Ailsa Cox is a fiction writer and critic, with a special interest in the short story genre. Her other books are Writing Short Stories (Routledge), and Alice Munro (Northcote House). Her fiction has been included in magazines and anthologies, including The Virago Book of Love and Loss, Metropolitan, London Magazine, Manchester Stories 3 (Comma Press), and Transmission

Short Story Collections

The Real Louise and Other Stories
(Headland Publications, 2009)

reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Interview with Ailsa Cox

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

Ailsa Cox: The collection's a mixture of new and old stories; the oldest is ‘20th Frame' which was first published in a collection of prize-winning stories in the eighties. So far as individual stories are concerned, they take a long time, not to write exactly, but to ripen. So a story will be completed over a few weeks, but that extra something that needs to be added or taken away could take years to get right. I tend to have several nearly finished stories on the go at once.

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

AC: When I began writing seriously I wanted to be (what else?) a novelist. Then I realised short stories were my thing, and I've always wanted to publish a collection but the stories are written individually without a set pattern in mind.

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

AC: I'd started to think quite hard about how stories are ordered in collections after being involved in judging the Edge Hill Prize. The first story is important, obviously, and so is the last one; but there's also the tricky question of balancing longer and shorter stories, heavy and light, experimental or more traditional. I also realised that I had certain obsessions - cars (I'm a non-driver), moving house - and that I would have to group stories that shared a particular motif, theme or style, but also stop the collection seeming too repetitive.
   Originally Her Own Self Again was going to be the first story because it's so accessible, and then I realized it was too long. Alice Munro starts The Love of a Good Woman with the very long title story, but most of her readers are already committed to finishing the book. For most short story writers, that is not the case. Doors of Tunis is the last one because it is about the end of a relationship that isn't really over, and that seemed the right note to end on.
   You haven't asked about the title, but that was really difficult. Some of the story titles sounded terrible as the title of a collection. I gave writer friends a list of the titles (they will have known some but not all) and took a vote.

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

AC: It means listening to voices in the dark.

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

AC:  No - I just think about getting the story right.

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

AC: What do you remember about it, a week after you finished it?

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

AC: Exciting, a bit scary. I wrote a book called Writing Short Stories so there is a voice in my head that says, "Right, you think you're so bloody clever, lets see what you can do..."

TSR: What are you working on now?

AC: More stories - and I also have a long term fiction project called The Institute, which forms very satisfactory parallel world to my everyday life. Okay, I confess - it's a campus novel.

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

AC: Rob Shearman, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical; Tamar Yellin, Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes; Mark Illis, Tender. All very different. (They have great titles too.)
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