A J Kirby is an award winning writer of two published novels: Bully and The Magpie Trap

Short Story Collections

Mix Tape
(New Generation, 2009)

reviewed by Alex Thornber

Interview with A J Kirby

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

A J Kirby: The stories in Mix Tape have all been previously published apart from one bonus track. They were published on-line, in periodicals, journals and magazines, but this is the first time they have appeared in one volume. They form approximately 80% of my short story output over the past four years (the rest is under contract still) and trace a path from my very early writings to my more polished later stuff. I used to make mix tapes all the time (still do, and not on iPod) and in putting this collection together, it really felt like I was going back into the archives trying to find the right "tracks" for each section of the book. Putting the stories into a coherent structure was great fun and I hope that is reflected in the reading. There's ups and downs in there, but I think that reflects the fact I initially started writing to forcibly drag myself out of one of life's ruts. The culmination of all the struggle was the eventual publication of the book.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

AJK: No. Most of the pieces were written specifically for various short story titles, many of them on-line, or in the US. I'd never actually thought of publishing them all in one collection until it was brought up in a book-signing session for my last novel, so in a way, I can say they are here, inside one cover "due to popular demand", although it sounds rather less impressive when I qualify that with a brief note about the audience at that book-signing; mainly friends and family. There's a real mix-bag of stories here which showcase my literary fiction as well as my genre stuff. But if there's a common theme, and I'd like to think there is, it's an exploration of various forms of being trapped and the desire to escape, be it through serendipity, when an old man finds his lost wedding ring growing within a cabbage in the allotment, through a bizarre lottery, through murder, swapping identity or drink and drugs.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

AJK: As I've said, I'm something of a technophobe, so the stories here are arranged like an old-school mix-tape, or a "Greatest Hits" catalogue. And like all good mix-tapes, they chart the mood of the party, from the excitable, laughable and crazy-ass to bitter-sweet and then maudlin, and finally chilled out... I didn't want them to jar together in terms of mood, so I've grouped them into a more coherent format.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

AJK: For me, your story is your voice; how you explain yourself to the world. At the same time, it is an attempt to understand the world, and your role within it, through your words. It's a way of working things out, of attaining empathy, and of ultimately trying to entertain in so doing.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

AJK:  Most definitely. I used to run every single one of my stories past an online writing partner. We have still never met, but instinctively, I seem to know the types of thing she'd like to read. I like to imagine how this electronic muse will react; will her face collapse into a smile, a grimace, a frown?

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

AJK: Is there too much of a mix in this Mix Tape? Does the genre fiction jar with the literary fiction? I like to think I have a bit of a punk writing style which is evidenced in all the different forms of my writing, but is this evident for the reader?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

AJK: Wonderful and worrying at the same time. I suppose all writers must feel a glow to know their stories are being read, and that's why the majority of us write in the first place. But that emotion is quickly superseded by worry. What if nobody likes the stories? Wouldn't they be better still stuck on my overloaded hard drive where they won't bother anyone? That being said, I'd like to thank every single person who's bought one of my books, and also apologise to those of my friends and family who receive marketing bumf for the latest release inside their Christmas cards!

TSR: What are you working on now?

AJK: I'm currently working on a novel, provisionally entitled Moonwalking on Shingle. It's a comic novel set on the north east coast but it's looking pretty bloated at the moment and could do with a massive amount of editing. I'm also working on a new short story which I hope to be able to submit to the next Nemonymous collection, although I won't be able to give you the title of that one for obvious reasons. This Nemonymous will be the final one in the series, and, having appeared in the past two collections I'll have all my fingers and toes crossed that my story gets in. It's also rather sad that the collection is coming to an end.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

AJK: Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishihuro; The Route Book at Bedtime, by Various Authors; The Bride Stripped Bare, by Rachel Kendall
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Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>