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Clare Wigfall

Website: Myspace.com/clarewigfall

Clare Wigfall was born in Greenwich, London during the summer of ‘76. She grew up in Berkeley, California, and London, and now lives in Prague. Her stories have been published in Prospect, New Writing 10, The Dublin Review, X-24, Tatler, Bordercrossing Berlin and commissioned for BBC Radio 4. She is the winner of the 2008 BBC National Short Story Award. 

Short story collections

The Loudest Sound and Nothing (Faber, 2007)

Winner, UEA Curtis Brown Prize, 1999; Longlisted for the 2008 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award

Reviewed by Peter Hobbs

Interview with Clare Wigfall

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

Clare Wigfall: Almost a decade. The oldest story in the book, On Pale Green Walls, was written when I was twenty; it’s one from an initial batch of three which, by some miracle, convinced Faber to offer me a contract a year later. The last story I wrote, My Brain, was finished just hours before the final deadline for handing in the manuscript.

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

CW: Yes. At least, I knew already that it was one day going to be a book. But each story was its own struggle, written for its own specific reasons, and I viewed each one as autonomous, independent from the others, and still do. I didn’t really think too much about how they’d work together. In fact, I worried sometimes that they wouldn’t work as a collection because they are all so disparate, their settings and subject matter so varied. Only when I finished and read all the stories together did I realise that there were themes which kept resurfacing, unintentionally on my part, which bound them – it was a little uncanny, as if suddenly I was being given some insight into my own subconscious.

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

CW: I included every story which was finished and which I was happy with – the others fell by the wayside. As to the order, it was like making a mix tape, and was only finalised in a sleepless haze in those last hours before the manuscript was due in. I wanted their order to be such that the autonomy of the stories would remain strong, and that each new story would surprise the reader, transport them to a different world from the one they’d just left – say, from the cold and fog of a Scottish isle to the dense heat of an Arizona afternoon. The actual process was a matter of writing the vital statistics of each story on a piece of paper (when it was set, where, what tense it was written in, whether it was told in the first or third person), together with the first and last lines, and shuffling them about on the living room carpet until they began to make sense to me, until it seemed that the end line of one story could only naturally be followed by the opening line of the next.

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

CW: Of course I think of how the stories will be read because that allows me to judge whether or not they will work on a mechanical level, but to answer your question I would have to say no because my reasons for writing are fundamentally much more intrinsic and personal. I’ve always been quite private about my writing and am not sure I would have had the confidence to seek out a publisher on my own; it still surprises me that people are actually interested to read my work. I sometimes wonder whether I’m more conscious of a “reader” now that the book’s published and I’m aware that there is an audience out there. Perhaps, but I don’t think it will change how I write.

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

CW: Oh, lots of things. But I’m usually too shy to ask all the questions I would like. I often feel rather embarrassed talking about my writing. My stories are quite intricate, even the spare ones, so I’d like to question a reader about the specifics, about the subtle clues and pointers which I wonder if they’ve picked up on. I’d also like to ask what the story means to them, because every reader comes to it from a different place, gives it their own interpretation, and often that’s very different from mine – I find that fascinating, it makes me aware of the power the story has independent from myself.

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

CW: I feel very honoured.

TSR: What are you working on now?

CW: I’m writing some new short stories – I have about four or five simmering at the moment but I work very slowly. When they’re finished I’ll offer them out to some magazines and journals. I’m also working on my next book which I finished in first draft as a novella while I was writing the collection but which I now want to totally restructure and transform.

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

CW: I read a lot of short story collections these days, but I tend to skip around between them, as I do when I write stories, so I often have several collections on the go at once and it will take me a while to get to the end story. But I’m just finishing Jhumpa Lahiri’s first collection The Interpreter of Maladies. I learnt of her from the Frank O’Connor longlist and, having just returned from India, was keen to read her – she’s a very engaging writer, I’ve enjoyed her stories a lot. I’m also rereading Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, which I love every time I read it. I’ve just read the opening stories in Irish author Gerard Donovan’s new collection Country of the Grand which Faber is publishing later this year – they look promising. And I think the last collection I finished was Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You. I met her at a festival last year and it was funny because we later bumped into each other in Heathrow Airport while I was actually holding her book in my hand, one finger still marking the page where I’d paused from reading – it was a strange coincidence – it felt weirdly stalkerish but she just laughed.