Tell us a little about yourself – how long have you been writing? Any publications?
I started writing seriously around 2010, when I did the excellent WCN Escalator Literature scheme; my mentor was Courttia Newland. I’d been an illustrator previously, working for publishers like Picador, Penguin, Serpent’s Tail, etc, but I just stopped drawing, after decades, as writing took hold. One non-fiction book, Other People’s Dogs, has been published by Caseroom Press, and flash fiction has appeared online, most recently through Reflex Fiction. I’ve been long- or shortlisted for the Manchester Fiction Prize; the Observer/Anthony Burgess Arts Journalism Award; the Fish Short Story and Short Memoir Prizes and others. A crime novel, At Twenty-three Minutes Past Twelve, is doing the rounds of agents, and I’m working on a long non-fiction project called Art School Lifer, alongside short stories and flash pieces.
Specifically, tell us a bit more about your longlisted story – the inspiration behind it, the writing of it…
We moved house last year. The process of house hunting is weirdly intimate – you’re briefly and artificially welcomed into some strangers’ nest and invited to snoop, to inspect and evaluate the physical manifestation of the life they’ve built. In one, sad, vulnerable pensioners’ bungalow, it struck me how incredibly easy it would be to abuse that temporary intimacy. (I didn’t, of course – unless writing a story that riffs on their vulnerability is exploitative. Discuss.) I was also inspired, not a word I’d generally use, by a miniature spirit level that used to belong to my father-in-law. Spirit levels have always given me goose-bumps – an amazing invention – and that one is especially loaded by virtue of its size, the way the silvering has been worn off, and who it belonged to.
Name three short story writers you especially admire – why?
Currently, it’s difficult not to mention George Saunders, but I’ll avoid that temptation. Oops. I’m re-reading Shena Mackay, for the first time in years, and I admire the way her apparently orthodox stories combine the banal, the hilarious and the unsettling. The collected stories of another conventional writer, John O’Hara, kept me sane while I was trying to decipher a ferociously sub-edited Kathy Acker manuscript whose cover I had to illustrate (there was more blue pencil than text). I’ll cheat for the last one: given my Illustration background it’s inevitable that I’ve looked at hundreds of comics. Though the genre was never a passion, there are some amazing, oddball individuals working who combine great visuals with unique texts. I’ll plump for Mark Beyer, whose Amy & Jordan strips are pungent, absurd masterpieces giving us life, death, resurrection and all points between and beyond, in a few monochrome panels.
- Robert Mason’s 2017/18 GBP Short Story Prize longlisted story, ‘Curtilage’, is available to read here.