Stuart Evers’ first collection of short stories; ‘Ten Stories About Smoking’ was published by Picador in 2011 and went on to win the London Book Award. He published his first novel ‘If This is Home’ in 2012 and his second collection of short stories; ‘Your Father Sends His Love’ will be available soon.
1) Which writers influenced you the most?
Influence carries a lot of weight; it is both an inspiration and a burden. It should be worn lightly, as linen trousers or a just-grabbed cardigan, but it is more often a duffel coat. I console myself with the fact that every good writer I’ve read comes from a place, or more accurately a sphere, of influence: the best writers are magpieish and the best writers are readers. The literature of the past means they can repoint and reconfigure the present.
This is to avoid the question. You always want names. I asked a very experimental, counter-culturally accredited, though now almost forgotten, writer once for his influences and his only response was Jane Austen. “Because she taught me I could begin a sentence with ‘but’”. I suggested he might have found inspiration in Blake and Burroughs, in Ballard and Robbe-Grillet. He just shook his head. Austen, he said. That’s all. Outing your influences is to bring people into the building blocks of your work, it presents the wiring behind the wall, the processor beneath the computer.
Avoidance, again, I know. So. First, in terms of making me want to write, for providing the hunger for reading and for writing, James Joyce and George Orwell. Joyce for the possibilities; Orwell for the precision. This would have been mid to late teens. Angela Carter, Ford Maddox Ford, Will Self and Frank O’Hara through university. Then the big ones: Raymond Carver, Richard Yates, Richard Ford, Philip Roth, Jayne Anne Philips, Jim Crace, Don Delillo, Haruki Murakami, Georges Perec and Grace Paley. These in my twenties and still, approaching my forties, my touchstones.
They gave me a ragged blueprint of the kind of fiction I wanted to both read and to write. I wanted to concentrate on the kind of forgotten men and women, those that the British novel and short story seemed to want to ignore: boring, ordinary people. People who work in pubs and supermarkets, in offices and business centres, people who have small dreams that never seem to be fulfilled, people who aren’t anywhere when important events happen, but are driving a car taking their kids to school, or waiting for a bus. The kinds of people I know, the kinds of people I see every day.
It is a ragged blueprint because sometimes I deviate. In my first collection Raymond Carver puts in an appearance, as does television magician Paul Daniels. Reading those aforementioned writers allowed me that latitude. They give me permission to deviate from those norms. That’s the best kind of influence, I think: unspoken, unsaid, silently encouraging.
2) What is your favourite short story?
“Where is the Voice Coming From?’ By Eudora Welty, written quickly after the murder of American Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers (no relation) is one that, no matter how many times I read it, I just bristle from its power and kinetic staging. The opening is violent, unpleasant, and it does what all good fiction should do: puts us in places we never should go alone. “Fat” by Raymond Carver is, amongst all of his astonishing stories, the one that I return to in the same way others might to a favourite song in times of crisis. I could probably fill several pages with stories that really get me: Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’, Malamud’s ‘The Jew Bird’, Paley’s ‘The Pale Pink Roast’, Richard Yates’ ‘Oh Joseph, I’m so Tired’… the list is long.
3) What is your favourite short story collection?
Drown by Junot Diaz was the first collection of stories I ever bought and I’m still in awe of it now. For The Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander had a similar effect some five years later. Black Tickets by Jayne Anne Phillips was a revelation, as was The Dog of the Marriage by Amy Hempel. Dan Rhodes’ Anthropology is still the funniest story collection ever written, while Liars in Love by Richard Yates proves that Revolutionary Road is far from his best book.
4) Which current UK writers are exciting you?
We are, thankfully, rather blessed at the moment with British writers doing something odd and strange with the novel and the story. David Peace, David Mitchell, Niven Govinden, Sarah Walters, Naomi Wood, Jim Crace, Kazuo Ishiguru, Lee Rourke, Richard Beard, Kirsty Logan, Stav Sherev. Cathi Unsworth, Nikesh Shukla, Helen Oyeyemi – all are taking their own slant on their own preoccupations. I will have missed out loads of people, but I am writing in a pub, not by my bookshelves so have no prompts. I like writing in pubs. It’s the best thing in the world.
TEN STORIES ABOUT SMOKING
‘Ten Stories About Smoking’ features ten stories of allure, betrayal, nostalgia, solitude, seduction, damage, desire and loss; of silence broken by the click of a lighter; insomnia defined by a glowing ember; a magician’s trick; a lover’s scent; and, a final wish.
5) What are you working on at the minute?
