Tell us a little about yourself – how long have you been writing? Any publications?
I live in Birmingham, about three streets away from where I was born, but I’ve spent most of my life in the United States. During my young adulthood and most of my teens I wanted to be a comic book artist but I learned at 19, belatedly, that someone like me could be a novelist. A novelist! At that time I thought that mainly meant roaming around the world and getting into adventures, and I left what was then my home city of Tampa Bay, at 21, to try it out.
Since then I’ve been mainly writing and moving and studying. I’ve published here and there, fiction and non-fiction, some of the latter while working in academia for a few years. Of the various things I’ve written I’m most proud of an essay that compared David Cameron to the old crack in the floor of the Tate Modern, and a short story called ‘New York’, published in Under the Radar 7, about a character who decides she’ll spend her whole life doing exactly what she wants, which, really happily, came out almost exactly the way I wanted it to.
Specifically, tell us a bit more about your longlisted story – the inspiration behind it, the writing of it…
I think talking too much about ‘Limbs’ from my perspective might ruin it. It could be useful to know that it’s a reflection on something I worried about in the three places I lived between when I first drafted it, and that I had helpful input to make it not completely ridiculous.
Name three short story writers you especially admire – why?
I like Lorrie Moore, Jhumpa Lahiri and Paul Bowles. Bowles I’ve only read one story by, ‘A Distant Episode’, and Moore and Lahiri I’ve read a lot and generally adored. Lorrie Moore’s humour, freestyling and underlying seriousness for me are always kind of delightful, and I think her story ‘How to Become a Writer’ should appear in a pop-up on screen automatically, one year after anybody says ‘Hey yeah I was thinking about doing this writing thing’. I find Lahiri’s work always profoundly patient, controlled and precise – all the things everything I write never are – and beautiful in their rejection of bombast and pyrotechnics. ‘Unaccustomed Earth’, for me, is a perfect story from title to final line. Lastly, ‘A Distant Episode’ I found stunning on first read, in a way that made it one of my favourite short stories by the halfway point. If you’ve not encountered it give it the fifteen minutes it takes to go through it, really; it’s a great example of sustained, unflinching description. I’d say it’s ‘fully imagined’ even though that sounds kind of goofy.
Overall, I guess I get that feeling from the writers I admire most – maybe it’s the sense everyone gets from the people in all fields they admire most – that they’ve got it; by some grace or dint of hard labour they’ve cracked the form and know how to shape it. In Moore that comes through in play; in Lahiri it’s patience; in the Bowles it’s an almost brutal unsentimentality. It’s the feeling that they know what they need from their words and fully commit. That’s always been my ideal: to get it right, to make the work as full an expression of the impulse to create it as possible. But that’s probably what we’re all chasing.