does the word "story"
mean to you?
PG: A narrative less than 50
pages long, I suppose. That said, there are some novels and novellas I
think of as stories. If I analyse it I think this is because “story”
for me implies a restricted focus, rather than a restricted length. I
think of novels as having the luxury of space in which to show
different viewpoints and to conjure up a space in which something like
the truth can be reached by offering different versions, different
accounts. By contrast the thrill of a story is the single viewpoint and
the inexorable spooling out of revelation. The story is the form we all
use, unconsciously, when presenting our lives to one another. Sit on
any bus anywhere in the world and you’ll hear people presenting
themselves in stories. I think of the novel as the bringing together of
those stories into something larger, in scope if not in length.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
Myself. I have to enthral or amuse or shock myself. It’s only when I
come to rewrite and polish that I think in terms of other readers and
at that point the process is largely musical – to do with rhythm and
cadence and pace and how phrases will strike a reader’s "ear" as they
read to themselves. Whenever writing students pooh-pooh the importance
of punctuation I get them to hand their work to someone else and listen
to someone else reading it aloud; they soon learn the importance of
guiding the reader’s reading.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
PG: I’d like to know if the "me" that
comes across in it is different to the "me" conveyed by my novels. It
always feels as though short stories bring out a quite different side
to my personality.
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
PG: Wonderful, of course, so long as
they keep doing it. Twice now I’ve found myself in a train carriage
with someone reading something of mine and both times I had to move
because it was completely unbearable every time they yawned
or looked out of the window or stopped to talk to a friend instead.
What are you working on now?
PG: I’m working on a novel about a
priest’s family in West Cornwall. It’s a novel but, as with Notes from an Exhibition,
I’m imposing on myself the discipline of trying to think of each
chapter as a self-contained short story.