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Introducing our longlisted authors: Dizz Tate

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Dizz Tate. Photograph by Alex Bate

Meet the authors longlisted for the 2020 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award

Introducing our longlisted authors: Dizz Tate

Dizz Tate has previously been published in The Stinging Fly, The Tangerine, Five Dials, 3:am magazine, Prism International, No Tokens Journal, Dazed, and Soft Punk. Her debut pamphlet of short stories, Nowhere to Go But Back Again, was published by Goldsmiths Press in 2018. She lives in Birmingham and is at work on her first novel.

She is longlisted for the story: Harpies

A young woman in her first year of university navigates the social scene with the help of her enigmatic – and angry – older friend. Full of humour, vengeance and rage, this is a story about the female experience, trauma past and present, and friendship.

What inspired you to write the story? Is it drawn from personal experience?

This story was probably the first time I wrote from a place of complete rage. It arose from conversations I’d been having with my best friends for years about the prevalence and acceptability of sexual assault, especially when we were teenagers. I was interested in how this rage could be personified in a story. I was also interested in exploring the limits of sharing our stories, that though together we could create these moments of solidarity that felt like grace, these moments quickly turned into others, where nothing had really changed. There was still all this residual anger, building and building like a bad itch – what to do with it all? It was getting so heavy all over me – I wanted to expel it, and so I tried to write a story. In an unconscious way, I think I wanted it to end differently to the way stories did in real life. I wanted a fight, a moment of violence, something vicious I could feel, misplaced and absurd like all violence is. I don’t think this is a story about hope or growth or morality. It’s stuck in the limits of its own anger, but anger can be both funny and free as well as destructive. I was reading about harpies before I started it, and I loved the idea of these bird-women, monstrous and winged and always hungry. Once I found them, the story came out like a scream. It flew right out of me.

How does writing short stories differ from writing full-length fiction, and what do you enjoy about writing in the genre?

I always try and write short stories as quickly as possible. There’ll be a nugget of an idea forming, and I can tell it’s good if I feel a bit scared of it. If I have an idea and I think, ‘Oh that’s clever! That’ll be great!’, then it normally turns out terrible. But the scary nuggets, which I’m too afraid of to even start with, those ones tend to sit, ferment, and I have to think about them for a while, and then when I start them, wincing, they tend to be the good ones. I like the Joy Williams line – there is a mystery to the whole thing that one investigates at their peril. The whole process is already so fragile to me, and often so many words are pained and wasted, that when it works, I’m careful not to examine the process too closely for fear it will never return.

How do you write? Longhand or typed? Why does your chosen method work for you?

I type short stories mostly. Short stories are about speed, and I can type faster than I can write. Short stories are always barrelling towards a moment of crisis or change, and for me, anxiety has never been a meditative moment, but more of a sentence you’re desperate to reach the end of.

Which short story collection by another author would you recommend?

ZZ Packer – Drinking Coffee Elsewhere; Nicole Flattery – Show Me a Good Time; Certain American States – Catherine Lacey; We Don’t Know What We’re Doing – Thomas Morris; Things to Make and Break – May-Lan Tan; all of Joy Williams, all of Denis Johnson, Grace Paley, Lorrie Moore, William Trevor, Sam Lipsyte.

What’s your favourite short story of all time? Who would you cast to read it?

This is difficult. Joy Williams is my favourite short story writer – when I read Taking Care for the first time… you know when you’re reading and don’t realise it’s got dark and someone else turns the light on for you? I must have read her collections dozens of times and they’re still that illuminating. But to whittle down to one, for our current moment, I’d go for The Last Generation in Escapes – everything is in that story, hope, desolation, love, power, innocence. After that, I’d read the rest of the book. Mary Louise Parker read one of her stories in the Paris Review podcast and I listened to it a dozen times over, so I’ll go with her to read it!

Who would you cast to read the story you have entered?

Anyone who relates to it.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Eudora Welty The Golden Apples, Marilynne Robinson’s essays What Are We Doing Here?, Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick, Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, Freda Downie’s poetry collection A Stranger Here, Zora Neale Hurston’s collected short stories, Return to the City of White Donkeys by James Tate, and I’m about to start Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor.

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