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Introducing our longlisted authors: Max Sydney Smith

Max Sydney Smith cr OLIVER HOLMS.jpgView larger
Max Sydney Smith. Photograph by Oliver Holms

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

Introducing our longlisted authors: Max Sydney Smith

Max Sydney Smith was born in 1986 in London. He graduated with an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths University in 2015. His flash fiction pamphlet, Without Seeming to Care at All was published by Rough Trade Books as part of the Rough Trade Editions series in 2019 and his short story Something Less Than Our Best was broadcast by BBC R4 as part of their Short Works series in 2020. His short stories were also selected for publication in the Open Pen Anthology in 2016 and he was longlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize in 2019.

He is longlisted for the story: Without Seeming to Care at All

This story follows a group of people working and partying together in a popular but decrepit bar on an unnamed island outside an unnamed city. A brilliantly realised portrait of the random, hedonistic, and sometimes purposeless endeavours of unattached people at a certain point in their lives, this a fascinating, funny and fresh snapshot of this particular lifestyle.

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

I worked in bars for years, but it was actually right after I stopped and moved over to a desk job that I started writing this story. I wrote it because I missed that world, the closeness we all had, as well as the endless parties. But I think I was only able to write because I had the distance from it and so perhaps I was able to see it clearer.

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

I find writing short fiction cleaner. Often there will be a single turn on which the narrative pivots. And there tends to be less psychological or realist baggage – like what X’s childhood was like or a description of the street Y lives on. I also suspect that short fiction rewards formal experimentation in a way that longer fiction does not. Because a stylistic innovation that might entertain a reader over a short piece is more likely to irritate them when stretched over three hundred pages.

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

I wrote the first drafts for this story on my phone. I often use my phone for early drafts. We use our phones all the time and for me it encourages a directness and honesty that would be jeopardised if I ever tried to ritualise the writing process – you know with vintage typewriters and special notepads etc. Of course at some point I had to type them up on my laptop and then the long, slow work of rearranging and editing and workshopping began.

Which short story collection by another author would you recommend?

Taking Care by Joy Williams.

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

Examples of Confusion, by Lydia Davis. Meryl Streep.

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

Joe Dempsie.

What are you reading now?

The Collected Stories of Diane Williams.

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