Writing a Short Story Collection

Scott Prize 2012 winner and fellow Ether author Carys Bray talks about her debut collection Sweet Home, published today

How it came about

I first started writing short stories when I began an MA in Creative Writing. I didn’t set out to write a short story collection, I just really enjoyed the form, so I kept writing.

I heard about Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize in 2010 when I read Tom Vowler’s The Method and Susannah Rickards’ Hot Kitchen Snow. The following year I read A. J Ashworth’s Somewhere Else or Even Here, Cassandra Parkin’s New World Fairy Tales and David Philip Mullins’ Greetings From Below. I liked every book and I began to nurture a secret daydream that one day I might be a Scott Prize winner, but I honestly didn’t think it would happen.

Deciding upon a theme, or not…

I didn’t consciously decide on a theme, but when I started to look through my stories it was clear that a lot of them worked together because they were about family and the things that go wrong, and right, when people live together. A lot of my stories explore dark familial ‘failures,’ but I hope many of them are also funny and ultimately optimistic.

I like the versatility of the short story and the way that what happens doesn’t always have to be ‘real’. In Sweet Home a bereaved mother who borrows her next door neighbour’s baby, an outsider builds a gingerbread house at the edge of an English village, a woman is seduced into buying special-offer babies at the supermarket, a father is reminded of his son as he watches the rescue of a group of Chilean miners and a little boy attempts to engineer a happily-ever-after following the death of his sister.

Choosing a running order

A friend told me that an opening story needs to say, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ and a closing story needs to say, ‘This is what I’ve done,’ or as my Sat Nav likes to announce, ‘You have arrived at your destination.’ I wrote the titles of all the stories I had selected on post-it notes. Then I added details such as the word count, the kind of narrative voice employed and whether the story was mostly funny or sad. I tried to make sure that the order was varied, for example: I didn’t want two really sad stories to follow each other. I lined the post-it notes along my kitchen worktop and they lived there for days. As I passed the stories on my way to the fridge I swapped them around. I changed my mind again and again until it finally seemed to work.

Prizes and publication

I sent the manuscript off and tried not to think about it. I waited for several months and then one day, while I was at work, the shortlist announcement was posted online. I turned on my phone to discover several happy messages and I drove home with a silly grin on my face.

When I got the phone call to say I’d won the prize I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had such an adrenaline rush that I had to go out for a run, something I rarely do. Winning the prize was probably the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me (the births of my children were not ‘exciting’!).

Working with Salt Publishing

The editorial process was completely painless. Jen, my editor from Salt, decided that one of the stories didn’t work as well as the others, so we removed if from the collection. She made a few minor changes to a couple of the stories – a word change here and there – and that was it.

My books arrived in a brown box last week. It was a very exciting and strange moment. I had a peep at them and then put them away. Later I had another peep. Eventually I got one out, felt the pages and read some of the words – my words, it was a fantastic feeling.

Thanks for coming over for a chat, Carys, and good luck with the book. I’ve ordered my copy and I’m looking forward to reading it enormously.

Read a review of Sweet Home here.

You can find out more about Carys and her work here.

 

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