Rob Mimpriss is a short story writer and creative writing tutor. He has had two books published by Gwasg y Bwthyn, Caernarfon: Reasoning: Twenty Stories (2005) and For His Warriors: Thirty Stories (2010). For His Warriors was longlisted for the Frank O'Connor Award. His third collection, White City, is in progress.

Short Story Collections

For His Warrior
Gwasg y Bwthyn, 2010)

reviewed by Brian George

Gwasg y Bwthyn, 2005)

Interview with Rob Mimpriss

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

Rob Mimpriss: The first of these stories is also the oldest, written in the autumn of 2003. One of the last stories, an echo of the first, was written in the autumn of 2009, so although I made subsequent changes to the collection, I did the bulk of the work in six years.

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

RM: I had two collections in mind, because my first collection, Reasoning, was published in 2005; these two and my next collection are intended to reflect and comment on each other. But the challenge for a short story writer is always the same, I think, to produce something serious and subtle enough to counter the brevity of the opportunity and the low status of the form. Producing stories that work together, that cast light on each other, is one way of doing that.

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

RM: Two working titles came during a very early stage of composition, and as I wrote the stories I was trying to understand those titles. Who are the warriors in a civil society, and what kind of courage must they show? Order seemed to come naturally, the stories often arranging themselves symmetrically in dependent pairs, but I omitted a great many stories that I liked, and had enjoyed writing. The test, for me, is whether I have learnt something from writing a story, if not in human terms, then at least in terms of composition. Otherwise I would only be writing out of habit, and the task would lose its impulsion and joy.

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

RM: I see the short story as an intuitive form. It isn’t dealing with great conflicts or victories, but with the little signs of realisation or change that in real life we often forget, or understand only in retrospect. This makes it a very egalitarian form, because it can commemorate lives which seem uneventful, or filled with more failure than success. But at the same time the compressed prose of a well-made story needs to be read slowly, or more than once, and I don’t find I read short stories one after another, the way I read chapters in a novel. It’s as though every dying moment deserves a moment of silence, and this suggests that the short story is a meditative form as well.

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

RM: Yes, I do. So it’s important, for the reader’s sake, that the stories are coherent. It’s important to orient the reader in the setting and the lives of the characters in the first paragraph or so, to leave the virtuoso performance until the end, or even later if possible. But it’s also important to respect the reader’s intelligence, not to allow misleading or distracting information into the story, but to allow the reader to extrapolate from the little that is there. Some of the best short stories end with question marks, stories like The Voyage by Katherine Mansfield or The Last Payment by Kate Roberts, and the years I spent mulling over them, studying their layered wisdom and coming to terms with the challenge of their endings, helped me fall in love with the short story as a form.

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

RM: I’m sure every serious writer wants to hear something back. It would be a lot of trouble to go to just to express oneself, but stories that are published, and that people take the time to read, ought to have some kind of human value as well. People say (the novel-critic Bernard Bergonzi said) that the short story is a negative form, and often there’s a narrow line between art which is merely depressing, and art which carries some kind of consolation or joy. I’d want to know that I’m achieving that, at least as often as anyone can.

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

RM: The feelings I experience are common, I’m sure: excitement and pride, a slight sense of nakedness, and a fear that my work falls short of the mark. Then I’m sent a peer review, or I see a review in a journal, and I’m often struck by the depth of their engagement with my work, the subtlety of their interpretation.

TSR: What are you working on now?

RM: I’ve begun work on a third collection, White City, for my publisher. The three collections were conceived as a way of thinking about goodness, in the light of the way Plato describes a good man, and in the particular cultural and social circumstances we face in Wales. But I’m also looking ahead to a series of stories set in Patagonia, which is Spanish speaking, but also has a strong Welsh heritage, since it was colonised in the 19th century by people from Wales.

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

RM: When I’m starting a new collection I spend time with writers who’ve spoken to me in the past: Amy Hempel, Raymond Carver, Bernard Malamud, Anne Beattie. In addition I’ve been reading Burning Bright by Ron Rash, Rooms of the Mind by Catherine Chanter and The Shieling by David Constantine.
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