Ellis Sharp is an experimental British writer, based in London. He is the author of ten books of absurdist metafiction, distinguished by their dense, allusive prose and their interest in re-imagining themes from history, literature and cinema, sometimes from a radical socialist perspective.

Short Story Collections

Dead Iraqis
(New Ventures, 2009)

Reviewed by Jason Makansi

Interview with Ellis Sharp

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

Ellis Sharp: This is a "Greatest Hits" compilation, which covers the period 1991 – 1999. So all in all, about a decade. The title story Dead Iraqis, inspired by a photograph of a burned corpse, was written in a single draft over a period of six hours. But that’s unusual. Some of the others took months. I like congested texts (which is why I like Ulysses and Under the Volcano) and my drafts tend to collect clutter as they expand.

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

ES: Not originally. The stories just bubble up. But certain themes started to emerge, such as rewriting history by putting famous people in unlikely situations, like sending Emily Brontė to Nicaragua, for instance, or making Charles Fort into a revolutionary and Karl Marx into a paranormal investigator. 

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

ES: Mac Daly, who is an academic at the University of Nottingham, made the selection. I was invited to participate in choosing the stories but I declined. If I had been involved I would have included some of my more recent work. Mac prefers the early stuff. However, I think it’s a coherent and tight collection, and I’m pleased it ends with Tympoptanomania, as this story embodies my interest in collage.

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

ES:  Plot, which can be a trap. Plot can become a substitute for emotional and intellectual engagement. And “story” also signifies fiction that’s shorter than a novella. The shortest story I’ve written is Re Dare, 35 words. It puns on "reader" and "read air" (in a volume entitled Aria Fritta, which means "fried air" and is the Italian expression for nonsense). The length of my stories has shrunk in recent years.

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

ES:  No. Although my readers will likely be people who enjoy satire and have an interest in left politics, avant-garde literature and movies.

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

ES: Did you laugh? How often?

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

ES: Anxious. Will they get to the end?

TSR: What are you working on now?

ES: My fourth novel, which is about the end of the world. To my mind, the great theme of our time is climate break-up. But this can’t be approached literally. Realism doesn’t appeal to me. There has to be displacement. I am pessimistic about the future of the human species, but then literature has always been interested in entropy (think Hamlet). So I veer towards bleakness and unhappy endings

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

ES: John Updike, The Early Stories 1953-1975, Tao Lin, Bed, Patricia Highsmith, Nothing That Meets The Eye. I have a love-hate relationship with Updike. Impressive craftsmanship, sometimes drowning in syrup. I think Tao Lin is one of the most original and interesting new voices to emerge in contemporary American writing. And Patricia Highsmith is amazing. I like the way she torments conventional narrative expectation.
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