Susannah Rickards comes from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and now lives in London. Her debut collection of short stories Hot Kitchen Snow won the Scott Prize in March 2010. Her stories have been published, anthologized, won and placed in various competitions including The Yellow Room, The New Writer, The Independent, BBC Radio Opening Lines, The New Writer, Commonwealth, Pen, Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger, Fish, Conan Doyle Award. She is married with twin boys.

Short Story Collections

Hot Kitchen Snow
(Salt Modern Fiction, 2010)

reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Interview with Susannah Rickards

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

Susannah Rickards: The majority of stories were written over a two year period once my sons started school. I had a strong urge to get back to the notebook and typewriter. But a handful were written much earlier, about ten years ago, before I had children. At the time there were so few outlets for short fiction.

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

SR: At first, distinctly not. Then I had a very strong idea for a collection based around the characters in Paperback Macbeth, but just as life's what happens while you're making other plans, this collection is what got written while I was trying to write a rather different one.

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

SR: I can't take sole credit for choosing which stories and what order. Initially the writer Elaine Chiew gave huge input into what to ditch, what to add, and then, leading up to publication, Margot Stedman did the same again. Elaine was incredibly insightful into positioning - variety of voice, viewpoint, first and third person, male or female, so the stories don't haze into each other. Margot was instrumental in giving the collection an arc. She found its centre and its end. I think, left to my own devices, Life Pirates wouldn't have made it in at all.

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

SR: Why are the best questions the hardest to answer? This is entirely subjective, but for me, a short story is a wedge of light revealing enough of another world for the reader to supply the rest. That definition, I hope, leaves the story open to vast experimentation. For a story to be a story not a vignette, to my mind, it must contain a shift which can't be retracted. An indelible movement in a life.

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

SR: Yes and no. I have no particular person in mind, but I often write something and think - not everyone will get or like this, but the people I'm writing for will. Also I have a constant awareness of the triangular relationship between reader, character and author - of who is bringing what to the story. My aim is for the reader to be equally involved - to play a part in filling the gaps. I get restless and grumpy when a story is all laid out for me. I like to do some work as a reader and assume other readers feel the same. Having said all that, it's always a surprise that anyone who isn't a close friend has bought or read the book.

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

SR:  I want to ask: did you laugh? Because there's a lot of humour intended in there, to leaven the bleakness. I hope they laugh sometimes. And the neurotic question is: do you think any of the stories suggest a novel? I'm having a go at writing longer work, simply because I don't like to live next to a mountain I can't climb, but I don't "get" the novel, like I get short fiction. My ideas for novels are always terribly schematic, so maybe it would help to start with people from the short stories.

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

SR: Mixed feelings. It's stunning, humbling, to think total strangers have bought it. But there's an uncomfortable middle ground. I don't mean to sound ungracious about it, but there is! A rather genteel mum from school turned up on my doorstep on Christmas Eve and asked me to sign 12 copies as she'd bought them for all her female relatives. I don't know her well and was staggered by her generous support. But she's not really caught my eye in the last three months. Not sure the collection was quite The Thing with for Telegraph and Mail readers. Having people you half know buying it and then commenting on it does feel a bit like that dream where you pick the kids up from school and suddenly realise you have no clothes on. But, let's be grown up about this. It's great. Why publish a book and then get all coy about people reading it?

TSR: What are you working on now?

SR: I'm writing a children's adventure story that I promised my children I'd finish. Then some more stories and messing about with an idea for a novel. I'd place bets on the story collection being finished first, though.

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

SR: This year I made a resolution to read novels as I read so few of them, so the last collections I read were last year. It'll sound like a plug but I'm only answering faithfully: my fellow Scott Prize winners, Patrick Holland's The Source of Sound and Tom Vowler's, The Method. I'd recommend both of them highly.
   Patrick's work astounded me. He writes like no other short fiction maker I've come across - direct, deeply earnest and poetic - a motley combination which packs an extraordinary punch. There's a learned restraint there which is increasingly rare in modern fiction and it's a refreshing joy to read. You have to work hard and read slowly to get the best from Holland's work. Again - I appreciate that.
   Tom's work is really engaging too, emotionally insightful and mature, which, as a reader, I feel so grateful for. And before that - honesty again - it was rereads of old favourites. 1993 Best American Short Stories is one of my all time classic collections, and Like Life by Lorrie Moore. That's four, sorry!
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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 >>>