Tell us a little about yourself – how long have you been writing? Any publications?
I’ve been writing poetry since I was eighteen or so, and I wrote some plays once upon a time. In 2001 I co-wrote a play about Ezra Pound and Allen Ginsberg that I took to the Edinburgh Fringe. Incredibly, it did not do well. I have published a few pieces of creative work – a poem about Dr. Who at the website The Awl a few years ago. My first and only other fiction publication is a story in a US magazine that came out last year. My day job is in academia, and I have published more in that world – some essays and reviews in the TLS, Public Books, and more specialized places. I also wrote a monograph on popular fiction that came out in 2015.
Specifically, tell us a bit more about your longlisted story – the inspiration behind it, the writing of it…
I wrote ‘gnomechomsky’ this summer amid the online vituperativeness of the US presidential campaign. I’m a London expat, and I live and work in Montgomery, Alabama. It came out of trying to understand how someone might be a perfectly ordinary, loving dad one minute and a vicious Internet troll the next. I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to write stories for many years. As I say above, I first got a piece of fiction published only last year. But this actual story came together very fast in the moment. I wrote the bulk of it in one afternoon – then got critiques from readers, revised, and so on.
Name three short story writers you especially admire – why?
As ‘gnomechomsky’ perhaps makes obvious, I love George Saunders. His ability to humanize people who commit terrible actions, without excusing them or being sentimental about it, is something I admire tremendously.
I tend to enjoy writers who (like Saunders) blend everyday realism with profoundly weird elements. Anna Kavan, whose work I encountered many years ago while working for the publisher Peter Owen, inspires me with her ability to make ordinary experience feel terrifying and very strange. I also really like Steven Millhauser, another writer whose stories mix the mundane and the uncanny to wonderful effect.