Alison MacLeod

All the Beloved Ghosts (Bloomsbury)

Below, Alison answers some questions about writing and her book.

What is your favourite short story from the book?

Choosing one’s own favourite stories is perhaps a little like choosing a favourite child.  There’s no way of choosing, or if there is, that choice might change by the day or year. I suppose I feel closest to the Imagining Chekov sequence of stories (if a sequence is allowed).  Not only is it a homage to a writer I love, and a meditation on the making of stories – the mystery of which has long fascinated me – it was, in part, inspired by the life and death of someone I loved, who is re-cast in the figure of Chekhov as TB takes its toll (and also in the character of Liam in my story Oscillate Wildly).  As Chekhov and Olga arrive at their hotel, I see the two of us, years ago, arriving at ours. It gives me pleasure when I see his influence, energy and humour still taking life, and making trouble, on the page.”

What is it that draws you to the short story form?

I love the intimacy and intensity of the form, and that ‘click’ – when a story is finished and ‘right’ – of its jigsaw-puzzle-like creation.  I love the way in which many of the best short stories fuse the dark and the luminous.

Is there a short story that you love by another writer that you wish you’d written?

The one that immediately comes to mind is What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver.  It confronts the darkest and grittiest aspects of the human condition, but still manages to deliver a sense of something profound and moving.

What advice would you give to new writers starting out?

Read endlessly.  Remember that most writers draft and re-draft obsessively.  Cut out the bits where you explain your meaning to the reader.  Don’t worry about ‘being original’; instead, focus on taking the necessary risks to tell that story as honestly as you can.

Where’s your favourite place to write and why?

I often need a blank wall. A beautiful view either distracts me or lulls me into too floppy a state.  At home, I’m up high and look out over red rooftops, clouds, chimney pots and gulls.  It’s scenic but still fairly static and separate.

What was the hardest story in your collection to write and why?

Dreaming Diana: Twelve Frames.  It began life years ago as a narration of events surrounding Diana, Princess of Wales’ death and funeral.  My editors pointed out that the vital personal strand was largely missing. In the end, I ruled out various concerns and gave the story the autobiographical detail it needed to come to life.  That’s the only job in the end.

Buy All the Beloved Ghosts here

You can read We Are Methodists from the book.

Alison MacLeod was born in Canada and has lived in the UK since 1987. She is the author of three novels, The Changeling (Macmillan, 1996), The Wave Theory of Angels (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2005), and Unexploded (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2013), which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2013, and a collection of stories, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction (Penguin, 2007). Alison MacLeod is the joint winner of the Eccles British Library Writer’s Award 2016. She is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester and lives in Brighton.

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