Baines is a prize-winning literary author of two novels and numerous
plays for stage and radio. Her reputation is consistent amongst her
peers and readers alike, as an innovative and committed writer of
distinctly pure talent.
Balancing on the Edge of the World (Salt
Modern Fiction, 2007)
for the 2008 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award
with Elizabeth Baines
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Elizabeth Baines: Years,
actually, since a few of these stories date way back. I've had two
bouts of story writing, as at one point I more or less gave up as the
lit mag outlets were disappearing. Most of the stories in the book are
from the more recent time when I started again, but some are from the
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
EB: Yes, in the sense
that I hoped to have a collection one day, but no in that I wasn't
consciously linking the stories. Quite the contrary: I prided myself on
making each one as true to itself (rather than to any wider imperative)
as it needed to be, and each story was a whole new adventure for me.
You wonít even find that dialogue is punctuated consistently throughout
the collection: each story required its own style.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
EB: This was when I
had to start viewing them differently. I had to start thinking about
making a marketable book, so I looked for unifying characteristics.
Fortunately, as a former editor of a short-story magazine, Metropolitan, Iíd
had lots of practice at this: although Metropolitan issues
were themed for marketing purposes, in fact for each issue we just
chose the best stories we received, and then decided on a theme to
which they all related. It wasnít so hard to do with my own stories as
I had written and published so many, and most of them expressed my
continuing thematic obsessions of power and viewpoint and storytelling.
There was also the need, I felt, to make the book contemporary, so I
concentrated on the more recent stories, but was pleasantly surprised
to find how well some of the older stories stood up.
As for the order in which the stories appear, I think people rarely
read collections from cover to cover like novels Ė I donít anyway Ė but
I still think order is important: an overall impression is created, and
the opening and closing stories, which I think people are most likely
to read first, will be taken as pointers to the whole book. Since irony
is on the whole my stock-in-trade, I decided to begin with two of the
more comic stories, while beginning and ending with two stories which
best summed up a main preoccupation of the collection: that of the
unacknowledged or surprising viewpoint. It was interesting to see the
different ways in which my stories "talked" to each other according to
the order in which I placed the rest of them Ė creating different
rhythms of mood or style or situation. In the end I found a journey
through situations and subject matter Ė stories about adults to stories
about childhood and back again via stories about parenting - which also
to some extent followed developments of mood and style.
TSR: What does the word "story"
mean to you?
think of something jewelled, dense, which will glow in the mind long
after you have finished reading it.
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
and no. Thereís a part of me which is just writing for myself, out of
myself, in a kind of trance Ė itís the only way to get the rhythms and
capture the dream of it all. Then thereís the other, editing part,
which comes hard on the tail of my dreaming part and is thinking about
readers and constantly on the lookout for unreadability. I suppose I do
have a concept of "the ideal reader", ie the one who gets exactly what
Iím trying to do, but I also have a realistic consciousness as I write
of the fact that people could easily read my words in very different
ways from the way Iím intending.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
EB: I am always so
scared to ask people what they think! What if they hated it? Wouldnít
that be so embarrassing for them, in which case theyíd only be likely
to lie!? But of course I would like to know what they think: which
stories they liked and didnít, and why.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
EB: Iím kind of
used to it by now as Iíve published two novels, one of those has been
discussed a fair amount in literary theory books (which is a great
lesson in how your work can become a part of a different agenda
altogether from the one in which it was conceived!). So I donít think
about it much except to hope they are buying them, and enjoying them if
they are! I do remember though how strange it felt the first time a
book of mine went on sale: the way that something so very personal had
become not even just public property but also other peopleís private
property, since thatís surely what the books they read become.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
EB: Iím writing
more stories, and gearing up to write a novel.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?