is the author of two novels: the BFS nominated Fisher of Devils (Prime Books, 2003), and Who Needs Cleopatra? (Reverb, 2005). He lives in Madrid.
with Steve Redwood
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Steve Redwood: On
and off, about twelve years! Except for
one (Epiphany in the Sun),
which I originally wrote about 35 years ago, in Saudi Arabia! (I
then stopped writing for a few decades.) Most were written before
the two novels. Writing for me is a hobby, not a profession or a
burning need. That said, I must have polished some sentences fifty
times, and have recently been taking advantage of the fact that the
stories are coming out in Spanish to rewrite a couple of them again!
(And also, unobtrusively, to replace a couple with better stories…)
I strongly believe that just as much care should be taken with "entertainment" as with more consciously "literary" works.
Ideally, the two combine.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
at all. They were written for the so-called small press magazines,
most of them now dead and only remembered over nostalgic pints. I
began sending stories to a newish kind of counter-culture magazine,
in passing mentioned the possibility of a collection, and the editor,
Adam Lowe, foolishly agreed. His subsequent suicide attempts have all
been in vain.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
SR: Because I’m known (well, in Spain; I can’t say I’m exactly ‘known’ in
the UK!) as a "humorous" writer, I deliberately chose a lot which were
more serious, and reflecting as wide a range of moods and genres as
possible. It was designed more as an anti-collection, and the order
reflects this: "serious", "funny", "serious" etc, with the intention
being that the reader (it probably IS the reader!) should be thrown off
balance with each new story, and not have any expectations. The problem
with many collections is that the writer is deprived to a certain
extent of the right to surprise: if it’s fantasy, for example, however
realistically the writer begins, the reader is simply waiting for the
fantastical element (or "slipstream", or "magic realism" or whatever
term takes your fancy) to make its appearance. Fortunately, more and
more genres are being blurred these days, and that has to be a good
does the word "story"
mean to you?
Almost anything! Provided something "happens". This "happening" doesn’t
necessarily have to be physical movement or action. It could be
something as motionless as someone reacting to a snowfall, or a woman
waiting for O’Henry’s last leaf to fall off a tree, or Poe’s character
imagining that a fly on a windowpane is a monster, although in my own
case, I’m fairly traditional, and something always does happen in the
usual sense. I confess I hate the kind of prescriptive advice you
sometimes see in guide books, such as the protagonist has to have
changed or developed or "grown" (groan!) by the end of the story, or
that every decent story has to study human relations or portray
reality. Why? Who says so? Story-telling as far back as Gilgamesh is
something happening, I never noticed the Greek gods or heroes "growing"
much in their escapades, Beowulf does little but knock back the mead
and persecute monsters! I will accept the other common nugget (the
necessity of conflict, in a very wide sense) because we read books, see
films, for the story above all, and it is indeed difficult (but not
impossible) to engage a reader if there is no suspense, even if that
suspense is only wondering at what point Mr Creosote is going to
explode with John Cleese’s chocolates.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
I guess I’m a bit prescriptive myself in that I am strongly
influenced by Asimov’s (I think) dictum: that if you can remove a
sentence from a short story, and not detract
from it, that sentence shouldn’t be there in the first place. This
is a complex subject, but a simple example: the countless pages
wasted in fiction on people lighting cigarettes. When I read, "he
reached into his left pocket (is "left" relevant?), took out his
lighter (ah, so why did we need to be told he reached into his
pocket?), held it to the end of his cigarette (gosh, we learn
something new every day!), lit it (ah, so that’s what the cunning
swine is up to!), and inhaled deeply with a satisfied look on his
face" (if the look isn’t on his face, where is it?), I am already
half alienated. However, if he "fumbles" for the packet in both
pockets simultaneously, (when he usually keeps the weed in the same
pocket), slightly tears the top of the already opened packet in his
anxiety, drops one cigarette on the ground, and then stares angrily
at the cigarette before lighting it, then we have learned something
about our smoker.
getting slightly carried away, need a bloody fag!
No, never. (This is changing a bit as I work on Spanish translations of
the books, especially this short story collection, since I have to bear
in mind that a sentence like "the Queen bestowed on us her usual
dead-parrot Christmas Dinner speech" cannot have the same resonance to
a Spaniard, for whom Monty Python is not so much a part of the national
consciousness, and whose own Queen has the common touch and is somewhat
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
would you like me to send the refund? By Paypal?”
prefer the "serious" stories or the "humorous" or "satirical"
deliberate attempt to take away any predictability by juxtaposing the
most disparate stories a good or a bad idea?”
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
who’s writing fiction here, you or me??
What are you working on now?
the Spanish translation of Broken Symmetries, so much trickier than
most people would imagine, as English is such an immensely rich
language, with, for example, about twenty verbs of "looking"
("glare", "glower" "glance", etc.) to the Spanish one or
two; and preparing another collection for the Spanish market by
rewriting "saveable" stories I rejected for BS, and writing a few
completely new ones. My really poor memory wouldn’t allow me to
write any new complete novels.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
In English (I now read mainly in Spanish, on the principle that if I
expect my writing colleagues to read me, then I should make an effort
to read them): the superb "novel" consisting originally of separate
short stories, Ultrameta, by Douglas Thompson, a brilliant new Scottish writer, A Cross of Centuries
(25 fascinating stories featuring directly or indirectly our Man in
Jerusalem, including stories by Moorcock, Borges, Dostoyevsky), and The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, a book that has been waiting patiently on my shelves for a decade.