Janice Gallowaywas born in Ayrshire in 1955 where she worked as a teacher for ten years. Her first novel, The Trick is to keep Breathing was published in 1990 won the MIND/Allan Lane Book of the Year. Blood, a short story collection, was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize, People's Prize and Satire Award. Her second novel, Foreign Parts, won the McVitie's Prize in 1994. Her story-collection, Where you find it, published in 1996, was followed by a series of collaborative installation texts for sculptor Anne Bevan. Her play, Fall, was performed in Edinburgh and Paris in 1998. Her third novel, Clara, based on the tempestuous life of pianist Clara Wieck Schumann, was published in 1998 and won Saltire Book of the Year. Her new book, This is not about me, won of the Scottish Mortgage Trust Book of the Year (non-fiction) 2009.

Short Story Collections

Collected Stories
(Vintage, 2009)

reviewed by Tania Hershman

Blood (1991)

Where You Find It (1996)

Interview with Janice Galloway

The Short Review: Collected Stories is made up of the stories from both your published collections. When did you start writing short stories and how did your first book get published?

Janice Galloway: Short stories were the first thing I tried, apart from the obligatory goth-type poems when I was a teenager. The impulse arrived following a very vivid and disturbing dream which I chose to write out, then rewrite and rewrite till I got the texture of dreaming right. It was called it was and a magazine bought it after the editor read it in a competition I sent it into because I needed the 25 prize money! Didn’t win the prize, but got 30 from Edinburgh Review for the story, so I made on that one. Not winning a short story competition clearly need not be a setback!
   I wrote stories off and on for three years whilst writing my first novel. That novel had been requested by someone who read the aforementioned short story! I didn’t think of putting the stories together as a book till the publisher of the novel suggested it when he found out I had lots. His idea, not mine! I don't seem to have an enormous amount of initiative. do I?

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing your first short stories?

JG: See above - didn’t occur. I thought publishers collated them from stories in magazines, not that authors put them together deliberately. I am sometimes astounded by my level of klutz when I first set out on writing. It was all accidents.

TSR: Looking back over all these stories, do you see anything about your own writing that you hadn't seen before?

JG: Ooh, quite definitely. Starting writing was a dredge of the subconscious for me. I knew I had something to write when the words coming up on the page - it was longhand then! - surprised me, and I'd let them run. I have never taken any drugs but the prescription kind, but it was like trying to enter a dream-state waking for me. The crafting was very conscious, but not the content. Looking back now, I can see the lineage of confidence in Blood, shifting from the purely surreal to the more solidly "permitted" stories. And a recurring fascination with hair, girl children, the half-seen and, ominously, the word "crack". No prizes for the psychology driving the imagination there, then... More cheeringly, they seem freer - more willing to express the overtly disturbing or weird. Now, I seem to choose the surreal in actual events rather than surfacing dreams described as if they were reality. And I write less about sex. Which probably says a lot I ought to address.

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

JG: A voice. One voice telling a story is worth its weight. It's quite different to plot, which I largely prefer as merely a washing line to hang things on. The real grist of a novel or a short story is not plot, it's voice and perception. That's story.

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

JG:  Not really. Me in a very critical mood is who is reading them, and she turns out to be horribly demanding. Maybe I gravitated so strongly to the surreal and dream-state in former years to avoid the critic, who can be absolutely stifling if I'm not careful. Anything to avoid her is helpful! I think I'm writing for an intelligent reader, any sex any age.

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

JG: No. I'm too shy at heart, and too respectful of privacy. I'd be mortified. I repeatedly ask my husband if things need more cuts, however. I'm a cut-hound.

TSR: You said that you don't like to label your own writing, that it is up to the publisher/marketing person to say if it's fiction, memoir etc... There are pieces in your Collected Stories that seem actually to be play scripts rather than short stories. How would you choose to describe your own writing?

JG: This is a keen question. I don't tend to describe it other than as writing. It's a necessary thing to me - probably to get away from that dreadful critic that is the other half of my brain and the one I mentioned earlier - to have rabbit holes to pop down, ladders to make an escape into another alleged "form" if I have to. On a practical level, some things reach the reader better, more clearly, as physical sensations if they escape from edge-to-edge prose. Lately, I've seen a split between my "inbetween", vaseline-slippery stuff, shifting between and around single forms and the "straight" stories. The former end up in collaborative work these days, because a collaborative partner - artist, designer or musician - is already open to that kind of cross-dressing by dint of their engaging in collaboration at all. Conventional book publishers are a bit wary, but art-house presses are reassuringly welcoming of the slippery stuff. Whatever shape they take, I hope the words always have a sonic element, suggestive of music. That's voice again!

TSR: What are you working on now?

JG: A second volume of anti-memoir which I think of as a novel. It's rooted in the teenage years following "This is Not About Me"s childhood territory.

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

JG: Richard Yates' Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Jenny Diski's The Vanishing Princess, Barbara Gowdy's We so seldom look on Love.
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