was tricky, and choosing how to release information, but I like Tommy. I can tell he spent a lot of time with his granddad.
I’d read some Faulkner the year before and there is a reference in there to As I Lay Dying, but I think this probably shows.
Name three short story writers you especially admire – why?
There are lots of other writers I love, obviously, but at the moment these three are foremost in my mind…
Raymond Carver – I like how he gets under your skin, and creates a feeling for the reader of having been there. He takes you right into the centre of things, as if you’re listening in on a private conversation - the difficulties in relationships, the compromises. Everything.
Kevin Barry – I enjoy his stories, and how they turn and surprise you. I love how he uses language. Beautiful, poetic, funny, and always compassionate. He writes brilliantly about male friendships, and emotional inarticulacy. Did I mention funny? He’s funny. But he can turn a sentence around in a second.
Colin Barrett – his use of place in Young Skins is superb. The town becomes another character in the stories. His prose jumps off the page, and he’s not afraid of language. He draws his characters really well, just a few details so I feel like I know them. Captures that isolation you sometimes felt as a young person, and the violence, or the fear of violence when you first step out into the world.