Jo Cannon is a G.P in inner-city Sheffield. She has worked in Malawi, Tasmania and an ex-mining town in Derbyshire. Her stories have been published in literary magazines and anthologies, most recently Route’s Book at Bedtime, and successful in competitions including Fish International and Brit Writers Award.

Short Story Collections

Insignificant Gestures
(Pewter Rose Press, 2010)

Reviewed by Daniela Norris

Interview with Jo Cannon

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

Jo Cannon: About five years. Then I spent almost a year rewriting and editing them all.

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

JC: No. I never really believed they would be published as a collection. Many stories are linked, though. While writing from the point of view of one character, I would feel curious about a minor or "off-stage" character, and want to tell that story too. I was interested in the things my characters, linked by bonds of love or family, weren’t able to tell each other, but that I could reveal to the reader. One character, Eve, kept popping up – perhaps because we have a lot in common. I was possibly influenced by Doris Lessing’s Martha Quest series, where Martha appears, at different stages of her life, through a series of novels.

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

JC: The collection contains about two thirds of my work. Some earlier stories seem clumsy now, and I discarded them. When I considered that they might have a wider readership, some seemed too exposing of real people’s lives, or my own. My publisher rejected a few, chose which story to go first, and also decided on the collection’s title. I tried not to have too many first person narratives together, and alternated sad stories with upbeat ones. I separated linked stories, but not too far, hoping the reader might be surprised to recognise the character from a previous incarnation. Eve appears at different ages and her stories are in chronological order, scattered through the collection, ending with her death. The book ends with Jam, which is a metaphor for Eve’s life, and life in general.

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

JC: At the simplest level a story is a tale made up to entertain others. Ideally a short story should be intense and complete. It must be authentic, so that the reader understands how it feels to be someone else. The language should add depth of meaning, for example, through metaphor. I admire this in other writers, but still have a long way to go!

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

JC: At the conception and first draft, I am engrossed and for a while believe I am the protagonist. At this stage I have no reader in mind, and just write for fun. Later, when I am rewriting, I try to imagine a discerning critic. I am fortunate to belong to an on-line writing community who give accurate, honest but supportive feedback – so I possibly have this audience in mind at the editing stage.

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

JC: I’d like to know which story they liked best, and why. If a story moved them, or made them laugh, or reflected their own emotions or experiences accurately, I’d be delighted to know.

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

JC: I’m over-awed! And thrilled, of course. The book has already sold more than I, or my publisher, expected. I’m aware that a reader has expended a few hours of his or her life, and some hard earned dosh, on my book and I sincerely hope they feel it was worth it.

TSR: What are you working on now?

JC:  My "other" job is really busy just now, so writing time is limited. And book promotion activities are surprisingly time-consuming. I feel the collection should get my best boot out into the world. But when all this settles down, I hope to get back to writing short stories again. I’ve learned so much in the last five years, I’m excited to think where the next five will take me.

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

DH: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout; The Method by Tom Vowler; and Eva Luna by Isabel Allende.
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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 >>>