I’ve just finished the new collection, Your Father Sends His Love, so I am flitting about and steeling myself for writing another collection and a novel.
6) Describe your own writing habits?
I have a job so I write in my lunchbreak and after work and on weekends. I tend to wear jogging trousers and drink time-appropriate drinks (coffee before midday, water after lunch, beer or wine on weekends and at night. I edit in my local pub whenever I can. I can make notes, read and edit there, but not write fiction. I need silence, or at least quiet. I can’t listen to music and write these days.
7) Which of your short stories are you most proud of?
The title story from the new collection, Your Father Send His Love. It sent me loopy writing it. Only my wife can tell you whether it was worth it.
8) What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read. Read. Read. Don’t give up Read. Read. Read. Don’t be arrogant to assume anyone wants to read your work. Read. Read. Read. Don’t give up. Read. Read. Read. Listen to everything that goes on around you; listen to every word people say to you or near you. Read. Read. Read. Don’t give up. No bit of writing is ever wasted; it’s all part of the process even if you ditch it all. Read. Read. Read. Don’t give up. Read. Read. Read. Listen more than you speak. Read. Read. Read. When you get rejected, remember that everyone gets rejected. Read. Read. Read. When you compare yourself unfavourably with another writer, see it as a challenge and not an excuse to whine. Read. Read. Read. Do not expect to make any money; if you do it’s pennies from heaven. Read. Read. Read. Don’t bore yourself, if you are bored, readers are too. Read. Read. Read. Remember if you don’t buy more than one book a year, at full price, by living writer you’re part of the problem. Read. Read. Read. Try to take on board at least one of these edicts. Read. Read. Read. Don’t give up. Read. Read. Read
IF THIS IS HOME
Since he was eighteen, Mark has been running away. Running from his small town, his vanished mother, his broken father. But one night in Las Vegas, shocked by violence and ambushed by memories, he is propelled back to his real name and his real past. Back to Bethany Wilder: carnival queen, partner in dreams, and tragic ghost.
9) Best advice you have ever received?
One of my closest friends is a musician. He got quite angry with me for thinking I was owed a living by writing. The only thing that’s important is the work. The work is the most important thing. Worry about the work, everything else is noise. When I stopped worrying about money, as he had suggested, it all fell into place.
10) Top tip for writing a story?
Don’t rush it, unless it needs rushing. Start with an image, a phrase, a memory and then ask: is this a story or a situation? You’ll know soon enough. Write in different places and always be prepared for a story to change half way through.
11) Top tip for editing a story?
First finish. Up the point size. Re-read and edit. Take down the point size and edit again. Change font. Repeat. Take out everything that isn’t utterly essential. Put the story back together again. Then add all you’ve excised. Is it better for the fat? They’ll be a happy medium between the two. Read it aloud. Is it better now? Leave it for two weeks. Re-read. Edit. Read aloud again. Leave for two weeks. Read aloud without reading it beforehand. Get someone you trust to read it. Ignore their comments but try and see what they see in it. Repeat until you are close to fucking hating the story.
12) Top tip for submitting a story?
I have little joy in submitting stories. You should ask someone who gets in the New Yorker or Granta.
This is from a new story. It may never see the light of day.
You work so long in darkness, the whole world becomes a nocturne. Papa would say this sitting at table; palms up, awaiting, what, punishment? Perhaps yes. The document in light, bathed in cold glow. So long in darkness, he would say, then perhaps remove his spectacles, replace the cap on a fountain pen.
One more time: So long in darkness. No longer looking to me, but hunched over a document, identity card, ration book. A photograph eased into spotlight, the magnifying glass over the paper. Tweezers he would not let me touch without his eye to oversee. The pens and inkpots; tea for staining; lemon shells, squeezed of juice; tobacco rubs; sometimes a typewriter, loaned or bought. A glue pot now a memory of a smell; its odour too commonplace over the years. The world become a nocturne.
He learned from his Papa, as I learned from Papa. Steady hand is the key. Nerve. Once I called it art and he slapped my face, open palm. This is not art, he said. Think art and you forget. Think that, they can see your vanity in the work. We are machines. We are print presses. We are thumbprints and ink. Nothing more. Remember that.
If a man is a word, my father was remember. An edict, a lesson and a curse. Remember this, remember when, always remember. In the dark, his voice clear, an authority his clenched frame lacked. Most telling when on my shoulder. Remember, Josef, like the Arabian rug, the imperfection is intentional. Remember, son, hammer the keys like they are a bully’s face. Remember, Josef, write at the same speed a bored man would.
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