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 Anne Donovan

Anne Donovan has published stories that have appeared in anthologies and have been broadcast on BBC radio. She was the winner of the Macallan/Scotland on Sunday short story competition in 1997 and a Canongate Prize winner in 1999. Her first story collection Hieroglyphics and Other Stories was published in 2001. Buddha Da, her firs novel was short-listed for the Orange Prize in 2003. Her second novel, Being Emily, was published in 2008. She lives in Glasgow.
Short Story Collections

Hieroglyphics (Canongate, 2001)

Reviewed by Michelle Reale

 Interview with Anne Donovan 

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

Anne Donovan: They were written over a period of about six years. Some took a only a few weeks (sometimes it’s like that - you feel you have been given a gift and you just have to run with it) while others took years. I’d start something, put it away then return to it months later.

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

AD: When I started writing I never imagined anything would be published. I wrote for my own satisfaction. I’m not sure how the change came about but gradually I began to finish stories and polish them because I wanted to send them away and see what happened - I think it was less about publication in itself than a need to know whether anyone would think they were any good. I sent stories to various anthologies and competitions and gradually a few appeared in print.

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

AD: Although I had some say in it, I think the choice was more my publisher’s than mine (which was fine as I don’t think I had a lot of perspective on them). I just gave them everything I had and they liked some more than others, or felt some were too similar. Some of those which were left out have been published elsewhere. My editor, Karen McCrossan, was very helpful about order - I’d never really thought about running them from childhood through to old age - I’d envisaged it more like the running order on a CD, in terms of mood and tone! But I think it works well.

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

AD:  By itself it suggests narrative but that’s actually the last thing I look for in a short story. For me, a good short story resonates around a significant moment in the character’s life, is economical and uses language to suggest far more than it says. My favourite stories are powerful, poignant, poetic and often have very little apparently happening on the outside. Alistair MacLeod and Alan Spence are typical of this as, of course, are some of the classic stories by writers such as Chekhov.

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

AD:  When I’m writing I don’t think about anything other than being in the process. I’m very character-driven and while I write I really am in another world. When I’m editing my work I think about the reader in general terms to ensure that what I write makes sense - I read everything aloud several time over. If a story is commissioned for a particular purpose I think about its audience ( e.g. whether it will work on radio) but that happens after the first draft is done.

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

AD: Did you have a favourite story and why?

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

AD: It’s a wonderful feeling - I tend to meet people at readings and it’s lovely to hear them say that something you wrote has moved or affected them in some way.

TSR: What are you working on now?

AD: I’m working on quite a long short story and editing another shorter one. Not because I have a collection in mind - it’s just that’s what I do. I have never actually set out to write a novel but occasionally a story has turned out not to be a story.

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

ADThis sounds strange but I don’t really read collections. To me a story is more like a poem in its intensity and I find it quite difficult to read more than one story at a time. I'm more likely to read maybe two or three stories in a collection, then read something different and go back again. I frequently re-read stories I particularly enjoy. Though I happily pass on or donate novels to charity, I hardly ever give away short story collections or poetry books. Currently I am enjoying The Atmospheric Railway, the collected stories of Shena Mackay, whose work I admire very much. I’m just about to start The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I loved her novels and am excited about discovering her stories which have received excellent reviews. And I have recently revisited the wonderful Matters of Life and Death by Bernard MacLaverty.