Ailsa Cox is a fiction writer and critic, with a special interest in the short story genre. Her other books are Writing Short Stories (Routledge), and Alice Munro (Northcote House). Her fiction has been included in magazines and anthologies, including The Virago Book of Love and Loss, Metropolitan, London Magazine, Manchester Stories 3 (Comma Press), and Transmission
with Ailsa Cox
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Ailsa Cox: The collection's
a mixture of new and old stories; the oldest is ‘20th Frame' which was
first published in a collection of prize-winning stories in the
eighties. So far as individual stories are concerned, they take a long
time, not to write exactly, but to ripen. So a story will be completed
over a few weeks, but that extra something that needs to be added or
taken away could take years to get right. I tend to have several nearly
finished stories on the go at once.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
When I began writing seriously I wanted to be (what else?) a novelist.
Then I realised short stories were my thing, and I've always wanted to
publish a collection but the stories are written individually without a
set pattern in mind.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
started to think quite hard about how stories are ordered in
collections after being involved in judging the Edge Hill Prize. The
first story is important, obviously, and so is the last one; but
there's also the tricky question of balancing longer and shorter
stories, heavy and light, experimental or more traditional. I also
realised that I had certain obsessions - cars (I'm a non-driver),
moving house - and that I would have to group stories that shared a
particular motif, theme or style, but also stop the collection seeming
Originally Her Own Self Again was going to be the first story because it's so accessible, and then I realized it was too long. Alice Munro starts The Love of a Good Woman
with the very long title story, but most of her readers are already
committed to finishing the book. For most short story writers, that is
not the case. Doors of Tunis
is the last one because it is about the end of a relationship that
isn't really over, and that seemed the right note to end on.
You haven't asked about the title, but that was really
difficult. Some of the story titles sounded terrible as the title of a
collection. I gave writer friends a list of the titles (they will have
known some but not all) and took a vote.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
AC: It means listening to voices in the dark.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
No - I just think about getting the story right.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
AC: What do you remember about it, a week after you finished it?
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
AC: Exciting, a bit scary. I wrote a book called Writing Short Stories so there is a voice in my head that says, "Right, you think you're so bloody clever, lets see what you can do..."
What are you working on now?
AC: More stories - and I also have a long term fiction project called The Institute, which forms very satisfactory parallel world to my everyday life. Okay, I confess - it's a campus novel.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
AC: Rob Shearman, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical; Tamar Yellin, Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes; Mark Illis, Tender. All very different. (They have great titles too.)