In the first of, hopefully, many ‘My Life in Short Fiction’ posts I would like to welcome my first guest, short fiction author Nik Perring to this blog. Many of you will already be aware of Nik’s debut collection of short fiction, Not So Perfect, which was released last year to great acclaim. I reviewed it as part of my recently completed Short Story Challenge and his story ‘The Mechanical Woman’ earned him a place on my best short stories of 2010 list. More recently, Not So Perfect has been longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize.
Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Nik Perring’s Life in Short Fiction:
1. The first short story you remember enjoying.
Thanks for having me on here, Dan, it’s a real pleasure.
The first short story I remember enjoying? Now you’re asking! And that’s a difficult one to answer because it would have been before I was a writer and when I wasn’t really paying much attention to who wrote what and how.
One memory stands out though. It was while I was doing my GCSEs and my English teacher (the wonderful Mr Wilson) got us to read a couple of stories from a battered and very old collection. The first was an Orwell story, which hasn’t stuck in my head, but the second was wonderful: it was, from memory, about a couple in a house who were deaf as a result of some sort of massive sound attack; it had a very post-apocalyptic/post-nuclear war feel to it and I remember the atmosphere and the imagination of the story were breath-taking. Sadly, and this is after extensive googling and searching, I have absolutely no idea who wrote it or what it’s called. Which is a shame, because I’d quite like to read it again and see if it’s as good as I thought it was, all those years ago. (If anyone has any idea, I’d love to know…)
I also remember having Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Butterfly Effect’ being read to me when I was 11 – I remember really enjoying that too.
2. The short story that turned you on to writing short fiction.
Good question. There are a few, I think. I’d been kind of been trying to find my way with short stories for a while (I’m talking years, here – my first was published in 2004 and the first from my collection was published in 2008…). When I started out I was writing things I thought people published/bought/wanted to read – what I thought would sell. And that wasn’t such a bad thing and I ended up having quite a few fantasy/dark/horror type things published. But it always felt like I was doing an impression of a writer and not writing Nik Perring stories (and if you’re going to write anything that has a hope of being really good, it’s got to be what you want to write – it’s got to come from inside you).
And then I got hold of Aimee Bender’s second collection, ‘Willful Creatures’ and from reading the first couple of lines of the first story ‘Deathwatch’ everything changed. It’s strange but I almost felt it. It was a huge moment of change and realisation because it meant that I knew that could write the sort of stories I’d wanted to write (and had assumed no-one wanted to read). It was a big moment, and reading the rest of Aimee’s collection compounded that feeling, as did the next collection I read, Etgar Keret’s ‘The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God’.
So, for me, that being turned on to short fiction thing wasn’t a single story but two wonderful collections and to pick a story from either is simply too difficult. ‘Ironhead’ maybe. Perhaps ‘Breaking The Pig’. ‘Jinx’. ‘Hole In The Wall’. I’ll stop there because I could list every single story in each.
3. A story by the author whose body of work you feel has most influenced yours.
Tricky, because there are so many wonderful, wonderful stories by wonderful people. And, being the ridiculously proud writer that I am (my stories have come from ME, god dammit!) I try to avoid consciously being influenced by anyone’s stories.
There are stories I wish I’d written though. I think Aimee Bender’s ‘The Meeting’ is just about perfect, and I think that, as a body of work, either hers or Etgar Keret’s (those names again!) would probably be the ones I’ve had the greatest pleasure reading and also the ones that are comparable with what I try to do.
So, yeah, Aimee’s ‘The Meeting’ or ‘Loser’. Or ‘Hat Trick,’ by Keret.
4. The story from your own body of work that most reveals something of who Nik Perring is.
You know, I think one of the coolest bits about writing is that I can make stuff up. That’s fun, and it gives me something to hide behind. I’m not particularly autobiographical in what I write; being quite a shy and reasonably dull person means that stories with me in them would be, I’d bet, pretty uninteresting – and, professionally, I’d rather be defined by what I wrote (good or bad) than who I am. That said there are things that have happened to me, situations I’ve been in, things I’ve felt, that have found their way into my stories in some way, shape or form.
Let’s see then. From Not So Perfect…
Well, I think if someone asked me to define a Nik Perring story I’d probably like to answer something like: they’re a little odd, a little wonky, they make the improbable seem familiar and they have heart. And though I’m probably not the best qualified person to say which demonstrates that the best, today (it’ll change tomorrow) I think I’ll say ‘My Wife Threw Up a Lemur’. I’d be interested to hear if anyone disagrees…
5. Your all time favourite short story.
There’s not a chance I can answer this – there really are SO many. So, without mentioning Aimee Bender or Etgar Keret (check ‘em out, folks!) here’s a few off the top of my head:
Caro By The Pool, by Clare Wigfall.
On The Tram, by Franz Kafka.
Mr Applewick, by Tamar Yellin.
Babycakes, by Neil Gaiman
Victor, by Michael Czyzniejewski
Miss Temptation, by Kurt Vonnegut
Café Niagara, by István Örkény
The Peep Show, by A.C. Tillyer.
I’m sorry I’ve not been able to answer many (any?!) of these questions with a single short story, but I guess that’s part of the charm, attraction and beauty of the form – short stories are short, but they’re powerful and affecting and because they’re short we’re able to read lots and lots of them. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thanks for having me on here, Dan!
Nik Perring is a writer, teacher of writing, and editor from the UK. His short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3 :AM and Word Riot. They’ve also been read at events and on radio, printed on fliers and used as part of a high school distance learning course in the US.
His next collection, ‘FREAKS!’ co-written with Caroline Smailes, will be published by The Friday Project (HarperCollins) in Spring 2012.