Vivien Jones lives in a small seaside village in Solway Firth, Scotland. After the independent school she worked at closed in 2000, she entered a Creative and Cultural Studies program at the age of 52 and began writing for herself.

Short Story Collections

Perfect 10
(Pewter Rose Press, 2009)

reviewed by Jason Makansi

Interview with Vivien Jones

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

Vivien Jones: 18 months for the actual writing. Some of the monologues were developments of works for theatre that I’d already written but the ten stories were all written from a long list of 24 possible approaches, some of which have still to be written. Perhaps it sounds a bit obvious to say it but I do think that all your life experiences lead up to what you write. I do remember distressing experiences in childhood that sting just as much today and come out in stories I’m writing now at age 62.

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

VJ: I wanted to gather the material I had written on the subject of women and image – part of my university Hons dissertation – and found that much of its focus was on women and weight. The first versions came out as dramatic monologues and I realized that there were many stories to tell on aspects of this theme. I applied successfully for a Scottish Arts Council New Writer’s Award in 2005 to write the collection but there was a long lead time – four years – before Pewter Rose Press accepted them for publication. I’m so glad I kept them together.

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

VJ: Perfect 10 is a collection of 10 stories and 5 monologues so I tried to space them rhythmically – there’s no real chronology to the collection though their subjects are different ages. I tried to vary the mood from story to story. I didn’t have any spare complete stories so no need to reject any.

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

VJ:  Comfort. A very emotional concept. Reading stories was my childhood focus and retreat. I remember clearly in my teenage years first encountering an unhappy ending and realizing that the possibilities of story were endless.

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

VJ:  The very opposite. I’m trying to wire into humanity – the things we have in common. As a writer I’m most interested in the small rebellions that we stage in our increasingly controlled lives in order to be ourselves – that’s my ideal reader, everyone.

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

VJ: I’d like to ask the men among my readers if they felt alienated by the title, the cover or the stories – there were some quite sparky discussions about the cover design amongst my friends, some feeling that it was off-putting to men, though the men who read it declared it a warm and funny collection, not at all threatening. I’m shortly to talk with my local library’s reading group about Perfect 10 so I’ll have the opportunity to ask them then.

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

VJ: That’s the affirmation that all writers need when people you don’t know buy your book – great when they talk to you at readings or write to you afterwards. Your first single author book removes that fear that it’s all pointless and self-centred, that you’re never going to get anywhere and so on. Small presses like Pewter Rose are vital to those among us who write in the byways of subject matter or style.

TSR: What are you working on now?

VJ: A collection of memoir pieces (not the crusty old general type) – my writing group is engaged on a memoirs project this year which I’m guiding towards a performance piece and a publication. A couple of years back I was part of a memoirs group and I produced  half a dozen lightly fictionalized accounts of my childhood as part of a naval family in Malta in the 1950s. Several of these found publication in various places, one broadcast as an afternoon story on Radio 4 – and I hope there’s either a collection of discreet pieces or a whole memoir ready for development. 

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

VJ: I find I tend to be either very current or about ten years behind with my reading but I will always get around to reading writers like AL Kennedy or Jackie Kay. I encountered Suhayl Saadi on a university course on 20th century Scottish writers and found his work extraordinary – the first time I really felt I had some understanding of what it is to live between cultures. I’m English but have lived in and worked in Scotland since I was sixteen but there are still times when I feel myself to be an outsider.

Iota Fiction Anthology by various writers (Templar Publishing). Another small press that has done sterling work for poets, now for short story writers.

Why Don’t You Stop Talking by Jackie Kay. I think that JK’s novel, Trumpet is one of the best novels about jazz and 20th century life for women that I’ve read and she’s a master of the short story.

The Burning Mirror by Suhayl Saadi (Polygon). Shocking in the very best sense – we aren’t always able to put ourselves into another’s shoes and Saadi does it brilliantly. 
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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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