Interview with Angela Readman, judge of 2019 RW Short Story Prize
A big welcome to Angela Readman for today’s interview! Angela is a twice shortlisted winner of the Costa Short Story Award. Her stories have won the National Flash Fiction Day Competition, The Mslexia Short Story Prize, and The Fish Short Memoir Prize. They have also been shortlisted in the Manchester Fiction Prize. Her debut story collection Don’t Try This at Home won The Rubery Book Prize and was shortlisted in the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Angela’s debut novel, Something Like Breathing, will be published by And Other Stories in 2019. Angela is our judge for the 2019 RW Short Story Prize which is open (!) for submissions.
Thanks for coming on the blog, Angela. What attracted you to writing short fiction in the first place?
I’ve always written stories, as soon as I could hold a pen. Silly things, funny stories, sad stories, strange little beasts. It’s something we’re all drawn to as children, I think, daydreaming, wondering what if…? If we’re lucky we never stop wondering. For me, short fiction is still that, it’s where the wonder is. That’s always been attractive to me, that wonder is what makes life wonderful.
As an award-winning short story writer yourself, what’s the best advice you can give to writers looking to master the form?
Read, read stories like you’re starving. Reading is often seen as a passive activity, but as writers we’re wide awake. We’re not looking for what to write about but getting a feel for the shape of the short story. How can a story start, what can stories leave out, what keeps us intrigued? Writers will always be drawn to our own subjects and fascinations, but where to start can stump us if we’re new to the form. Reading can be such an eye opener, it’s like getting permission to follow our peculiar hearts. The first time I read Etgar Keret I was like, ‘Wow, it’s Ok to write my strange little ideas? Who knew?’ Before that, most of my stories were just daydreams.
What kind of stories are you hoping to see when reading the shortlisted entries in the RW Short Story Prize?
It’s probably surprising, because my own stories tend to be strange, but I love all sorts of stories – realist, magical realist, funny stories, stories that feel like an ache. I read short stories almost every day and my favourites don’t share a genre. What they have in common is the ability to take me out of myself, look around, and when I come back, after the story is over, feel the world is a slightly different place. A place I understand a little more. A good story is like someone took a picture I thought I knew, coloured it different colours to and made everything much more vivid, like I’ve just woken up.
What will make a short story stand out for you?
I love fascinating characters, whether it’s Olive Kitteridge, or the couple in Murakami’s The Second Bakery Attack. These stories have little in common, but share an understanding that people are surprising. Olive Kitteridge seems like a dark character but has moments of unexpected vulnerability and kindness. The couple in The Second Bakery Attack seem like any ordinary couple, until we learn the wife has a ski mask, but has never been skiing. I think it was Lorrie Moore who said, ‘A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage.’ She’s right. When I read stories with characters that breathe, it’s like falling in love. A good story is glorious, but brief, affair that lingers for years.
Which short story do you wish you’d written and why?
There are so many it’s hard to pick just one! I love Flannery O’ Connor, Raymond Carver- Cathedral, Why Don’t you Dance? and his story Fat. Fat is a story I keep coming back to, it’s deceptively simple, but fascinating. On the one hand, the story centres around a man ordering a meal at a restaurant and never seeming full. Yet I keep reading this story. It stays with me because of what we’re not told. We learn very little about the waitress and her life, yet it’s impossible to read the story and not consider her. That’s astounding. The story works like a lesson in empathy- I can’t read it without engaging with that waitress, she is so much more than her work, our fleeting impression. That’s fantastic writing. I defy anyone to read that story, go into a restaurant and not think about who works there.
Which writers working in the short form today do you admire and why?
Oh, so many. Aimee Bender, Murakami, George Saunders, Miranda July, A M Holmes, Claire Wigfall, Daisy Johnson, Kirsty Logan, Sarah Hall, Ken Elkes, Nuala O’Connor… I like writers that lure me into their world and keep me there. I don’t care what a story is about, or what style it is written in, but I admire stories that feel like I must keep reading or I’ll be missing out on something.
Thanks, Angela! Excellent story and writer picks there, and great advice for short story writers and those entering the 2019 RW Short Story Prize!
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