Interview with The Ginger Collect.
Flash fiction often captures particularly moments in time. Are there moments you find yourself returning to for inspiration?
No, not really. While I think flash fiction has a somewhat hybrid role – somewhere between poetry and the longer short story – I’m still very much an “ideas” writer; I still think every story, even those that are just a few hundred words, should have a point. If I finish a flash piece and think, “Well what was the point of that?” I feel like I’ve wasted my time both as a reader and a writer so I tend to write ideas that are driven by “What if?” ideas rather than emotional snapshots in time.
Do you have any previously published pieces you’re particularly proud of?
In terms of flash pieces, I’m rather fond of “The Pub Fight” (https://bizarrocentral.com/2017/06/23/flash-fiction-friday-the-pub-fight/ ) and “The Chaotic Butterfly” (https://bizarrocentral.com/2017/11/03/flash-fiction-friday-the-chaotic-butterfly/ ) – they seem to sum up my voice as a writer. There are also a couple of other stories published by Bizarro Central, if anyone cares to dig them out. In terms of longer stories, I also have a lot of time for “BobandJane” (http://www.lit-net.org/p_shst1.htm ) which was the opener of my first collection, Ugly Stories for Beautiful People and which was the first story I ever performed live at a spoken word event.
What do you find to be the hardest about consolidating and writing stories as flash fiction?
Nothing, really! I’m not one of those people who has attended a Master’s course in fiction writing or anything and so is always mindful of what “flash fiction” is or what separates a “flash story” from a “short-short” or a “short story.” I’ve always just written stories and they have been as long as they have needed to be, whether that be 1500 words or 20,000! Sometimes I may have issues cutting a story for a desired market (say, from 900 words to 500), but I rarely set out to specifically write flash fiction. I just know I have a story to tell and that it will probably be on the shorter side. However long it may be depends entirely on how long it is once I’m finished.
How would you have handled this man? Would you have behaved the same as the protagonist?
Sadly, I think I would have acted exactly the same as the protagonist – no matter how much I wanted to be alone, once I started getting bothered by someone, I would have interacted with them out of politeness but I would have been fairly monosyllabic to try and show them how annoyed I was by having to do so. Unfortunately, I know from experience that this is what I would have done as I am like a magnet for what British comedian Jasper Carrott called “The Bus Weirdo;” if there is any oddball out there who wants to talk to someone, they will make a bee-line straight for me.
It’s sad that this person had to buy a chip to be funny to others. Was there a message behind this or was it just a good read?
There was something of a deeper message behind it. The idea came when I was just thinking about how much people do for the sole purpose of being attractive to prospective sexual partners – working out in the gym, spending thousands on clothes and flash cars, dedicating their whole lives to occupations they hate just so they can have full wallets to impress those they want to sleep with….. Even having slices of flesh cut and sliced and sucked away in an attempt to improve how they look. The thought of cosmetic surgery lead me to wondering what people would do, if they could, to improve their personalities? What would they do to become witty, urbane, to effortlessly hold court at every social occasion? This then lead me to think about what would happen if such procedures – as is the case with many plastic surgery procedures – unfortunately, went wrong……
Interview with The Short Review.
The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
James Burr: Over ten years, all told. Although I tend to write in bursts, so I would finish a story then let it sit in a drawer and it would be months before I returned to it or started something new. That said, while that suits my inherent idleness I think it's also a good habit to get into as that period away from a story gives you a sense of objectivity when you finally re-read it. Sometimes it's a genuine pleasure to read something ("Wow, I wrote this?!"), but more often than not the flaws and cliches and excess verbiage are all too apparent. But then, that's a great position to be in when editing or rewriting, so it's always a win-win situation.
TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
JB: Most definitely. I had the stories I wanted to include, and the order I wanted them to appear, organised in my head before I had even written half of the collection. I knew I wanted them to be linked by theme and often with recurring characters. And like a good album, I knew I wanted longer stories to follow the shorter ones; more light-hearted tales to follow the grimmer ones. Similarly, I've written (and had published) several stories in the last ten years that I knew were never going to be part of the collection, despite the fact that I loved them.
TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
JB: As I wrote them as a collection it just came naturally. I had the ideas for most of the stories at around the same time, so they were obviously linked in the way that they were the result of how I saw myself, my writing and the world at that time. But even as I wrote them I knew I wanted the stories to take place in the same world, even if the narrative voice or style varied enormously between them. Then once characters started appearing in other stories I also had to bear in mind the chronology across the stories - when we meet a character later in the collection I wanted it to be after the events of their story, which obviously affected the order. In fact, the order is very important which is why there is no Contents page. While the reader can dip in and out, I really wanted them to read the collection in the "right" order and that means starting at the beginning and reading through to the end.
TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?
JB: "Vastly, and inexplicably underrated, form of prose." I love short stories and I just don't understand why the publishing industry, and indeed many readers too, look down upon them. In these times of multi-media saturation and short attention spans surely the short story is THE medium of our times! Surely, just being able to dip in and out of a book whenever you have a few minutes to spare is the way we should all be reading now? Yet stories continue to be seen as the immature, less-devloped sibling to the novel, or worse, as a training ground for aspiring novelists. In my opinion, a good short story collection should always be superior to a good novel - the sheer range of narrative voices that can be used, the variety of characters, the number of ideas that can be explored.... Then again, while I don't write genre fiction I come from a genre background, so I see a short story as having "a point." When you read a story by Philip.K. Dick or Ray Bradbury or Clive Barker there is a definite purpose to the story - it is complete in and of itself. I wonder if the reason many people don't like reading short stories is because they read stories that are essentially notes for abandoned novels masquerading as "mood pieces" or half-formed vignettes pretending to be "character studies." This is a failing I often see in more "literary" short story collections, and it annoys me intensely. A story should be complete in itself, whether it be 1000, 5000 or 20000 words long. It isn't just "a short piece of prose" that isn't long enough to be padded up into a novel, nor is it just a single, clever idea. That isn't a short story. That's a vignette, or even, dare I say, a joke.
TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
JB: No, never. I write because I feel I have a story that needs to be told, and I write it until it has been. So I never aim them for a specific market or try to second guess what a potential reader may think. I write entirely for myself. I think that's the only way to stay genuine, avoid jumping on trendy bandwagons and avoid self-censorship. However, once I've finished a story I may edit its word-length for a specific market (if I can), but I usually see the unedited version as the "real" version.... unless, as sometimes happens, the editing process actually improves it.
TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
collection, anything at all?
JB:I've met a few people who have, and for some reason (perhaps because I do write for myself and as such expose quite a lot of myself in my work) I usually get quite embarrassed and just ask them something dopey like, "What did you think of it?" or "Did you like it?" Ultimately, you'd like it to mean something to someone, to know that it affected them on a deep emotional level. But really, I don't care if they loved it or hated it..... as long as it had some kind of impact on them. In my opinion, "Meh," would probably be the most cutting thing someone could ever say to me about my work.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
JB: Very flattering. Especially when you get an email from someone who says how much they enjoyed it. I still find it hard to comprehend that stories that I remember writing are now being read by people in different countries. And that they then take the time to contact me. It's strange, but satisfying, too.
TSR: What are you working on now?
JB:At the moment I'm working on two projects, and flicking between them depending upon my mood and circumstances. The first is a collection of two novellas and a short story - all criticising certain aspects of contemporary life in Britain. I've written the story, Shooting Stars and I had written one of the novellas, Dawn of the Brain Dead. Unfortunately, a computer crash last year meant I lost all my drafts of it. However, twelve months on I feel ready to re-write it. The other thing I'm working on at the moment is my first novel which I've been outlining and researching for over a decade. I can't say much about it except that it's a love story... albeit one with an Ugly Stories slant.....
TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?
JB: I have a pile of books next to my bed which never seems to diminish. But occasionally, usually in the Summer when I'm not working at the University, I get some free time and the opportunity to try and make a dent in it. As such, I've just read the first volume of The Collected Stories of Richard Matheson. I'm a big fan of the old Rod Serling Twilight Zones, and after Serling himself, Matheson was the next main contributor to the series. It's a strange collection - there are some great ideas there, but like so many "genre" collections that were written in the 50s when short story markets were hungry and plentiful, the prose is a little basic and uninspired. I've also just finished Alexei Sayle's "The Dog Catcher." I loved Barcelona Plates too, although I have no idea why I bought them. Sayle has a sneery narrative voice, but he's both funny and insightful and his views on London's Media-set are often spot-on. I'm currently reading Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, and enjoying it a lot, although (and perhaps this is where being aware of the reader comes in) I sometimes feel like he's trying a little too hard.