André Mangeot has a previous short story collection, A Little Javanese (Salt, 2008), as well as two poetry collections: Natural Causes (Shoestring, 2003) and Mixer (Egg Box, 2005). He lives and works in Cambridge, and is a member of the performance group The Joy of Six.


Short Story Collections

True North
(Salt Publishing, 2010)

reviewed by Michelle Tandoc-Pichereau

A Little Javanese
(Salt Publishing, 2009)

reviewed by Sheila Cornelius

Interview with André Mangeot (2011)

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

André Mangeot: Though it was my poetry that first appeared in book form (Natural Causes, 2003 and Mixer, 2005), I’d been writing fiction for many years before this. Two novels in my twenties which are still unpublished (possibly a good thing, I was still experimenting and learning the craft) and lots of stories. Nearly all of these were set abroad, often in far-flung places. From the days when I lost myself in the novels of Graham Greene, Paul Theroux’s early African and far Eastern novels, these were the kind of places and cultures I wanted to experience and write about myself. Places where little seemed familiar or certain, sometimes not even safe. People forced to live on the edge in some way – whether they were locals or outsiders. From the mid-eighties to early-nineties I travelled widely and absorbed everything I could as potential material/backgrounds for writing. Russia , Central America , Indonesia , north Africa. England in general, and what I recognised as my relatively comfortable life, seemed unbearably fortunate and dull – as prospective subjects or settings, these held no interest for me. I was desperate to see over the horizon, the more distant and unfamiliar the better. And certainly I hoped the other lives and scenarios I found there might intrigue potential readers, draw them in as they had me.
   Which is a long way of saying that four of the stories that ended up in True North were written during that period (one appeared at the time in London Magazine, my first serious publication and a great source of encouragement) but most remained unpublished until Salt accepted them, as two books, in 2007. Over subsequent months I made a few revisions to the stories already written and wrote three new ones (Rain, Monkey Knife Fight and True North) based on more recent discoveries. So – and it’s almost frightening to realise – from start to finish this book took twenty-five years to write – or at least to appear! But this has been a blessing in some ways. As with the first volume (A Little Javanese 2008, reissued in paperback earlier this year), Salt has designed and produced it beautifully and I feel that both books are now as good as they could be.

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

AM: Not really, no. Most of the stories I wrote as one-offs, hoping for magazine publication or to enter short story competitions. (Two of those in A Little Javanese were runners-up for prizes some years ago). But I realised they shared this preoccupation with foreign lands and protagonists in some form of moral crisis, so I felt they might work well together one day. The stories I submitted to Salt quite recently (soon after they began to publish fiction) had no particular order at that time. Salt suggested splitting them into two separate collections, so that was when the real decisions on ordering started, what should go in each book.
   In the end, A Little Javanese contained two long stories, one almost a novella, and this left certain stories and other decisions for the second volume. At that point, with the arc of the book in mind, I realised I needed to write some additional, new stories for True North.

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

AM: After much thought I dropped three stories that were in the original typescript since they no longer provided enough contrast to other stories that had to form the core of the second book. I had quite a few drafts of other, unfinished stories to hand and chose to work on three specific ones as these seemed likeliest to provide the balance of subject, setting and mood I was looking for. Once completed, the final order suggested itself. The first story and the last are clearly crucial to get right in a collection (indeed, the first and last pages in any book) and I’m happy that Rain and True North lead one in and out in the right way.

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

AM: Something that grabs my attention from the start, transports me directly into whatever world and lives it depicts. Something that resonates accuracy, truth and illuminates these. Something that moves naturally yet also surprises. The mark of any good story is that one doesn't want it to end, and once it does, you're eager to read it again.

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

AM: Not a specific reader, simply trusting there are like-minded people out there, who share an enjoyment of the same sort of writers and writing as I do. They don’t have to share my or my characters' point-of-view, but the stories should move them strongly, either way. First and last, the writer has to be their own ideal, and most critical, reader. How can one submit a story, poem or novel for publication unless and until you're thrilled to be writing and reading it yourself? Reading aloud is a critical test. It must have its own music. And provided you’ve invested all your energy and emotion in creating it, told the story as you’d wish, you have to believe that somewhere there'll be editors, publishers and readers who’ll pick up on that energy and excitement.

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

AM:  If readers are happy to tell me what they enjoyed, or what failed to work for them in anything I've written, that's of great value. Would they seek out my other books, now or in future? If their response is positive, I’d ask them to consider recommending my work to others and/or posting a review on the book’s Amazon page. This is especially helpful in spreading the word for writers who, as yet, find it hard to attract reviews in the national press.

