It was necessity at first. I worked full time, had a family and lacked the experience to attempt a longer piece. But I soon realised that short fiction gives you endless opportunity to experiment with structure, form, narrative voice and language. It’s possible to create something flawlessly beautiful with a short story. That’s what I’m still trying to do.
Do you write with an audience in mind?
I used to. Now I never do. If you want to keep writing you have to do it for yourself. It’s selfish I know, but it’s what gets you to the key board day in day out.
Would you be happy to outline your writing process?
It’s taken a while to realise what works for me. Now, when I write a short story I don’t start to put down words until the whole thing is fully formed in my head: plot, structure, character, motif, the atmosphere and emotion. Then I get that down and the rest of the writing is in the redrafting.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
Your influences change. Early on it was Ian McEwan and Raymond Carver, spare writers who make language work for them extremely hard. Then James Joyce and Annie Proulx who, through plot and structure, encapsulate a novel sized world in a few thousand words. Right now it’s Sylvia Plath. Her collection Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (great title) is full of emotion. I’m all about the emotion at the moment.
A short story, for me, is all about structure and form. Once you’ve cracked that it’s almost written. It’s these elements that give your story impact. The best way to understand what I mean is to read Guy de Maupassant.
How does a short story differ from a novel, aside from length?
A short story is about a fully realised single idea, most easily expressed through controlling structure, form and then using language in the most poetic and efficient way possible. A novel is far more about characterisation, theme and the evocation of atmosphere. As a writer the demands are very different.
What are the most important things to consider when writing a short story?
If had asked me this question ten years ago the answer would have been completely different. But here’s my answer now: work out what you’re saying and say it in a way only you can.
Why do you think publishers and agents are wary of short story collections?
I think it’s because readers are. Firstly, it is a little tougher to immerse yourself in reading a short story collection because there are so many endings it’s harder to keep picking up the book and start again on another reading journey. Secondly, I think short fiction isn’t promoted enough through schools. I know this because I have been teaching an awfully long time. Next year, though, I am teaching Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber to my A level group. I can’t wait. Oh and by the way, I chose the book.
Lynne Voyce has published almost fifty short stories and won many awards. Her first short story collection, Kirigami, was published last December by Ink Tears Press. She lives in Birmingham with her family where she teaches in an inner city comprehensive school. She is currently working on a novel and continuing to experiment with the short form.
Rupert Dastur is a writer, editor, and founding director of TSS Publishing. He studied English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and is Associate Editor at The Word Factory, a leading short story organisation based in London. He’s also Events Coordinator for the Society of Young Publishers (London) and Curator for WritingCompetitions.org. His own work has appeared in a number of places online and in print and he is currently working on his first novel.