ON THE COUCH WITH ... Richard BARDSLEY
RICHARD BARDSLEY was born in Sale, Manchester, in 1975. After graduating in Film Studies from Sheffield Hallam University, he moved to London and worked as a freelance video editor. The fine London borough of Hackney has been home since the last millennium, where Bardsley can often be found nonchalantly sipping cappuccinos whilst dodging crack-smoking teenage joyriders. Body Parts: The Anatomy of Love, his first collection of short stories, was recently longlisted for the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.
Bardsley recently spoke to Eric Forbes and Tan May Lee in an e-mail interview from his home in London.
How did you find out about the longlist?
I got a text message just after I’d woken up from a friend who was looking for my book on Amazon, and she told me that Body Parts was on a list that a reviewer there had made of the U.K. award longlist—so that was a nice start to the day.
What was the first thing you did when you found out you were longlisted?
I think I came over with a hot flush of excitement, then checked out the official site and some other blogs to check it wasn’t a typo! Confident it wasn’t, I sent lots of e-mails out to friends and family and might have had a bit of a drink that night.
What do you think of the other titles on the longlist?
I was already a fan of David Gaffney and Clare Wigfall, and was familiar with Alison MacLeod, Adam Merek and the rest of my fellow Salt Publishing nominees, but I have to admit that apart from Roddy Doyle, a lot of the authors were new to me. It just goes to show how many great short-story collections are out there internationally that we might not otherwise hear about without the publicity of awards like this.
How familiar are you with the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award?
I first heard about it when Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman won it in 2006.
What is the difference between writing short stories and full-length novels?
I always think of a short story as being a slice of life in some way, a window left open to a brief, incisive moment which is quickly closed again. Novels obviously have the facility to show either side of that moment. It’s almost the same difference as looking at a photograph and watching a film; both use (or used to, before digital) essentially the same celluloid process, but the final incarnation is an entirely different experience.
Short stories appear to be getting more popular. Jhumpa Lahiri continues to publish great collections. Anne Enright published a short-story collection after her Man Booker Prize-winning The Gathering. What are your thoughts on this?
In the U.K. I think the tradition of writing and publishing short stories had not seen the same level of support or interest as somewhere like America, which has continued right through from Edgar Allen Poe to Sherwood Anderson to Richard Ford to Dave Eggers. However, there is a resurgence going on over here, whether it’s down to the initiatives that happened a few years ago owing to the decline of the form, or to all the online outlets, I don’t know. Having said that, short stories are still nowhere near as big a blip on the radar as novels, maybe because they’re harder to categorise, and perhaps because of that they’re still perceived as being something of a poor relation that people don’t know what to do with, which is obviously a great shame. On the upside, the existence of publishing houses such as Salt Publishing and Comma Press and others demonstrates that things are changing.
What is your personal favourite short story or short-story collection?
For collections I would have to say Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?. I read it years ago and it had an enormous impact on me. I’ve since read all his stories and poetry and whilst I love all of them it’s always the first experience of something that stays with you most. Tove Jansson’s A Winter Book would also be up there, as well as Kafka’s Wedding Preparations in the Country. I don’t think I could really choose a specific story, but I will say that Mary Robison’s “Yours” gives me goosepimples.
If the longlist is made up of an entire human body, which part would your collection be?
Hmm! I think perhaps it would be fingers, giving everyone a cheeky prod and tickle, before quickly crossing them in the hope that it makes it onto the shortlist!
Publishers find short-story collections hard to sell. Why do you think this is so? What can we do to make people buy or read more of such collections?
I have a feeling that short stories are harder to sell because there’s often no simple tagline you can pin to them in the same way you can with books that fit into mass-market genres such as chick-lit, mis-lit, sci-fi or the boys-own-adventure spy novel type of thing. Also, the form itself might lend people to believe that they’re not getting their money’s worth in some way—there’s no big story for them to sink their teeth into—so there might be a general misconception about the purpose of short stories and the way they work on the reader. Certainly on a few occasions when I’ve told people that I’ve written a collection of them I’ve been met with confused expressions, as if my book might be journalism, diary essays, reportage or something entirely different! How to make people read more though? There might be something ingrained in how we learn to read. As children we start off with nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and as the years go by the books gradually get longer and longer and short stories end up falling by the wayside. A good start would be to have dedicated short-story sections in all the major bookstore chains, in the same way that poetry does, perhaps with information for stories that have been made into a broad spectrum of films—“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Minority Report,” “The Swimmer,” “Short Cuts,” “The Birds”—and more recently Etgar Keret’s “Wristcutters.” Short stories are also a great thing to have in the supplements of weekend papers and monthly general lifestyle magazines, which already happens on occasion but could perhaps happen more often.
The six-book shortlist for the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award will be announced in mid-July 2008