is a short story
writer and creative writing tutor. He has had two books published by
Gwasg y Bwthyn, Caernarfon: Reasoning:
Twenty Stories (2005) and For
His Warriors: Thirty Stories (2010). For
His Warriors was longlisted for the Frank
O'Connor Award. His third collection, White
City, is in progress.
with Rob Mimpriss
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Rob Mimpriss: The first of these stories is also the oldest, written in the autumn of
2003. One of the last stories, an echo of the first, was written in the
autumn of 2009, so although I made subsequent changes to the collection, I
did the bulk of the work in six years.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
RM: I had two collections in mind, because my first collection, Reasoning, was
published in 2005; these two and my next collection are intended to
reflect and comment on each other. But the challenge for a short story
writer is always the same, I think, to produce something serious and
subtle enough to counter the brevity of the opportunity and the low status
of the form. Producing stories that work together, that cast light on each
other, is one way of doing that.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
RM: Two working titles came during a very early stage of composition, and as I
wrote the stories I was trying to understand those titles. Who are the
warriors in a civil society, and what kind of courage must they show?
Order seemed to come naturally, the stories often arranging themselves
symmetrically in dependent pairs, but I omitted a great many stories that
I liked, and had enjoyed writing. The test, for me, is whether I have
learnt something from writing a story, if not in human terms, then at
least in terms of composition. Otherwise I would only be writing out of
habit, and the task would lose its impulsion and joy.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
RM: I see the short story as an intuitive form. It isn’t dealing with great
conflicts or victories, but with the little signs of realisation or change
that in real life we often forget, or understand only in retrospect. This
makes it a very egalitarian form, because it can commemorate lives which
seem uneventful, or filled with more failure than success. But at the same
time the compressed prose of a well-made story needs to be read slowly, or
more than once, and I don’t find I read short stories one after another,
the way I read chapters in a novel. It’s as though every dying moment
deserves a moment of silence, and this suggests that the short story is a
meditative form as well.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
RM: Yes, I do. So it’s important, for the reader’s sake, that the stories are
coherent. It’s important to orient the reader in the setting and the lives
of the characters in the first paragraph or so, to leave the virtuoso
performance until the end, or even later if possible. But it’s also
important to respect the reader’s intelligence, not to allow misleading or
distracting information into the story, but to allow the reader to
extrapolate from the little that is there. Some of the best short stories
end with question marks, stories like The Voyage by Katherine Mansfield
or The Last Payment by Kate Roberts, and the years I spent mulling over
them, studying their layered wisdom and coming to terms with the challenge
of their endings, helped me fall in love with the short story as a form.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
RM: I’m sure every serious writer wants to hear something back. It would be a
lot of trouble to go to just to express oneself, but stories that are
published, and that people take the time to read, ought to have some kind
of human value as well. People say (the novel-critic Bernard Bergonzi
said) that the short story is a negative form, and often there’s a narrow
line between art which is merely depressing, and art which carries some
kind of consolation or joy. I’d want to know that I’m achieving that, at
least as often as anyone can.
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
RM: The feelings I experience are common, I’m sure: excitement and pride, a
slight sense of nakedness, and a fear that my work falls short of the
mark. Then I’m sent a peer review, or I see a review in a journal, and I’m
often struck by the depth of their engagement with my work, the subtlety
of their interpretation.
What are you working on now?
RM: I’ve begun work on a third collection, White City, for my publisher. The
three collections were conceived as a way of thinking about goodness, in
the light of the way Plato describes a good man, and in the particular
cultural and social circumstances we face in Wales. But I’m also looking
ahead to a series of stories set in Patagonia, which is Spanish speaking,
but also has a strong Welsh heritage, since it was colonised in the 19th
century by people from Wales.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
RM: When I’m starting a new collection I spend time with writers who’ve spoken
to me in the past: Amy Hempel, Raymond Carver, Bernard Malamud, Anne
Beattie. In addition I’ve been reading Burning Bright by Ron Rash, Rooms
of the Mind by Catherine Chanter and The Shieling by David Constantine.