Sunday, 23 May 2010

An Interview with Nik Perring

I’m delighted to welcome Nik Perring, prolific blogger, children’s book author and short story writer, to talk to Writing about Writing about his new short short story collection - ‘Not So Perfect’ (published by Roast Books).

I was lucky enough to receive a copy last week. After I admired the cover and the wonderful smallness and squareness of the book (it’s perfect to pop in your handbag!) I immediately turned to the first story. I’ve got a terrible concentration span and can usually only manage two or two stories in a collection before my attention wavers and I put it down. Not so with ‘Not So Perfect’ – I couldn’t stop reading!

Nik’s short short stories (also known as flash fiction) made such an impression on me that I let out a little ‘Oh!’, ‘Ooooh!’, ‘Wow’ or ‘Eep!’ as I finished each one (much to the consternation of the person sitting beside me!).

There’s so much truth in Nik’s stories that you can’t help but react emotionally.

Some of the stories make your heart break a little bit (“Sobs”), many of them provoke memories of failed relationships (“Pieces of Us”, “My Heart’s in a Box”), some give you hope (“The Mechanical Woman”), some make you desperately jealous of Nik’s story-telling ability (“Shark Boy” – my absolute favourite of the collection) but they all touch you in some way.

The biggest compliment I can give Nik on his collection is the fact that his words inspired me to write flash fiction again. I’d forgotten how much a few hundred words can do. Flash fiction stories may be short but they can still carry a huge emotional wallop.

So, onto the interview...

Hello Nik and welcome to ‘Writing about Writing’!

  1. I’ve just mentioned how your collection has inspired me to write more flash fiction. Which flash fiction writers inspire you?

Cally, that’s about the best compliment ever! That makes me very, very happy. And I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book so much.

Which flash fiction writers inspire me? Etgar Keret is the first I’d mention. In fact, reading his work (as well as the wonderful Aimee Bender’s) absolutely changed me as a writer; it changed how I wrote and what I wrote about. So him – for his humour, for his imagination, for his ability to really affect in such a small amount of words and for the way he so effortlessly makes the different feel familiar. Yes, he’s a hero of mine.

There’s also my friend, and another wonderful writer of small things, Tania Hershman (http://titaniawrites.blogspot.com/) – her work’s brilliant. Michael Czyzniejewski (http://www.michaelczyzniejewski.com/)and Sarah Salway (http://sarahsalway.blogspot.com/) are ones I’d recommend too.

And then there are the older ones, the greats. Franz Kafka wrote some wonderful short-short stories, so did Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, O Henry, Ray Bradbury...

  1. Some of the readers of this blog might never have tried their hand at writing flash fiction before. What makes good flash fiction in your opinion? Any tips on how to go about writing one?

I think good flash fiction tells the story of a moment efficiently and in such a way that the moment it’s telling stays with you long after it’s over. Like real life. It has a resonance, an echo. As I said in an interview the other day: If a novel is a choir in song, flash fiction is a single hand clap in an empty cathedral.

So, tips? Well, I think the most important thing (in any writing, not that I’m an expert on – well, anything!) is to understand and accept that a story will be as long as it is. So the first thing a potential flasher needs to do is to accept the story that they write. I don’t think I ever set out to write something of a specific length, more just think: this’ll be a longer one, you know? Often, it isn’t!

Also... find the character and the moment in their life you want to write about, and try to tell the story in the most efficient way possible. Get to the point! You might be surprised at how much you can get into 1000 words or more. Or less.

The other tip would be (and this is the same for other writing too, no?): take out absolutely everything that doesn’t need to be there. Be brutal and be brave and be confident in the story: a story’s about the story, not about its length.

  1. Have you written longer stories? What is it about short shorts that most appeals to you?

I have written (and published) longer things, yes. They just don’t tend to be as good as my little stories. I think I understand the structure of short stories better than I do anything else. What I found really interesting a few months ago, was re-reading my children’s book and realising that it wasn’t, as I had assumed, one mini-novel, but six separate, linked, short stories.

I do worry that that has something to do with my limited attention span!

