I came to writing short fiction late, after having worked at novel-length for some years. For a long time, I couldn’t see how I could conjure up a world – a living, breathing world, as full of ideas and connections as that of my novels – in so few words. And so often it’s a historical world that I want to bring to life, which in some ways is particularly difficult.
But stories crowd into my head all the time, and I have to swat them away so as not to be diverted from the long haul of the current novel. Often, a scribble in a notebook is all that saves them from being lost in the ether.
Then, in the second year of my MPhil I had an almost-finished novel - the novel which wasn't yet called The Mathematics of Love and a workshop full of intelligent critics, and it was too good an opportunity to waste. I set out to experiment with things – point of view, tense, narrator, voice, structure – that you can’t change once you’re committed to the long haul of a novel.
Liberation! I found that I could write the first draft of a short story in a weekend or two, sit back and see the reach and arc of it at one look, then stoop over it again and set to on the re-writing. And I found that I could explore all those stories that I’d been swatting away: the Tsar’s racehorse trainer peddling matches in 1920s London; the lad sent to wait on the King’s condemned brother-in-law; the woman with the body that’s partly machine, standing in the London Eye…
The third story I wrote was "Maura's Arm", and Jim Crace gave it a major award in the 2004 Bridport Prize: that was my first publication credit of any kind. Other stories have also been successful in competitions, and now short fiction is an important part of the rhythm of my writing life. They include:
One of the most fun to write was a story for In Bed With ... an anthology of erotic short fiction. The authors include Fay Weldon, Kathy Lette and Ali Smith, but since we were all writing under pseudonyms, we're forbidden - really, it's in the contract! - from saying which of us wrote which story. So I can't tell you the title of that one!
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