Dirty/Realistic: StuartEvers.

A former bookseller and editor,  Stuart Evers now writes about books for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman, Time Out and many other publications. His fiction has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, Litro, The Book Club Boutique Magazine and on EverydayGenius.com. He lives in London.

Short Story Collections

Ten Stories About Smoking
(Picador, 2011)

reviewed by Catherine Smith

Interview with Stuart Evers

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

Stuart Evers:  From starting the first one by hand in a bar one afternoon to finishing the last, took about eighteen months. I tend to write quickly and then spend a lot of time editing; the first drafts didn’t take long at all, it was getting them to where I wanted them to be that took the time.

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

SE: The idea came to me after writing the first story; and was probably inspired by Georges Perec. I love the complicated strictures he placed on his writing, from the mathematic in Life: a User’s Manual to the ridiculous in A Void (famously written without using the letter E). So the stories were planned to stand alone, but also to be read as part of something bigger.

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

SE:  Only two "smoking" stories didn’t make it in to the final book: one because I wasn’t happy with it, the other was dropped in favour of a story I wrote after I’d already submitted to my editor at Picador. As for the order, that was a long, involved and fraught process. How bands select an album’s running order is beyond me: I couldn’t agree with myself most of the time, let alone with a bunch of other people. My editor and I looked at the stories individually, then as a whole. We knew that the last story would be The Final Cigarette, but everything else was moveable. We tried to balance out the stories in the first and third person, and separate the ones that have similar themes. Eventually we agreed on the way it would run, though it changed right up until the last moment.

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

SE: To me, story – or at least short stories – mean possibility. You can do things with them that you simply can’t get away with in a novel. I’m interested in the way a story can end in the most unusual place, or follow one character or narrative arc even though another may appears to be a more obvious. Carver was a master of that; Richard Yates and John Cheever too.

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

SE:  I always try and write what I’d like to read myself. I finished my first (unpublished and unpublishable) novel in 2006. When I read it back a month later I knew that it didn’t work. Had I picked it up in a bookshop, it would have bored me – so I knew that I’d failed. Even with that in mind, I try not to obsess over it: your ideal reader can be in the room when you write, but you don’t want them looking over your shoulder.

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

SE: I think I’d ask them about the story Eclipse. It seems to provoke different readings and interpretations and I’m fascinated by what people read into it.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

SE: I’ve been a bookseller and an editor, worked for the Book Club Association and now write reviews, which should have prepared me for all of this: but it hasn’t. In fact it just makes me more paranoid as I know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. It is the best feeling, however, to know that people are actually reading your stuff, actually holding it in their hands, turning pages that you wrote. It’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted and now it’s happening, it’s hard to believe, really.

TSR: What are you working on now?

SE: I’m in the latter stages of editing my novel, The Carnival’s Tattoo. It’s a novel about love, self delusion and loss, set in Las Vegas, New York and a small suburban town in the North West of England.

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

SE: The last three – Liars in Love, Richard Yates; American Ghosts and Old World Wonders, Angela Carter; Will You Please Be Quiet, Please, Raymond Carver – were re-reads for an article I was writing; but in terms of recent publications, the most recent were Hearts Wings and Other Stories by Gabriel Josipovici; If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black; and Saints and Sinners by Edna O’Brien. I would enthusiastically recommend all three.
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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 >>>