VanessaGebbie.com

Vanessa Gebbie is Welsh. She is the author of Words from a Glass Bubble (Salt), a collection from her award winning fiction including prizes including Bridport and The Daily Telegraph. In 2010 she was Writer in Residence at Stockholm University. Her first novel, The Coward's Tale, will be published by Bloomsbury in November 2011.


Short Story Collections

Storm Warning
(Salt Publishing, 2010)

reviewed by Mark Staniforth


Words From a Glass Bubble
(Salt Publishing, 2008)

reviewed by Nikki Aguirre

Interview with Vanessa Gebbie (2011)

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

Vanessa Gebbie: These stories were written between 2004 and 2009, sporadically, in between doing loads of other things, like writing the stories that made up my first collection (Words from a Glass Bubble), and dipping into what would become my first novel (The Coward’s Tale, out this November with Bloomsbury)

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

VG: No, I didn’t. I had no idea these would end up in a book. I just wrote stories, and some of those stories were explorations of the same themes. I was very interested in how conflict of various kinds affects those who are caught up, whether soldiers in wartime, or bystanders, or families. And also interested in survival – the strength of the human spirit. The strategies we find to cope. Looking back, my main inspiration was life with my late father – an ordinary and very gentle man, he was decorated in WWII, and I think looking back, the experience of war coloured his every day. He coped, he was lucky. Others don’t.

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

VG:  The subject-matter of the stories had to fit the overarching theme of the collection. I’d been exploring the effects of conflict for ages, looking at recent wars, and those from history, right back to religious conflicts back in the 16th century. I was always interested in creating central characters who were damaged somehow, often in subtle ways – people at odds with the realities of life post-war. There were plenty of stories to choose from – in the end, I used some that had been published well, in good places, stories that had won decent prizes, and stories I just loved enough not to leave them out!

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

VG: It means the possibility of escaping into another world for a short time. A chance to experience life vicariously – and a chance to glimpse what the world means to someone else. It can mean wonderful, beautiful language, too, something transporting in another sense. But "story" is always like a magic carpet to me. Something that whisks me off somewhere...

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

VG:  No, not really – it’s when I revise them that I am aware that I need to create something that works for the reader. Mainly, when I am creating, I write for myself. I mean I write the stories I want to read – as I write them, I don’t know what will happen – so in a way I am telling the story to myself as I make it.

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

VG: Yes – did the book make them think a little differently?

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

VG: Lovely. I am always hugely pleased!

TSR: What are you working on now?

VG: I’m interested in learning how to create a stage play effectively. I’d like to see if any of my stories would make good plays, so I went on an Arvon Foundation play-writing course recently. I’m tinkering with bits and bobs which will make up part of the next novel. And looking forward to launching the first. I’m writing poetry. I’m planning what to do during workshops in a few lovely places, notably a retreat for women writers at Tilton House in Sussex, and Bridport’s Open Book Festival later in the year. Bridport have just told me that Storm Warning is their Big Read title for 2011, by the way – I am really delighted, and shivering in my boots at the thought of all those searching questions...

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

VG:  1. Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. I heard her speak and read at ShortStoryVille in Bristol, and bought the book as a result – it really is amazing. 2. The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde – I’m still reading, or rather re-reading this one. I love the old fairy stories, and these are just so good. 3. Little Herr Friedemann by Thomas Mann – again, still reading. I am enjoying the sense that in writing short stories, I am part of something that began a long time ago. Great short stories are not a modern phenomenon.




Interview with Vanessa Gebbie (2009)

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

Vanessa Gebbie: The stories represent a section through a body of work that was begun in late 2003 when I started writing fiction, through to early 2007.

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

VG: Not at all. Each story was written separately. I constantly submitted to different competitions, journals and anthologies. The idea of a collection only surfaced after I'd been lucky enough to have a few stories hit at some respected competitions, and I wondered if there was any chance of pulling a collection together. But I had no idea how, or who, or when!

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

VG: The competition successes were an obvious choice. They'd already been selected from many entries - in some cases from a field of several thousand - by final judges such as Zadie Smith, Michael Collins and Tracy Chevalier. So it was reasonable to assume that these were strong material, worth including. I then looked for work that complemented those, thematically and tonally.

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

VG: Something that takes you out of yourself for the duration of the read. Something that leaves you thinking or wondering. Asks the question, 'What if?' I found this quote the other day by the late Bryan Robertson OBE, curator of the Whitechapel Gallery. It sums up what I look for in a story, however long it is, flash, short, novella or novel... "What I look for is…a transcendent ability to soar above life and not be subjugated by it." Isn't that perfect?

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

VG: Not when I write, not really. It's like making an arrow before before fitting it to the bow, before taking aim. I want it to hit the spot. I like to think the amorphous "reader" who might appreciate what I do is someone who does not skim for plot. Takes their time. Likes to find a little magic in the ink. That's how I read. So really, I am writing for myself. After having written for a while now, I understand completely what that means!

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

VG: Oh God yes! I'd like to know if my Alaskan lakeside in The Kettle on the Boat is anything like a real Alaskan lakeside. And I'd like to talk to a synaesthete, to find out if the imagined synaesthesia in Tasting Pebbles is anything like the reality. And lots more. I've got a crazily active imagination, and it would be fun to know how 'real its conjurings are.

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

VG:It is very affirming. A lovely feeling. But (typically me) tinged with doubt: 'Did I do it as well as I could?'

TSR: What are you working on now?

VG:I am working on a thirteen part project, loosely based on the twelve apostles, hoping to make it into a coherent entity. It has already won three prizes, which makes the rest a scary proposition to write. Expectations are horribly high. The first portion won two things, at Bridport and at The Daily Telegraph. The second won at a journal in the USA earlier this year. With a strong nod to Dylan Thomas, it is set in South Wales, where I grew up. I write when I can hear the voices of my grandmothers and her neighbours in my head.

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

VG: A friend lent me a collection by Shusaku Endo, entitled Stained Glass Elegies. Such cool, intelligent writing. Explorations of what it is to be part of the Japanese war generation, struggling both with loss of national pride and with spirituality. Wonderful stuff. I have the Faber Books of New Irish Short Stories (2004/5 and 2006/7 edited by David Marcus) by my bed. There are such stunning writers in Ireland. I dip and pick, as from a sweet shop. I'm currently reading Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, and am in awe.

 
                     
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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 >>>