lived in Birmingham for twenty-five years. His stories have been
broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and in many literary magazines and
anthologies in England and the USA. His previous collection Taking
Doreen Out Of The Sky (Picador) was widely praised.
You Don't Have to Say
(Tindal Street Press, 2010)
by Mark Staniforth
Taking Doreen Out of the Sky
with Alan Beard
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Alan Beard: Thirteen years since my
first collection (Taking Doreen out of the Sky), and that took twelve
years to complete. I'm just a slow writer - a story a year is my
average - due to several reasons: family, full time job, stuff going
on, laziness. I hope to spend more time on writing when I retire
(only another nine years to go) or hopefully go part time before
then. Maybe when my kids leave home (imminently), the house will feel
more "writer friendly" (quieter) and I'll get more done. But, maybe,
I'm just slow.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
AB: Not really, I just do
one story at a time (occasionally two will be happening), and hope to
make it work, make it sing, that's it. Then I send it off and wait
for the rejections. (I started a rejection blog on my website so I
could have the last word).Of course, when I have enough successful
pieces (170 pages in my mind, but Tindal St Press wanted over
200) I start to think about getting them published as a collection.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
Well most of the ones I've completed are in there. The only exceptions
are my shorter pieces, or flash fictions (under 1000 words). Originally
I submitted my manuscript with the larger stories interleaved with
flashes but my editor at TSP felt they didn't make a good fit, so asked
me to write two longer pieces and lose the flashes (all except one - Little Chef,
which did fit with the rest he felt). That delayed the book a year or
so. I hope to collect all my "flashes" together one day in another
book, if anyone will publish it, but still need to add a few yet.
As for order I tried to arrange it so the stories in the
second half of the book mirror or echo or move on from the stories in
the first half. For example at the end of Above the Shop a disillusioned wife is about to take off with a smoker she meets outside a pub, and in One for the Album
(in the second half of the book) that's the starting point for the
story. Also there are stories that are paired in my mind because of
setting, like the two office set ones (Backing Up and Staff Development),
there's a salesman (the same one I mean) that appears in two stories,
and one that has a wife leaving, in another a wife comes back.. the
reader doesn't need to know or get these connections, but they are
quite satisfying for me, and the order reflects my way of thinking
about them as a collection. However they can be read in any order. I
don't read collections in order, unless I've been told it is wise to do
so, eg Winesburg, Ohio or the one I've just finished (Alan Heathcock's Volt
which gains from reading in order because the same characters appear
throughout and you take with you knowledge of them from previous
does the word "story"
mean to you?
I treat stories like
songs. They have to "sing" to me. Of course you get good and bad
songs. Often my stories have soundtracks which sometimes come out in
the words and sometimes are known just to me.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
No, I'm just trying to
please me, to make the story the best it could be, as a story, as I
see it. I just hope readers will agree. I do tens of drafts of
stories trying to get it right, but I also belong to a writer's group
( a very successful one with a Booker longlistee and several
accomplished novelists and short story writers) which helps me get a
reader's perspective on the story, but this is a kind of endgame and
although I will make changes and re-edit, the essential writing of
the story is all about me being happy/satisfied with it.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
AB: I was going to say
something like "which bits work, which don't" but I asked my 19 year
old daughter as she was passing through the room and she said "How
shit am I on a scale of one to ten?" - so I'll stick with that.
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
AB: Exciting and scary. You
do expose yourself when you write, so you have to be tough enough for
What are you working on now?
I'm not. I hope to be
soon though. I don't feel right unless I've got a story on the
go. Maybe I'll go for that collection of flash fiction next.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
I read stories all the time, not only collections but magazines (online
and print) and stuff from my writer's group. I am currently reading two
collections: Joel Lane's 'The Terrible Changes' (he's in my writer's
group) and 'Best British Short Stories 2011' (I'm in it - very pleased
to be - and was sent a proof copy so I've been able to read them all
before they come out). The last three I finished were Alan Heathcock's Volt (brought to my attention by The Short Review), Vanessa Gebbie's Words from a Glass Bubble and Polly Samson's Perfect Lives.