Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, it is my absolute pleasure today to welcome Frances Gapper, a brilliant, nuanced, and versatile author. Her latest collection of short stories, “In the Wild Wood” has blown me away, and I recommend it for lovers of quirky, unusual fiction with a touch of the surreal. She’s been widely published: you can read some of her work online in the Irish Literary Review and the London Magazine.
1. At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you?
I was lucky to attend a very good primary school, St Mary Magdalen’s in Mortlake, southwest London, UK. Mortlake: a death lake, but a good one to learn to swim in. Creativity of all sorts was encouraged and I wrote poems and stories. This would be from the age of five or so. I first tasted the delights of fame when an early poem of mine starting “The fish in our tank swim round and round / Round and round without a sound…” was stuck up by the school goldfish tank. I could quote the last line too, but I won’t because it was a bit weak and falsely jovial. Also I won first prize (five shillings) in a book review competition, no one else having bothered to enter. My friend Jane Eccles, whose beautiful drawing Night Tree is on my book cover, went to this school too.
2. What are your preoccupations as a writer? Which of your short stories/ collections would you recommend to a reader who has never come across your work?
My preoccupations as a writer – loss mainly, I guess. Loss in one form or another. I tend to assume all fiction concerns itself with loss and/or death, although I’m probably completely wrong about that. But certainly mine does. As for a recommendation of something to start with, I think ‘The Tiny Key’, a booklet of very short stories (bundled with two other booklets) published by Sylph Editions in 2009.
3. Which authors have been your biggest influences?
There are writers you love to read but whose work doesn’t influence your own writing (or at least you’re not conscious of it), others whose brilliance has a dimming effect on you. More rarely, an amazing writer comes along whose work refreshes and inspires you. It’s so for me with Stevie Smith, Ali Smith too. And all the writers listed below have influenced me in one way or another, as have very many others.
4. Could you name short story authors we should all check out?
Probably your readers will know all or most of these authors already, but here’s a short and eclectic list: Ali Smith, Grace Paley, Helen Oyeyemi, Stevie Smith, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Jackie Kay, Leonora Carrington, Chekhov, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver, William Trevor.
See too my essay on Robert Aickman: “Aickman thought the ghost story akin to poetry in its compression and intensity, and his work has been described as ‘English Eerie’ and ‘English Kafka’…” (Aickman’s motto ‘Never explain or apologize’ – which was also the motto of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s mother – is a good one for short story writers, I think.)
And my essay on Dorothy Edwards: “Hovering awkwardly on the fringe of the Bloomsbury Group, virtually penniless and dependent on a friend for accommodation, Dorothy Edwards lacked the two things Virginia Woolf considered vital for a woman writer of fiction: money, and secure private space…”
6. What tips would you give to those starting out on short stories?
- Learn all the rules, so you can choose the ones to disobey.
- Read how-to articles, via links on social media, then think to yourself this may be good advice but I’m going to ignore it. Comma splices, for instance, seem to be the latest no-no – well I love comma splices. And exclamation marks!
- Interact with other writers online.
- Enter competitions and send stuff out. Lots of people will think your work is crap/meh; this will help you to moderate your own views and be grateful for the occasional kind word.
- Never explain or apologize (see above).
7. What does your typical writing day look like?