Tell us a little about yourself – how long have you been writing? Any publications?
I have been writing since I was four, when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I had an innate sense of what that meant even then, and that resolve has strengthened over time (now that I've got over wanting to be a ‘journalist’ when I was a child: I had no idea what a journalist was). Most of what I write is fragmentary, and I find it difficult to put things together, though the format I most want to pin down is the novel - I’m on my third. It wasn't until I discovered more experimental short form writing that I found a spiritual home for what I wanted to write; prose that captures something of the elusive, something of the ephemeral, that uses poetry and lyricism and (not but) challenges ideas of sentimentality, both indulging and rejecting them (I think we too readily reject sentimentality, actually: why is it so shunned?). I want to describe the brutal, the ugly, in beautiful ways that don’t undermine the realism of what is being described, though push it sometimes to its limits. I want to write in a way that says something about who we are and how we live, always with the sense of what is lost or missing hovering at the edges of the words. I don’t tend to submit very often as I feel, as I’m sure many writers do, a huge sense of anxiety around ‘putting my work out there’ - much of it is gathering dust or has been stored or lost on various hard drives and in folders and drawers, and that’s fine - but I’m grateful that a few kind editors have seen some value in those scribblings I do send out.
Specifically, tell us a bit more about your longlisted story – the inspiration behind it, the writing of it…
The opening of the story came to me all in a rush. I was thinking about a Facebook Messenger conversation I’d had with a boy I'd once thought I might be in love with (I wasn’t). Our communication had broken down slowly and painfully, and sometimes we would send single photos, or image series, I think perhaps simply to keep some thread between us, wanting to close up the space before we drifted too far from one another. I pored over them - what did they mean? A hibiscus. A chicken. A sprig of blossom. One was a photograph of a stamp from Ecuador, with a stream train pushing through a burst of colours. The rest of the story evolved more slowly, over time. The horror element was somehow always there, I think, atmospherically, but didn’t reveal itself to me until I realised that there didn’t seem any other way to write it. It felt urgent, but mostly was written a few lines or paragraphs at a time, which is an odd discrepancy. Often I write all in a rush, then have long periods of not writing in between, but thinking, making notes, writing poetry, gathering images like the photograph of the stamp, till something comes to mind, often fully-formed: a paragraph, a snippet, a scene, a dialogue. The protagonist grew on me and I knew he had suffered some kind of loss, and the two storylines started to make sense in parallel.
Name three short story writers you especially admire – why?
Hmm. I think they probably change depending on what's going on in my life, but three off the top of my head are:
Lydia Davis, perhaps an obvious choice, but she was one of my ‘coming home’ writers. One whose writing I clicked into as if it had been there waiting for me. The familiarity with something so singular is odd, because I don’t want to end up writing copycat LD work, and yet there was something she had articulated that answered a question I felt in some way I am always grappling with in my own writing. And that felt like a reassurance, or a permission, to keep going, to keep asking questions. Which is important.
Vandana Singh: I actually only know one collection by Singh, The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet, And Other Stories, but it was an eye-opener for me. There was so much quiet weirdness, and the stories are so elegantly written, with both exuberance and restraint, and a sense of a vast, ballooning imagination. Sometimes fiction can feel so very small (my own included) but we oughtn't be afraid of big ideas, outrageous ideas even, when we write. And I love how these can be contained in short fiction, how that feels like magic when it works perfectly.
I don’t know if I can name just three! Can I add AL Kennedy, George Saunders, Sarah Hall, Alexander MacLeod, Jon McGregor, Amy Bloom, Nathan Englander and Simon van Booy into the mix as an amorphous third, please? ...