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Peter Hobbs

Peter Hobbs was born in 1973 and grew up in Cornwall and North Yorkshire. His first novel, The Short Day Dying, was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Book Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the IMPAC award, and won a Betty Trask Award. The first story in this collection appeared in the British Council/Picador anthology New Writing 13.

Short story collections

I Could Ride All Day in My Cool Blue Train (Faber,  March 2008) 

Reviewed by Frances Gapper

Interview with Peter Hobbs

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

Peter Hobbs: Most of them were written in a period of two or three years (2000-2), probably the most productive time I’ve had as a writer. I guess I wrote around 40 stories, of which roughly half made the collection. After that I took a break from stories to write The Short Day Dying. Then I spent a few months editing and organising the stories, and writing one or two new ones. So about three years, in all (and the same for the novel).

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

PH: Not at all – I was writing partly as a direct response to deal with my situation back then (a long illness), and partly just to experiment with different styles and ways of story telling. I was getting a lot of ideas for stories, and ideas of how to do them, and I’d just sit down in the afternoons and try to get some of them out.

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

PH: Due to the variety of styles I’d been writing in, it did look like it would be a problematic process. More of a mess than a collection. But there were underlying themes that recurred in many of the stories – some of which I was completely unaware of as I wrote – and after we (my editor Lee Brackstone and I) looked at what I had, it became clear we were pretty much agreed on which pieces worked, and the collection itself came together. Once they were collected it began to look almost organic, as though they’d always been designed that way. Ordering them was entertaining – it’s an odd art, and was mostly done by instinct.

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

PH:  I can’t think of any way of answering that short of a long conversation.

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

PH: As I’m writing, just myself and my friends. But writing’s an odd thing, and as you’re engaged in it you don’t necessarily have a clear idea of how a story actually reads. So for me the editing process is about trying to think more as a reader than a writer, trying to see what works on the page, what doesn’t work, and how to fix it.

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

PH:If they’ve read it, it’s not really my book any more. But I’d ask what they made of it. I’d be prepared for the worst.

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

PH:You clearly haven’t seen any sales figures for short story collections lately… But knowing that one or two people who I don’t actually know are buying my book is both unnerving and pleasing.

TSR: What are you working on now?

PH:A novel… Just enough time had passed since the last one that I’d begun to forget how hard it was. Writing another one seemed almost like a good idea. I won’t make that mistake again.

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

PH: I’ve just finished reading a couple anthologies – the shortlist for the 2008 National Short Story Award (won by Clare Wigfall – I couldn’t recommend her collection, The Loudest Sound and Nothing, highly enough), and Tell Tales 4 (edited by Monique Roffey and Courttia Newland). Before that, the last was the excellent Constitutional by Helen Simpson.