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Chris Beckett 


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Website: Chris-beckett.com

Chris Beckett's first story was published in Interzone in 1990, and his stories have since appeared in Britain, the US and Russia. His novel The Holy Machine was published in 2004 by Wildside Press and his second novel, Marcher, by Leisure Books, in 2008. He lives in Cambridge with his wife and three children and lectures in social work.
Read more about Chris Beckett's relationship with
Interzone on the 
blog.

Short Story Collections

 The Turing Test
Elastic Press, 2008

Winner, 2009 Edge Hill Short Story Prize

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

 Interview with Chris Beckett

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

Chris Beckett: These stories were written over something like a 15 year period (though they were not the only stories I wrote during that time!)

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

CB: No, I didn't. Not until the most recent ones anyway.

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

CB: I excluded a number of stories which I have used as material in novels, in particular a series of stories that became my novel Marcher, and a couple of other stories that had contributed to my other two novels (though the story La Macchina, which I did include, is in fact the original prototype for my first novel The Holy Machine). Apart from that, the collection included most of my stories written until that point. (I've now got enough for another collection.)
    I went to a lot of trouble with the order. I had an elaborate system of colour codes. I wanted the book to be satisfying as a book. This seems to have paid off as a number of people have commented on the way the book works as a whole. Several of my stories are linked (ie they have some of the same characters in them). I deliberately separated these from each other so the reader could have the pleasure of coming back to the same character unexpectedly after reading other stories, but I made them appear in chronological order (see The Perimeter and Piccadilly CIrcus, or Monsters and The Marriage of Sky and Sea). I similarly tried to spread stories out so that, for instance, stories with female main protagonists were not all grouped together, nor stories told in 3rd person (there aren't many), nor stories set on other planets. I wanted the reader to have a sense of contrast with each new story. I deliberately mixed up older stories with more recent ones. I chose the final story because I felt that it offered some hope at the end, rather than use the story, say, in which the main character dies at the end.

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

CB: Hard question! One or more characters, a situation, something happens so that things change in some way. Usually I find short stories work best when there are three main characters. A good story means a satisfying whole, lots packed into a small space, nothing wasted, a sense of escape from your own life, but at the same time engagement with something that is real. It's not essential, but I like a story to have a heart. I don't usually like stories in which I don't care about anyone.

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

CB:  Not usually. Not knowing who will read it is quite appealing. One thing I like is that different readers see different things in the same story.

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

CB: Another hard one! I suppose "What did you get from it?" "What did it touch in you?"

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

CB: It feels great. I have been a writer since I was a child, but it's a bit sad writing when no one is reading, like talking when no one is listening. It's not just vanity wanting to be read. It's also the simple desire, which everyone feels, to communicate and to be heard. For some people, ordinary talking just isn't quite enough.

TSR: What are you working on now?

CB: I am working on a short story about a meeting between God and Satan, or something a bit like that anyway.

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

CB Raymond Carver - What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love? (A bit too stripped down and clinical for my taste. Made me think of a butterfly collection. But impressive.) Flannery O'Connor - Collected stories (I enjoyed these, though they are a bit grim, and and even though there isn't necessarily much to like about a lot of the characters) Colette Paul - Whoever We Choose to Love (Most recently read of the three. Highly recommended, varied, insightful, compassionate, funny).