Carys Bray’s debut short fiction collection is published by Salt Publishing this month and is already receiving rave reviews. Sweet Home, which won this year’s Scott Prize, has been described as full to the brim with ‘razor-sharp prose, a killer eye for the stop-you-in-your-tracks detail and a real understanding of the hidden cruelties and unexpectedly sharp comforts of family life‘ (Jenn Ashworth) and ‘alive, beautiful and painfully true‘ (Sarah Schofield). Carys also teaches at Edge Hill University and co-edits the excellent online lit journal Paraxis. So, you can see, her short fiction credentials are impressive to say the least and it is with great pleasure that I welcome her to this blog. Sit back, relax and enjoy Carys Bray’s Life in Short Fiction:
1. The first short story you remember enjoying.
The first short story I remember enjoying was ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I was a teenager and I hadn’t really read short stories before, but I knew there was something very special about ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. I read it again and again to try and get a feel for how and why it worked.
2. The short story that turned you on to writing short fiction.
I needed to write short fiction during my Creative Writing MA. At first, I did it because it was a necessary part of the course. Then I started to read stories by Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields (bit of a Canadian thing going on there) and the form became magical and appealing.
One of my tutors introduced me to Helen Simpson’s short stories. Reading Hey yeah Right Get a Life was like coming home. The title story traces Dorrie’s day, from an ‘early morning kitchen’ to a ‘midnight garden.’ The language is poetic and fresh and I love the way Simpson describes motherhood. Dorrie is ‘broken… into little pieces like a biscuit’ and ‘scattered all over the place.’ I have four children and I feel exactly like that sometimes.
3. A story by the author whose body of work you feel has most influenced yours.
These questions are hard!
I think I need to choose a story by Carol Shields. She once said that her stories include ‘wallpaper… cereal bowls, cupboards, cousins, buses, local elections, head colds, cramps, newspapers.’ Reading her stories helped me realise that domestic details don’t trivialise fiction, they humanise it.
I’m going to pick Shields’ story ‘Keys’, a playful piece of fiction in which the narrative moves from character to character, an approach I adopted in the last story of my collection, ‘On the Way Home’.
4. The story from Sweet Home that most reveals something of who Carys Bray is.
I suspect they all reveal something, even though I wouldn’t describe any of them as autobiographical, but I think the first story, ‘Everything a Parent Needs to Know’ may be the most revealing.
I read dozens of parenting books when my children were small. Eventually, I realised that I knew my children better than the people who were making a fortune out of writing daft advice. I stopped reading the books and my disdain for them is probably quite transparent. The story also reveals my love of T.S Eliot’s poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. A few years ago I made some daring decisions that really disturbed my universe (in a good way) and I particularly love the following lines (which I couldn’t quote in the story because it would have cost a lot of money!):
‘Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of toast and tea.’
5. Your all time favourite short story.
Oh, now this is just impossible. Hmm. Oh dear. Just the one?
Okay, ‘The Not-Dead and the Saved’ by Kate Clanchy. It’s one of the most perfect stories I have ever read.
Thanks Carys, for taking the time to share the stories which have helped shape you as both a reader and a writer. I loved the Radio 4 reading of the Kate Clanchy story and will be checking out the Carol Shields and Helen Simpson stories you mention but not before I get my hands on a copy of Sweet Home. Can’t wait to read it. You can buy sweet Home direct from Salt Publishing and it should very soon also be available on Amazon.
Bio: Carys Bray’s prize-winning short stories have been published in a variety of magazines and literary journals including Mslexia, Dialogue, PoemMemoirStory, Black Market Review, The Front View and New Fairy Tales. Her collection, Sweet Home won the 2012 Scott Prize and is published by Salt. Carys teaches at Edge Hill University. She is working on a PhD and she is a co-editor at Paraxis.