Alison Moore on short stories

Friday 25 July 2014
reading time: min, words
"I do seem to have an interest in characters who walk willingly into situations they then can't get out of"
When does a short story become a novel? I ask this as there are a few stories in the collection that could easily have been extended...
That would be an interesting exercise, to pick one of these stories and develop its world, and equally I could imagine taking, for example, from The Lighthouse, Ester's relationship with her sample-bringing mother and developing that into a short story. It always feels very clear, though, whether I'm going to work an idea up into a short story or something longer. On the other hand I have written at least one short story whose details I then decided to feed into a novel instead.
A lot of the stories have been published elsewhere and some date back as far as 2000. Yet thematically it feels like a really coherent collection written purposefully to be read together. Could you tell us something about the selection process and what you have learned about yourself as a writer reflecting on this collection.
I'm so pleased it felt that way to you. They weren't written with a collection in mind at all - most were written for this or that market as I went along and I never even thought of them being read together. But of course I very much hope they do work together, and they do seem to belong together under the umbrella of what The Pre-War House suggests to me - various domestic worlds into which comes some disturbance or disaster. My editor and I made the selection together - most of my published and shortlisted stories are in there, with the odd one weeded out, and another half dozen were held over for the next collection. Putting them together was a strange exercise because it showed me what my obsessions are.
alt text

2014 is the Year of Reading Women. So start with a Moore, polish off with a Monaghan and then finish with a Rawsthorne.

Absent mothers is one such recurring theme. Are you trying to tell us something...
Well... I lost my mum in 1995 and, as you say, these stories date from 2000, so... But I was quite taken aback to realise just how often the mothers in my stories are absent in some way - sometimes the story is very much about the loss, whatever form that might take, but sometimes they're just not there. And then I went and had my son and out came all my anxiety stories about children getting stolen...
As with Futh in The Lighthouse, the characters in these stories are offered little way out of their personal circumstances. As a reader I found myself often putting my hands over my face and dreading turning the page (which is the power of your writing, not a criticism!) Any comments on this?
Yes, I do seem to have an interest in characters who walk willingly into situations they then can't get out of. Perhaps that's a writing-out of a horror of claustrophobic scenarios. But I am also interested in how we repeat patterns of behaviour and pass them from one generation to the next, which describes a different sort of getting stuck. There are often windows in my stories that are very small or which won't open. But when arranging the collection I tried to punctuate these little intrigues of mine with brighter moments, for example I think the endings of 'Glory Hole', 'Monsoon Puddles' and 'A Small Window' have a sense of opening up to the world, and 'Helicopter Jean', 'Jetsam' and 'The Pre-War House' conclude with some kind of release, and 'Static' is essentially a love story.
alt text

Wink Wink "I try to exit the story at the right moment and not outstay my welcome!"  

In 'Wink Wink' we have a woman drinking her life away on the sofa and an absent husband out with a male friend. I was intrigued as to whether the husband is out because she's drinking or if she's drinking because she suspects her husband is homosexual. As with all of your stories this leaves things pretty open for the reader to come to their own conclusions. I wondered whether you had a particular idea in mind when writing this...
With this particular story, I see the woman's now quite heavy drinking as a response to what is for her an unhappy situation and an echo of the illicitness of the husband's other life - each of them is trying but failing to keep their behaviour a secret. I try to strike a balance between clarity and suggestion, and I try to exit the story at the right moment and not outstay my welcome!
The short story has had a bit of a resurgence of late. Why do you think this is and what makes a good short story for you?
I was very fortunate to meet, in 2009, Nicholas Royle who's now my agent and editor and who's a great champion of the short story, and when he took my first novel to a publisher, that publisher was Salt, who have published some excellent collections including Best British Short Stories, Best British Horror, etc. Since the publication of The Pre-War House and Other Stories, I've been invited to take part in some fantastic short story events such as Small Wonder and the first London Short Story Festival. So all in all I keep coming across people and ventures determinedly supporting short stories. Short stories still don't sell anything like as well as novels do but those who are fans are often passionate about them because a good short story is a fine and powerful thing, with every sentence working incredibly hard.
2014 is the Year of Reading Women and I was interested that when you were nominated for the Booker there was a lot of comments about your looks. I wondered how this made you feel as a writer and what your thoughts are on the under representation of women in literature in reviews.
If as a writer you were getting more comments about your appearance than about your writing, there would be something very wrong going on, but in the context of a whole lot of conversation about my work, the odd unrelated aside is fine by me, given that it was all very civil. On the subject of reviews - if we're talking about the gender of the reviewers I first of all have to hold my hand up and say that I don't write reviews so I'm not helping with those stats. I just took a look at the gender of the reviewers of my books and there's actually a very even spread between men and women, and slightly more print reviews by women than by men. But I know there is an issue generally and I'd be interested to see if the recent focus on the subject has an impact on any imbalance. 
alt text

Alison Moore will be bringing Mary Howitt back to life for Dawn of the Unread. 

You've just written your first story for a comic I'm editing together called Dawn of the Unread. How have you found the process in comparison to writing short stories/novels?
I didn't have much experience of scriptwriting, and no experience of writing for comics, and I'm not used to writing about real people either, so it took a few drafts and consultations with script editor Adrian Reynolds before it suddenly began to feel right. On the other hand, though, from a distance, the research/inspiration/frustration/reworking/satisfaction was perhaps not so different after all. Now I'm very much looking forward to seeing Corrina Rothwell's illustrations and am enjoying seeing how other writers have tackled their stories. 

alt text

The Pre-War House is available from Salt Publishing

We see you have a new book coming out in August called He Wants. What does 'He' want and more importantly, what does Alison Moore want? It's been an incredible start to your career due to both books being nominated for prizes...
The protagonist of He Wants is seventy-year-old Lewis Sullivan. He's had a perfectly satisfactory life, with a lifelong teaching career and a good marriage behind him, but the story is an exploration of a nagging sense of wanting. The chapter headings suggest what he does and does not want: He does not want soup; When he was a child, he wanted to go to the moon; He wants to feel an earthquake... He Wants is published on 15th August with a launch at Nottingham Waterstones. As for what I want, I'm fantastically lucky to be doing exactly what I want to be doing right now, making a living from writing short stories and novels and being invited to take part in all sorts of great projects and events, so all I want is to keep it coming!

We have a favour to ask

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion

Please note, we migrated all recently used accounts to the new site, but you will need to request a password reset

Sign in using

Or using your

Forgot password?

Register an account

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.

Forgotten your password?

Reset your password?

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.