  1. I’m curious about how you write. Are your stories inspired by a voice in your head, a line of dialogue, a feeling or something you’ve observed? Do you write only when you get the urge or do you ever use prompts etc to get yourself writing?

All of the above, I think, but at different times. Mostly I’ll start with a question. You know, err: what if there was a guy who actually couldn’t stop moving? What would happen if, when you fell in love, you actually gave your heart away (and could you get it back??). Or: wouldn’t it be cool to have a story set in house where the owner has decorated it in Post-it notes? Then that leads to: who would do that, and why? I’ll write to find out the answers.

Other times a story will come from something I’ve seen or heard or been told about. People are, and life is, a great inspiration.

And then there are the other times. The weird times. The times when I’ll just sit down and see what happens. In Bare and Naked in Siberia, I remember just starting with the idea of someone watching their dad watching a documentary on the TV. By the time I’d finished I’d ended up with a teenage girl coming of age and comparing herself to a baby woolly mammoth they’d found preserved in the ice. And here’s something freaky – the day after I’d written the first draft, a documentary was on the telly about a woolly mammoth they’d found in Siberia. Lyuba is actually real.

As for prompts. I don’t tend to use them other than for exercises. That said, there were a couple of writer friends (the lovely and brilliant Caroline Smailes and Tania Hershman) who, for a period of time, used to give each other other people’s titles as prompts. We had to write our own stories of, A Tale of Two Cities, or The Bible, for instance. That’s where The Other Mr Panossian came from actually. It was originally The Other Perella – from a title of a story by the brilliant Tamar Yellin (http://www.tamaryellin.com/) (which, incidentally, I’ve still not read).

  1. Although some of the stories are about hope there’s a slightly melancholy feel to the collection - it explores loneliness, identity, failed relationships and miscommunication. Lots of songwriters say they can only write when they feel depressed, low or pissed off. If they’re happy they can’t write a word. Do you agree? What is it about the more negative aspects of life that appeals to us as writers?

I think the negative emotions are easier for us to communicate and explore. When we’re happy we tend to concentrate on being happy, on doing what’s making us happy, so we don’t really have as much time, perhaps, to look at being miserable or sad.

But the beauty of being a fiction writer is having the opportunity (and duty!) to Make Stuff Up. Some of the sadder stories in Not So Perfect were written when I was relatively happy. I’m perfectly capable of being miserable and pissed off even when I’m happy, which probably says a lot!

You know, I wonder if maybe there are more layers, or more shades of grey (or black) to negative emotions. Happy’s pretty much covered, isn’t it? But there are so many things that can make a chap or a lady sad, and those things tend to be so much more interesting than the things that makes people happy.

  1. Something I noticed about your collection was the number of animals featured in the stories (“Bare and Naked in Siberia”, “Shark Boy”, “My Wife Threw up a Lemur”). Do you draw inspiration from animals (I have an image in my head of you being glued to David Attenborough documentaries!) or is it more of a sub-conscious thing?

Well, bearing in mind that I’d never thought about it before – definitely subconscious! You are very perceptive, Miss Taylor! (You’re not psycho-analysing me, are you!)

I do love animals and I do watch my fair share of documentaries, but I think having animals in the stories has more to do with basic emotions and feelings - and image and metaphor too. I think it’s about breaking things down to their core elements, almost in an atavistic way (I have been wanting to use that word since my GCSEs – thank you!).

You know, we all know how it feels to be hungry, but to be hungry like the wolf has much more weight to it, I think. And a wolf man... well that could be another story!

I’m also really attracted to the idea of blurring lines and of merging things. And I like pretty weird imagery too – it’s fun, in a Dali way!

  1. In my second novel I tell the story from the female AND male point-of-view. It’s a bit of a risk, trying to convincingly portray a member of the opposite sex, but in ‘Not So Perfect’ several of your stories are told from the POV of a woman and you do it very well. What made you decide to write from a woman’s perspective? Did you hear the character’s voice in your head or get an idea for a story about a woman and consciously decide to tell it from her POV?

Thank you! It’s hard, isn’t it! I just try to concentrate on trying to make the emotions and themes as universal as I can, and the characters as believable as possible. I think concentrating on the story and putting myself in someone else’s shoes is something that comes quite naturally to me, so writing something from the point of view of a woman is an extension of that. I’m just glad (and RELIEVED! )that people have said it sounds okay! And I’m very much looking forward to your next one!

