In the 41st in a series of posts on 2010 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, A.L. Kennedy, author of What Becomes (Alfred A. Knopf), answers a slew of questions about her work.
Describe one of the stories in your collection.
One of the stories concerns a one night stand in a hotel—two people who don't know each other and are trying to be civilsed about something which probably isn't actually that civilsed. The piece is entirely dialogue—I wanted it to seem that the reader is overhearing what's happening in the room next door and can decide to listen or not and to judge or not—and, given that what they're doing would be very easily simply pornographic, it seemed best to simply let them speak—then the story is about why they're doing what they're doing and who they are, rather than a series of acts.
What is your writing process like?
I just write whenever I get the peace and the chance to—at home, on trains, on boats, on the road—a high percentage of most books have been written at least in part in hotels. I prefer to work at night, but sometimes I can't. I prefer to work lying down, but sometimes I can't. I prefer to work barefoot, but sometimes I can't.
At what stage do you start seeking feedback on your work and from whom?
I don't inflict my work on anybody—my editor gets it when it's as finished as possible—no one can read something for the first time more than once... I do read work in progress—but only when it's quite far along and only pieces that would be free-standing.
What do you think a good short story collection should deliver?
Whatever you want it to.
What book made you want to become a writer?
I don't think any book did that. Most of them have made me want to be a reader—and some have made me feel lucky that I am.
What kind of research, if any, do you do?
That depends entirely on the story or novel or whatever—it might be historical, scientific, contemporary, might involve going to locations or simply thinking a lot about someone imaginary... It's very variable—whatever the piece requires—travel, learning another language, training, whatever.
If you dabble in any other non-literary forms of expression, what do you do and how does it inform your work?
I do stand up and some more theatrical performance—they're both very immediate and pure as a forms and very plainly communicative—and you get an instant reaction. All of which are helpful. And, of course, they generate material which eventually can become something in prose. I also do a lot of voice work with a coach—I think that strengthens the voice on the page.
Describe a technique you've learned from other narrative or non-narrative forms of expression.
I think doing standup helps me understand funny better and get it on the page better.
Who is your favorite living author and why?
John Byrne, the Scottish playwright and artist—he's simply one of the most pleasant and talented people alive.
Have you had a mentor and who was it?
Nope. Many people been inspirational, but I've rarely met any of them and most of them weren't writers.
What's the longest narrative time period you've ever contained in a short story?
Odd question. On one level, something over 300 years. Genuinely as part of a narrative, ten years.
Have you ever written a short story in one sitting and not revised it later?
Are you kidding? You are kidding, right?