Tracy Chevalier has written six novels, including the bestselling Girl with a Pearl Earring
with Tracy Chevalier
Short Review: Where did the idea for this anthology come from?
Tracy Chevalier: My
husband Jonathan Drori is on the Board of Trustees of the Woodland
Trust, and they asked him to talk to me about what writers might do to
help raise the profile both of UK native trees and of the Trust and the
work it does preserving and encouraging the growth of UK woodland. We
came up with idea of a collection of modern tree fables. In part it was
because they are short and this was something authors could write
quickly - since they are donating them we didn’t want the task to be
arduous. But also we wanted something that would bring out emotional
responses to trees. Fables can be playful and fun, rather than focussing
on the dry facts about trees.
said, when you read Why Willows Weep you do find out quite a lot about
the characteristics of trees. For instance, rowan berries have a lot of
vitamin C in them, ash wood burns well, maple is used to make stringed
instruments, blackthorn flowers the earliest of all the trees, and the
cuckoo starts singing around the time when cherry trees blossom. If you
read the lovely fable Why the Ash Has Black Buds by William Fiennes,
he lists loads of things trees are used for that we forget about, from
beams to coffins to bagpipes.
TSR: How long did it take you to get all the stories together?
TC: It took me and Simon Prosser at Penguin about 6 months to commission and
receive them all. Some writers accepted the assignment and turned one in
two days later! Others took several months. Then it took a few months
to edit and produce.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
asked lots of writers, showing them the list of the 23 UK native trees
they could choose from. I expected certain trees like the oak and the
willow to go right away, but actually they didn’t. Writers were very
clear about which tree they wanted. People have their favourites, I
guess. We included them in alphabetical order by tree name; that seemed
the most democratic.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
I am going to be called old-fashioned. I like stories with beginnings,
middles and ends. I adore stories with twists. My favourite short story
ever is The Necklace by Guy De Maupassant. My favourite contemporary
short story writer is Lorrie Moore.
Do you have a reader in mind when you put together this anthology?
sound like I’m dodging the question, aren’t I? It’s like asking “What
is art?” I want to say a story captures a change in something, but then,
some stories aren’t about change at all...Clearly I am going to have to
read The Short Review religiously to be able to answer this question!
tried to be really open-minded about readership, but I suppose I was
thinking of people who say “I like trees” but don’t know what they mean
by that. I’m hoping that after reading Why Willows Weep, people will
understand why they like trees, and feel an emotional connection to them
that will lead to caring for their welfare and preservation.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read this book, anything at all?
TC: What is your favourite tree, and how do you feel about it now you’ve read about lots of trees?
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
TC: I am delighted. Why Willows Weep is selling well and I’m thrilled that people are taking such an interest in trees.
What are you working on now?
TC: I’m finishing a novel set in mid-19th
century Ohio. It’s about an English Quaker woman who emigrates to the
USA and ends up helping on the Underground Railroad, which was a network
of people helping escaped slaves get to Canada.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?