  1. A number of the stories in your collection were originally published online. Would you advise flash fiction writers to follow this route to publication? How do they decide which sites are reputable and which aren’t? How did you go from online publication to printed collection?

The way I see it is the internet’s there to be useful, so if you can use it to your advantage then do! There is an incredibly large number of potential readers out there, and a good portion of them are actively interested in reading.

We’re in a position now where there are a good number of quality literary magazines, who only publish really good stuff – some are as difficult to get into as the good print magazines - and a good number of print mags put content online too. My advice to anyone looking to be published, in any form, would be to do your research. Read the magazines. See if they’re any good. See if your work would fit with what they publish and ask yourself if you’d like them to publish your work.

But, to get you started...

Duotrope’s Digest (http://www.duotrope.com/)is a wonderful resource with lots of information, including things like how long editors take to get back to you and the percentage of submissions they accept.

And Tania Hershman has compiled a pretty darned comprehensive list of people who publish short stories in the UK and Ireland (http://titaniawrites.blogspot.com/2010/01/non-complete-list-of-uk-and-ireland-lit.html).

Some of my favourite literary sites:

3 :AM magazine (http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/)

Locus Novus.( http://www.locusnovus.com/)

SmokeLong Quarterly (http://www.smokelong.com/)

Word Riot (http://www.wordriot.org/)

and Metazen (http://www.metazen.ca/)

though there are many, many others.

  1. Finally, what’s next for Nik Perring? And what are your writerly dreams?

What’s next? I’m launching Not So Perfect on June 3rd at 7pm at Simply Books in Bramhall (south Manchester)(http://simplybooks.tbpcontrol.co.uk/TBP.Direct/CustomerAccessControl/Home.aspx?d=simplybooks&s=C&r=10000115&ui=0&bc=0&collection=10071408) – do let me know if you’d like to come (http://www.nperring.com/page10.htm) so I can go about popping you on the guest list.

Then there’ll be more writing (I hope!).

I think the only writerly dream I have is to be able doing what I do to a standard I’m happy with and for people to keep liking my work.

And Cally, thanks so much for having me on here and for not making me cry!

Thanks Nik! It’s been a pleasure.

To get your hands on a copy Nik’s fantastic book (I recommend you do! I found it hugely inspiring and I think you will too) visit:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-So-Perfect-Nik-Perring/dp/1906894078/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274445887&sr=1-1

or

http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781906894078/Not-So-Perfect

or

The Big Green Bookshop http://www.biggreenbookshop.com/simon-likes-/not-so-perfect-by-nik-perring/prod_349.html

BIO

Nik Perring is a writer, and occasional teacher of writing, from the north west. His short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3 :AM and Word Riot. Not So Perfect, his debut collection of short, short stories is published by Roast Books on June 2nd.

Nik’s particularly fond of the autumn, cats, wildlife documentaries, lemurs, and certain books have made him cry.

Nik blogs here (http://nikperring.blogspot.com) and his website’s here (www.nperring.com).

11 comments:

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SpiralSkies said...

I'm in the garden with Nik right now. Sort of. Ok, here's not here but I do have his words with me.

Fabulous interview - Nik has inspired me in many different directions this afternoon. This book should be compulsory reading I reckon. Someone clever should animate them. How awesome would that be?

Marisa Birns said...

I have read Nik's book - in one sitting, couldn't put it aside! - and it was a wonderful time spent reading.

Love this interview, and as a person who writes flash fiction, his explanation of what it entails is one of the best I've seen!

Karen said...

I can't wait to read his book after this - thanks Cally and Nik :o)

Nik Perring said...

Thanks so much for having me on, Cally. I thoroughly enjoyed burbling away n answer to your fab questions.

Spiralskies - thank you so much! And I'd LOVE for someone to animate them. That would be all kinds of awesome!

Thanks Marisa - glad you think so!

Karen - thank you too. Really hope you enjoy it!

Nik

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Blasé said...

I should start back reading books again...

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