Mothers (Faber and Faber)
- What is it that draws you to the short story form?
I think I’m drawn to stories more than form. Every story has an appropriate length, which might be 15 pages or 300. There is something, though, about the electricity generated from 6,000 words, set out in the best possible order, that I find incredibly exciting to encounter.
What is your process when writing short stories? Is your process the same with every story?
I try and write a first draft all the way through without letting myself pause to think whether it’s any good or not (because at that stage it never is). Then I leave it somewhere I can’t see it for as long as possible. Then I spend somewhere between a week and five years editing it.
Do you have a favourite short story or short story writer? What is it you admire?
I think ‘Emergency’ by Denis Johnson does an incredible number of things incredibly well with incredible economy – it’s 3,500 words long but feels more like twice that. Chekhov is inexhaustible. Yiyun Li’s stories do something radical to my brain and my heart. ‘A Village After Dark’ by Kazuo Ishiguro and ‘In the Heart of the Heart of the Country’ by William Gass are both stories that everyone should read, as is ‘No Place For You, My Love’ by Eudora Welty. All of which is to say that no, I don’t have a favourite story, only an unmanageably long and changing list of favourites.
What advice would you give to new writers who want to write a collection of stories?
Take each story as it comes. Take your time. Find a reader whose opinion you trust. Don’t ever send anything out until you think it’s the best that it can be. Believe people when they tell you it’s hard to get a collection published, but don’t believe them when they tell you it’s impossible.
Where’s your favourite place to write and why?
I had a couple of kids in the period during which I wrote Mothers, so I’ve become adaptable by necessity. Give me a keyboard or a pencil and some way of funnelling white noise into my ears and I’m good to go.
What was the hardest story in your collection to write and why?
The final one, ‘Eva’. Not because it was at that point by far the longest thing I’d written, but because it took me so long to work out the right perspective to tell it from. I tried all sorts of things and they all sucked. In the end I realised the answer was right in front of me: it completes a trilogy of stories about the same woman, the first of which is told in first person and the second in close third. Given what happens to Eva, it’s appropriate that we become more distanced from her as the stories progress. When I rewrote the story in close third to Eva’s estranged husband, it came to life.
Buy Mothers here
Read THE CROSSING from Mothers.