London-based writer and literary blogger. She is the author of daily
fiction blog Speak to Strangers,
which has now been published in book format. She also developed the
online project Look up at the Sky
to explore writing and walking.
with Gemma Seltzer
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Gemma Seltzer: Exactly
100 days! Speak to Strangers started life as a daily blog of 100
hundred-word short stories based on random conversations with
Londoners. The concept of the project was to try to capture the exact
moment of interaction in words, which often meant writing as soon as
it had taken place, or at least shortly after. I liked the challenge
of writing instantly, depicting my direct experiences, and then
sharing the story in its raw form. A year after I’d completed the
blog, it was published by Penned in the Margins. We did edit for
sense and to check each story was exactly 100 words, but essentially
the series is very close to the original.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
knew I would write 100 stories, but I didn’t consider the
individual stories as a collection until I’d finished the project.
Writing the final story, in which I address the stranger as the last
I encounter, was actually very powerful. Looking back on the full
sequence, I can see how they have an accumulative effect, showing the
intimate connections between myself and all the strangers in the
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
The stories all prompted by a real life situation but were
fictionalised version of events. I wrote a story for each day, so the
ordering was predefined as part of the project rules. However, we did
switch a couple of the stories around for the book, to open with some
of the strongest pieces.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
story is a tale told by one person to another; in the way only they
can tell. It’s using the words only the storyteller could,
presented inimitably. For me, stories should be like barely audible
whispers, drawing a reader in and encouraging them to imagine the
parts they can’t quite hear.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
often imagine myself reading the work myself in front of an audience,
and also being asked to talk about it. If I can do both confidently,
I know I’m on the right track. If not, I need to work harder.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
do you see the clearest? The Strangers – and if so, which ones? –
or me, as the story writer and the Speaker?
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
It’s great to receive feedback and comments from readers, knowing
that your thoughts on paper have travelled across the country and are
having an impact on others. The project was also intended as an
instruction – Go, Speak to Strangers – so I hope book buyers are
also inspired to do just that.
What are you working on now?
of the reasons I turned to very short fiction is to offer an exercise
in concision, so I could really focus on my writing,
sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word. I was writing a very long novel,
and feeling lost within it. By writing these smaller pieces, I began
to see the detail in the novel again. I’ve also started writing
longer short stories now (well, on average 2,000 words!) and am
working on ideas for a couple of new projects, including a year-long
online collaboration with a photographer.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
a huge fan of the short story, and regularly dip into my favourites
by writers such as Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver and Lorrie
Moore. I recently read Margaret Drabble’s collected stories, A
Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman,
having seen her read the first story she’d ever penned in the
1960s, which I thought was word-perfect. Amy Hempel's stories are
sharp and unsettling, often fragmented but with a fragile beauty. The
Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead edited
Eugenides’ includes many of the writers named above, and a
beautiful Grace Paley piece which includes the fantastic, domestic,
dreamy line, "In a hazy litter of love and leafy green vegetables…I