Sarah Hall

Madame Zero (Faber & Faber)

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

I like the psychological metrics of the form, its suitability for the uncanny, the unstable, episodic life, and the ratio of size to power. The disciplines required – calibration of literary components, economy, restraint, an immediate editorial brain – all work to make me pull my socks up as a writer. It’s a very versatile form too that allows for innovation and tradition, so it really offers a lot for writers interested in protean creation. Bottom line – the last few years have been really challenging for me in lots of ways, not least time, and short stories have made more sense, production-wise, philosophically, even emotionally, than anything else I could have written. I started as a poet. I broke through as a novelist. But short stories feel like home.

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

I don’t think so. I’ve never understood that question really – it would be a bit like wishing you were someone else. There are qualities I deeply admire in the experts, and stories I think are near perfect, but it only serves to make me want to improve my own style, ideas, techniques.

What advice would you give to new writers starting out?

There is generating, editing, and industry advice that can be given, and reading recommendations, but beyond that, what? A writer will make herself.

Where’s your favourite place to write and why?

Soyokaze restaurant in Norwich. There’s a great window seat. Over the last few years I’ve needed to find new ways of working – I’ve never been able to write outside the house really, or at night, but for some reason those things are suddenly happening.

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

There were challenges for all of them. I tend to head towards difficult territory anyway in my writing, whether political, physical, or psychological, and short stories are doors into such strange unsettling worlds anyway. In Mrs Fox it was the metamorphosis passage – I had to try to pull of an incantatory style of prose and descriptive accuracy to convince the reader. Theatre 6 was a response to the death of Savita Halappanavar, and it was enormously sad and frustrating thinking about her fate and the system that allowed it. That story, and Case Study 2, do not genderize their narrators, which is also a tricky line to walk. There are science fiction/dystopian stories, which really ask for suspension of disbelief and predictive scenarios that feels possible. Goodnight Nobody was the first story written after the death of my mother. My daughter was still very young. The narrator is a child walking bravely but with immense trepidation up to death itself, in this case the morgue door, and, of course, those were my thoughts, that was how I felt too.

Buy Madame Zero here.

Read Evie from the book.

Sarah Hall was born in Cumbria in 1974. She is the prize-winning author of five novels – Haweswater (Faber & Faber, 2002), The Electric Michelangelo (Faber & Faber, 2004), The Carhullan Army (Faber & Faber, 2007), How to Paint a Dead Man (Faber & Faber, 2009) and The Wolf Border (Faber & Faber, 2015) – as well as The Beautiful Indifference (Faber & Faber, 2011), a collection of short stories, which won the Portico Prize and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. The first story in the collection, ‘Butchers Perfume’, was also shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award – a prize Hall won in 2013 with ‘Mrs Fox’.

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