Janice Gallowaywas born in Ayrshire in 1955 where she worked as a teacher for ten years. Her first novel, The Trick is to keep Breathing was published in 1990 won the MIND/Allan Lane Book of the Year. Blood, a short story collection, was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize, People's Prize and Satire Award. Her second novel, Foreign Parts, won the McVitie's Prize in 1994. Her story-collection, Where you find it, published in 1996, was followed by a series of collaborative installation texts for sculptor Anne Bevan. Her play, Fall, was performed in Edinburgh and Paris in 1998. Her third novel, Clara,
based on the tempestuous life of pianist Clara Wieck Schumann, was
published in 1998 and won Saltire Book of the Year. Her new book, This is not about me, won of the Scottish Mortgage Trust Book of the Year (non-fiction) 2009.
with Janice Galloway
Collected Stories is made up of the stories from both your published
collections. When did you start writing short stories and how did your
first book get published?
Janice Galloway: Short
stories were the first thing I tried, apart from the obligatory
goth-type poems when I was a teenager. The impulse arrived following a
very vivid and disturbing dream which I chose to write out, then
rewrite and rewrite till I got the texture of dreaming right. It was
called it was and a magazine
bought it after the editor read it in a competition I sent it into
because I needed the £25 prize money! Didn’t win the prize, but got £30
from Edinburgh Review for the story, so I made on that one. Not winning
a short story competition clearly need not be a setback!
I wrote stories off and on for three years whilst writing
my first novel. That novel had been requested by someone who read the
aforementioned short story! I didn’t think of putting the stories
together as a book till the publisher of the novel suggested it when he
found out I had lots. His idea, not mine! I don't seem to have an
enormous amount of initiative. do I?
have a collection in mind when you were writing your first short stories?
above - didn’t occur. I thought publishers collated them from stories
in magazines, not that authors put them together deliberately. I am
sometimes astounded by my level of klutz when I first set out on
writing. It was all accidents.
Looking back over all these stories, do you see anything about your own writing that you hadn't seen before?
quite definitely. Starting writing was a dredge of the subconscious for
me. I knew I had something to write when the words coming up on the
page - it was longhand then! - surprised me, and I'd let them run. I
have never taken any drugs but the prescription kind, but it was like
trying to enter a dream-state waking for me. The crafting was very
conscious, but not the content. Looking back now, I can see the lineage
of confidence in Blood,
shifting from the purely surreal to the more solidly "permitted"
stories. And a recurring fascination with hair, girl children, the
half-seen and, ominously, the word "crack". No prizes for the
psychology driving the imagination there, then... More cheeringly, they
seem freer - more willing to express the overtly disturbing or weird.
Now, I seem to choose the surreal in actual events rather than
surfacing dreams described as if they were reality. And I write less
about sex. Which probably says a lot I ought to address.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
A voice. One voice telling a story is worth its weight. It's quite
different to plot, which I largely prefer as merely a washing line to
hang things on. The real grist of a novel or a short story is not plot,
it's voice and perception. That's story.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
Not really. Me in a very critical mood is who is reading them, and she
turns out to be horribly demanding. Maybe I gravitated so strongly to
the surreal and dream-state in former years to avoid the critic, who
can be absolutely stifling if I'm not careful. Anything to avoid her is
helpful! I think I'm writing for an intelligent reader, any sex any
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
I'm too shy at heart, and too respectful of privacy. I'd be mortified.
I repeatedly ask my husband if things need more cuts, however. I'm a
TSR: You said that you
don't like to label your own writing, that it is up to the
publisher/marketing person to say if it's fiction, memoir etc... There
are pieces in your Collected Stories that seem actually to be play
scripts rather than short stories. How would you choose to describe
your own writing?
This is a keen question. I don't tend to describe it other than as
writing. It's a necessary thing to me - probably to get away from that
dreadful critic that is the other half of my brain and the one I
mentioned earlier - to have rabbit holes to pop down, ladders to make
an escape into another alleged "form" if I have to. On a practical
level, some things reach the reader better, more clearly, as physical
sensations if they escape from edge-to-edge prose. Lately, I've seen a
split between my "inbetween", vaseline-slippery stuff, shifting between
and around single forms and the "straight" stories. The former end up
in collaborative work these days, because a collaborative partner -
artist, designer or musician - is already open to that kind of
cross-dressing by dint of their engaging in collaboration at all.
Conventional book publishers are a bit wary, but art-house presses are
reassuringly welcoming of the slippery stuff. Whatever shape they take,
I hope the words always have a sonic element, suggestive of music.
That's voice again!
What are you working on now?
second volume of anti-memoir which I think of as a novel. It's rooted
in the teenage years following "This is Not About Me"s childhood
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
JG: Richard Yates' Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Jenny Diski's The Vanishing Princess, Barbara Gowdy's We so seldom look on Love.