Between now and the shortlist announcement on Sunday 28th July we will be putting the spotlight on each of 2019's longlisted authors in turn.
Today's author is A M Homes, author of 'The National Caged Bird Show', a story about two lives intertwined by their conversation in a bird-loving chatroom.
What inspired you to write the story? Is it drawn from personal experience?
The story was inspired by the idea of a kind of ‘literary conversation’ with J.D. Salinger’s For Esme With Love And Squalor. I was interested in exploring how the emotional cost of war has not changed over time but the ways we (as a society) communicate have. During WW2 where we wrote letters and in the 21st century my characters—a soldier and a young girl--find community in an online chat room—where the other people in the room function as a kind of Greek chorus for talking about what is happening in the world around us.
How does writing short stories differ from writing full-length fiction, and what do you enjoy about writing in the genre?
Stories are highly compressed as compared to novels. I tell my students that writing a novel is like taking a train cross country, but a in a short story you get on the train half-way across the country, i.e. something has already happened, the story is in motion. The biggest difference is that there are ideas that work in a story that one would not be able to (or want to) sustain over the course of a novel The terms of short story are very different. And I love both novels and stories—in many ways stories I think are stronger—as they are compressed/distillations. And they are more ‘constructed” and therefore can be more beautiful in the way they are built—somewhere between a poem and a novel.
How do you write? Longhand or typed? Why does your chosen method work for you? I do whatever is necessary to get the work done. I find the connection of hand/pen to paper is more direct from my brain to my work than the computer—but in the end it all ends up in the computer and I print out a lot and revise on paper and then go around again and again.
Which short story collection by another author would you recommend?
Ben Marcus Stories From The Fog
What’s your favourite short story of all time? Who would you cast to read it?
I’m torn between Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery which I’d like to hear Ruth Wilson read or John Cheever’s The Swimmer, read by Ben Whishaw
What are you reading now?
Fly Already a new book of stories by Etgar Keret and Sing To It: New Stories by Amy Hempel.
Please read on for a preview of 'The National Caged Bird Show':
'Until now the familiar world was governed by Boy Scout promises, God’s law as relayed in the Sunday sermon, the coach’s doctrine, the military code of conduct, and the expectations that the drill sergeant made clear when he cited John Lyly’s Euphues, 1578: “The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.” The drill sergeant continued, “In case it’s not clear to you ass-monkeys, this is not a love affair. We are at war.” There is an irreducible truth to how cruel man can be. Some learn early on, and then there are others, like me, for whom it comes as a brutal awakening. But that’s not what you were looking for. You asked me why am I in a chat room for lovers of parakeets?
“Parakeet” just means parrot with a thin body and a long tail. It’s budgies, which is short for “budgerigar.”
I bet you do well on crossword puzzles.
I’m here for the distraction, the pleasure of something as small and clear-hearted as a budgie. Perhaps this is a fleeting attempt to keep myself sane in a situation that is so beyond foreign that I fear I have lost myself permanently. And you?'