Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight in 1962. He spent his infancy at Wandsworth Prison, which his father governed, then grew up in Winchester. He now lives on a farm near Land’s End. His most recent novels are Notes from an Exhibition and The Whole Day Through.

Short Story Collections

Gentleman's Relish
(Fourth Estate, 2010)

reviewed by Sarah Hilary

Dangerous Pleasures
(Flamingo, 1997/2002)

Interview with Patrick Gale

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

Patrick Gale: I honestly have no idea. Individual stories can take me anything from a day to a month. Sometimes they come out ready formed, as it were, and sometimes they grow more mysteriously and slowly.

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

PG: Not at all. However once my publishers agreed to take a second collection from me (my first was Dangerous Pleasures, some ten years earlier) I gathered in all the stories I thought were suitable then enjoyed working out what order to put them in. I also relished the chance to extend some of them beyond the very tight word-counts to which they had originally been commissioned by the BBC or some magazine.

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

PG: It’s hard. Secretly most of us hope each story will prove so satisfying the reader will have to set the book down  between stories but the hard reality is that most story collections get read at a go, as if they were novels. The challenge therefore is to order the stories so that they play off one another in some way. This collection is pretty dark so the obvious ordering seemed to be to start with a darkish one then get progressively darker before emerging back into something like sunshine. I begin the collection with a story inspired by my mother and end with one inspired by my father which are both, in their way, pretty realistic but the collection dips into the supernatural at several points. Just as when writing a novel, it never pays to forget the reader…

TSR: What 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.

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

PG: Absolutely. 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.

TSR: Is there 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.

TSR: How does 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.

TSR: 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.

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

PG: Salley Vickers’ latest, Aphrodite’s Hat, Colm Toibin’s Mothers and Sons and Madeleine Thien’s Simple Recipes.
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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 >>>