Bristol Prize

ShortStoryVille Special with Jon McGregor, March 1st

January 26, 2012   Joe Melia

Jon McGregor is one of the U.K.’s most celebrated, exciting and original writers. Colum McCann calls him “a writer who will make a significant stamp on world literature. In fact, he already has” and Boyd Tonkin says that ‘No British writer now writes more finely carved prose – and none more firmly allies artistry and empathy’. He has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award for the last two years and his first two novels were both longlisted for the Man Booker prize.

Jon’s stunning collection of short stories ‘This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You’ is published next month as part of Bloomsbury’s  Year of the Short Story and we’re delighted to announce that we will be hosting a ShortStoryVille special on Thursday March 1st at the Arnolfini in Bristol where Jon will be ‘performing’ some of the stories. It promises to be a great event and a wonderful chance to see one of the great exponents of the short story form. Jon will, also, be signing copies of ‘This Isn’t the Sort of Thing…’ in the Arnolfini’s bookshop after the performance. The event starts at 6pm.

Tickets are on sale from the Arnolfini website at £4 or by phoning Arnolfini on 0117 9172300. The event is a joint promotion with our friends at the excellent Bristol Festival of Ideas. Many thanks to The Bristol Hotel for supporting this event.

Reviews for Jon’s new collection have been rapturous:

“read Jon McGregor’s new book. Its verve, its inventiveness, its sheer quiet audacity will reassure you that the short story is alive, well and reaching new heights” Maggie O’Farrell in The Guardian

“Sharp, dark and hugely entertaining, this collection establishes McGregor as one of the most exciting voices in short fiction” Alex Preston in The Observer

“very, very good indeed” Stephanie Cross

“McGregor’s writing is so distinctive that it becomes hard to compare to another” Arifa Akbar in The Independent

“McGregor is the nearest thing you will ever come across to a literary Beethoven…A wonderful read” Jeffrey Taylor in the Daily Express

Bath Spa University Creative Writing student, Theresa Harold, caught up with Jon to find out what we can expect from his visit to Bristol:

What and who are your favourite short stories and writers?

This changes all the time. At the moment I’m pretty excited by the new stories George Saunders has been publishing in the New Yorker. He seems to have found a way of introducing an extra pitch of humanity to what were already pretty humane stories, without losing any of the razor-sharp humour. I’m also belatedly discovering Donald Barthelme. And puzzling, delightedly, over Lydia Davis.And am still in awe of Alice Munro. I could go on..

Do you sense a change in how the short story is being perceived by audiences (writers/readers/publishers) in the UK?

I don’t know. I’m usually the last to sense anything. I know that I love short stories, and it feels as though I’ve been able to discover more in the last few years than previously. But maybe I’m just looking harder. There certainly seems to be less of a defeatism about short story collections amongst publishers and booksellers; they seem to be sensing a change, or convincing each other that they do, so I’m just going along with it.

You were once advised that “there was no future in short stories”. What made you pursue it?

Ah: slight correction. I was advised that it would be very difficult to publish a collection of stories as a first book. The advice was correct, as it turned out, since no-one touched that manuscript. But I never stopped writing short stories – and in fact I’d argue that in a different publishing climate it would have been quite possible to have packaged my first two novels as “linked collections of stories” rather than novels at all – and I’m just very grateful to finally have the opportunity to publish a collection. 

What can we expect from your performance in Bristol?

After years of struggling against and slightly resented the implicit commercialism of the book reading, I have now embraced the role of the travelling salesman: I’ll be bringing my suitcase of samples and props, and using maps and photos to help tell some of the stories from the book. Afterwards, I’ll be serving a small selection of gourmet snacks. 

Can you tell us a little more about the landscape in the collection? Why Lincolnshire?

About ten years ago I took a boat trip up the River Trent, from Nottingham to just before where the Trent flows in to the Humber, and discovered a new world: the river was lined with power stations and beet-factories and caravan parks and riverside cabins and a whole lot of nothing. There were, I think, three bridges along the whole stretch, meaning that there was this whole territory to the east which was effectively cut off from the rest of the country. It felt, to me, like an alien place. Since then, I’ve done a lot of my cycling there, and have never managed to feel comfortable or at home. The wide open spaces feel, paradoxically very claustrophobic. It feels like the kind of place where things could happen. It’s the kind of landscape which feels flooded with stories, essentially.

Also, I liked the idea of having a collection of stories hold together simply by virtue of being located in the same landscape.

If you weren’t a writer you’d be…?

A faceless bureaucrat. 

Success is…? 

Finishing something you’ve started. Somebody reading what you’ve written and getting the point. Also, getting paid.

Favourite ways to procrastinate?

Coffee.Bikes.Email.Filing.

Your best buy in the last six months? 

My automated number stamper. Every book I sign will now have a unique number. My bureaucratic soul is delighted. 

Last thing you googled?

Brian Rourke custom-built framesets.

Jon was interviewed by Theresa Harold (left). Theresa has worked at Prestige Hong Kong, Cotai Style and Harper’s Bazaar. She moved from Norfolk to Bath two years ago, after falling in love with the city whilst on holiday. She is currently studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, where she won the Best Emerging Writer award in 2011. A full-time student and freelancer, she continues to write for magazines such as Bath Life and Spa Life.

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