Alan Beard has 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.

Short Story Collections

You Don't Have to Say
(Tindal Street Press, 2010)

reviewed by Mark Staniforth

Taking Doreen Out of the Sky

Interview with Alan Beard

The Short Review: 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.

TSR: Did you 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.

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

AB: 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 stories).

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

AB: 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.

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

AB:  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.

TSR: Is there 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 bad reactions.

TSR: What are you working on now?

AB:  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.

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

AB: 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.
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