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

AM: A great sense of fulfilment – that connection you were seeking when you first tapped the keyboard is finally achieved. But a certain anxiety too. Now the story/poem/novel has a life of its own and each reader can make of it what they will. Naturally one hopes for some positive responses, in particular from those who don’t know you, who are simply responding to the writing.

TSR: What are you working on now?

AM:  New poems (working towards a third collection) and a novel-in-progress.

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

AM:  There Are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry; Wild Child by T.C Boyle; Fascination by William Boyd.





Interview with André Mangeot (2009)

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

Andre Mangeot: The stories in A Little Javanese - and most of those in a second volume due out later this year; around a dozen in all - were written some time ago. They took roughly five years I suppose. I was travelling a great deal then: taking temporary jobs here in the UK, heading for as long as I could to explore other countries. I remember being hungry - ravenous might be more accurate - for places, people, experiences that were as distant and different as possible from what I had known up to then. I'd tried a few stories "writing what I knew" (suburban, middle-class England), even finished a first novel, but was fully aware I knew very little - certainly not enough to write anything of real depth or conviction. And the little I did know seemed bitingly dull and unoriginal in terms of material. It was pretty clear I had to broaden my horizons. I also discovered through those journeys that it works better for me, is more stimulating, to start with a blank canvas; no real preconceptions or knowledge of a place. To simply arrive somewhere and begin to absorb it. Ideas, characters, potential locations and stories: these develop fast from the moment of arrival as long as the place is sufficiently unfamiliar, in a way that rarely happens nearer home.

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

AM: No, not at first. As a result of these journeys, I did feel my writing - all my senses really - had finally come alive though. There were three or four stories that seemed stranger, more intriguing than anything before. Someone suggested I send a couple to Alan Ross at London Magazine and it was a huge boost that he liked and accepted them. Confirmation I was on the right track. Even once I had enough stories for a book I found that very few publishers considered short story collections as the way to launch a new writer; they all wanted a novel first. My first one wasn't good enough (even to me), I wrote a second that was runner-up for a new writer prize and had several publishers interested, but it just never happened. The stories went back in a drawer and didn't resurface till a couple of years ago when I noticed that Salt had begun to publish short stories as well as poetry. (I was more familiar with the poetry world by now as I'd had two collections out). I sent the typescript in and had a very positive response. It was good to know the stories held up.

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

AM: When Salt told me they'd prefer to split the typescript into two shorter books rather than a single volume, this threw up a new challenge. Deciding which stories to place in each book, never mind their order, was really quite tough. You're looking for contrast and balance in so many ways. Knocking out one story, switching two others around - it can change the whole feel of the book, for better or worse. In the end my main criteria was stark and dramatic contrasts in setting, atmosphere, temperature (literally & metaphorically) - so in Javanese it seemed effective to have the austerity of a harsh Moscow winter/communist regime alongside the humidity and colour of Java and Central America. Ditto with the opening two stories: the frenetic, slightly threatening cityscape of New York next to rural France. And I've tried to alternate short and longer stories. It meant a few revisions here and there. For volume two I had to drop a couple of stories that no longer seemed to fit, so right now I'm writing some new ones.

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

AM:Something that grabs my attention from the start, transports me directly into whatever world and lives it depicts. Something that resonates accuracy, truth and illuminates these. Something that moves naturally yet also surprises. The mark of any good story is that one doesn't want it to end, and once it does, you're eager to read it again.

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

AM:  First and last, the writer him/herself has to be their own most critical reader. You can't think of submitting a story, poem or novel for publication unless and until you're happy reading it yourself. And reading it aloud - just as critical a test. It must have its own music. Of course you're hopeful that if you get the story told as you wish, there'll be like-minded readers out there, those who pick up on the energy and emotions you had in creating it. But frankly that's out of your hands.

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

AM:It's almost enough to know that others have read, are reading, what one has written. By that stage, the connection you were seeking when you felt compelled to start is already achieved. The story/poem/novel has a new life of its own - and now each reader can make of it what they will. But if they're happy to tell me what they enjoyed, or what failed to work for them, in anything I've written, that's of great value.

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

AM: See above

TSR: What are you working on now?

AM: Further stories for volume two, a novel and a third poetry collection.

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

AM: Bear and His Daughter by Robert Stone; Le Horla by Maupassant; Slowly, Slowly in the Wind by Patricia Highsmith.

 
                     
home
about
find something to read: reviews
find something to read: interviews
find something to read: categories
find something to read: back issues
blog
competitions & giveaways
links




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 >>>