We arrived in winter not knowing what to expect. What should you expect, away from home, without information, the telephone lines down and the hotels closed?
This is my first collection of short stories – made up of virtually every story I have written in thirteen years. It is a kind of short-hand of my fiction. All the themes are here – love, death, betrayal, the nature of time, the beauty of risk, the quest. Yes, always the need to push on, whatever the weather. Miracles too, because however uncool, I believe in them.
The earliest story, Psalms, is about a tortoise, and very much in the Oranges mould (or do I mean mold – it’s such a long time ago?). There are mid-way stories, like The Poetics of sex, which I wrote for the Granta Best of Young British Novelists. It’s about lesbian sex, and it’s set out as a series of questions, mainly the questions I was getting all the time in the nineties from the British press. Funny lot – journalists.
The most recent story – 1997, is The Twenty Four Hour Dog, and you know, some people love that story and some people hate it. I guess that tells us more about the readers than about the story. In fact, my girlfriend tells me that if you look at the reviews of this collection from around the world, you find completely different responses to all the stories. Same stories – different readings. That’s showbiz…
Why don’t you write more short stories?
The same reason that I don’t write poetry. I need the elbow room of a novel. Not because I want padding – all my life is spent stripping away what’s unnecessary – but because I want to unravel the thought and the emotion in a particular way. I don’t write long books, but I prefer not to write short stories.
But you do write them.
Yes. If I am asked to do it I’m glad to do it. It’s a particular kind of challenge. And you know, in my books there are lots of very short stories – little stones to keep in a pocket. That kind of length, a couple of pages, I really like, it’s the in between size that doesn’t really suit how I work. I think I might put together some mini-stories.
Whose short stories do you like reading?
Somerset Maugham, Chekov, Sarah Maitland, Calvino, Ian McEwan, Ruth Rendell, Helen Simpson, Ali Smith, Blackwood, (those are very old-fashioned), Angela Carter, and of course, the best short stories of all – fairy stories.
Why aren’t the stories in chronological order?
I don’t know about you, but I never read a short story collection in any order, chronological or not. It doesn’t matter when a piece of work was written. What matters is whether or not it’s any good. I wanted to avoid the kind of tedious sub-academic sleuthwork that goes on, piecing together dates and writing and making inferences that just don’t add up. I just want you to read it. Simple. Easy. Yes.
Is this a good book to buy for someone new to your work?
Yes. If they don’t throw it under a train, you can safely move on to something longer. If the new person is you, reading this now, just click on the Amazon link and risk it…
When I hold you in this night-soaked bed it is courage for the day I seek. Courage that when the light comes I will turn towards it. It couldn’t be simpler. It couldn’t be harder. In this little night-covered world with you, I hope to find what I long for; a clue a map, a bird flying south, and when the light comes we will get dressed together and go…