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.
Sound and Nothing (Faber,
Curtis Brown Prize, 1999; Longlisted for the 2008 Frank
O'Connor International Short Story Award
with Clare Wigfall
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?
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?
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
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
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?
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.