Spotlight on Emma Timpany

Emma, your debut short fiction collection, In The Lost of Syros, was recently published by Cultured Llama. How did you go about putting the collection together?

In all, the writing of the stories (sixteen in all) took seven or eight years. My first short story was published in 2010; a year later, The Glasshouse Mountains won the Society of Women Writers and Journalists Short Story Award and the judge, Vanessa Gebbie, suggested I work towards a first collection. 

I looked at the finished stories I had (around six completed and another four or so in progress) to see if they shared any common themes and found that the characters were all, in some sense, lost and trying to find their way; another link was the work and life on the New Zealand short story writer Katherine Mansfield which ran in and out of the collection like a dark thread. Towards the end of 2012 I started submitting and was accepted by Cultured Llama fifteen months later. The Lost of Syros was published eighteen months after that.

Do you keep a collection of ideas, or do you approach each short story with a blank page and see what develops organically?

My story ideas arise organically, most often from a memory, an event, a feeling, something odd and fleeting; if I get a glimpse or scent a story I try and note it down before it disappears.  Sometimes themed calls for submissions will prompt an idea, for example the ‘Time’ theme for Arachne Press’s Solstice Shorts Competition or Cinnamon Press’s current competition ‘The Lies We Tell Ourselves.’

Congratulations on Flowers making the short list for the 2015 Bristol Short Story Prize. How did you choose that particular piece?

I come from a family of florists and flower-growers and have been (sometimes reluctantly) a florist and flower-grower myself. I wanted to write about the role flowers have played in my life; the fact that Flowers has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story prize has encouraged me to explore this idea further.

What is it that draws you to the short story form over longer works of fiction?

The first short stories I encountered as a schoolgirl, by New Zealand writers Katherine Mansfield, Patricia Grace and Owen Marshall, made me fall in love with the form. I’ve never thought of short stories as less powerful or important than the novel or novella. I’m also intrigued by the idea that short stories are, by their nature, a subversive, experimental, marginal form. I like that the fact that I can complete a story in months rather than years, as is the case when I’m writing a novel.

Which short fiction authors inspire you and why?

There are so many short fiction writers I admire: Claire Keegan, David Constantine, Paula Morris, Jane Gardam, Kirsty Gunn, Jhumpa Lahiri, James Baldwin, Patricia Grace, Katherine Mansfield, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever, Lucy Wood, Alice Munro, Jacob Ross, Jennifer Egan, Julie Orringer, Mavis Gallant, Deborah Eisenberg, Patrick Holland, Raymond Carver, Tim Winton – and that’s just for starters. They all inspire me because they write, or have written, great short stories.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m working on the longer piece of flower-themed fiction (as mentioned above) and slowly putting together a second collection of short stories. In the coming months I’ll also be editing my novel, Travelling in the Dark.

What are the great challenges in creating short fiction?

The greatest challenges are creating complex characters and their worlds in a few thousand words. For me, the best short stories are, to quote Alison MacLeod, ‘quiet, radical, human and delicious.’

What fascinates me about writing is how it gathers every aspect of living into itself. There’s something mysterious and hard to define about the creation of a story that I find captivating; the gift it offers is a rare kind of freedom.

Do you have a blog or use social media?

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