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Steve Redwood 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.


Short Story Collections

Broken Symmetries
(Dog Horn Publishing, 2009)

reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Interview with Steve Redwood

The Short Review: 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.

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

SR: Not 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, Polluto, just in passing mentioned the possibility of a collection, and the editor, Adam Lowe, foolishly agreed. His subsequent suicide attempts have all been in vain.

TSR: How did 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 thing.

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

SR: 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.

Although 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.

Whoops, getting slightly carried away, need a bloody fag!

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

SR: 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 more sprightly.)

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

SR: “How would you like me to send the refund? By Paypal?” “Did you prefer the "serious" stories or the "humorous" or "satirical" ones?” “Was my 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?

SR: Hey, who’s writing fiction here, you or me??

TSR: What are you working on now?

SR: Overseeing 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.

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

SR: 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.
 
                     
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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 >>>



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