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Interview by Rupert Dastur
Liam, great to have you back here on TSS. Your debut collection of short stories is about to be released in just a few days. What are you most excited about?
The launch party! It’s kind of indulgent, but this is by far the highlight of my writing to date – a party dedicated to something I’ve done, that I’ve created. I gave up my day job in the City partly because it always felt I was too far away from producing something tangible. Well, Happy Ending Not Guaranteed is certainly that. And the launch is a chance to celebrate with family, friends, and other writers, an event that doesn’t happen very often.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of putting the collection together?
I suppose sticking to genre. And I’m not sure I necessarily nailed it – there are a couple of stories that could perhaps be considered Sci-Fi or more traditional horror. Cherry Potts, from Arachne Press, helped in the selection of the stories, so I suspect I didn’t go too far off course, and anyway, cross-genre is a fertile ground for new stories. (I think!)
As someone who used to read a lot of fantastical stories, I love the way you play with cliché and convention. What can you tell us about this approach to your short stories?
I’m an ideas driven writer, and one influenced by Spike Milligan, Douglas Adams and other breakers of convention. I like to twist things to make the story happen. This suits a short story, because what I’m twisting is something you’re hopefully familiar with, so the groundwork – the world building – is already done. Or perhaps my mind is simply a dark, dark place…
Which is your favourite short story in the collection and why?
Tricky! I have a soft spot for Miscellaneous, Spooky, Weird, as does my ten year old niece, who is desperate to hear more about Mavis and Jessica. I may have to write a sequel or two – and I never write sequels… But “Misc” was a delight to write, with both humour (even more Douglas Adams inspired than normal, along with HP Lovecraft and Terry Pratchett – a heady mix!) and an element of other to darken the plot. Best of all, it doesn’t overstay its welcome; the sign of a good short story, I believe!
There’s a wonderful cohesion to the book – both in terms of tone and content. How long did it take for you to find your ‘voice’ and your preferred subject matter?
Thanks! I think this was as much in the selection process as anything else. I took some time over the order, to try and balance the light and dark. As for tone, I think it was important to set out the stall from the very start – “To Be a Hero” punctures the idea of heroes, those protagonists who are in some way better than everyone else, which to my mind always diminishes their story. And as this is core to my beliefs, it is also fairly core to my tone.
The majority of the pieces are written in the first person – is this your preferred mode and do you think it’s one which is particularly suited to the short story form?
I think it is a natural story telling mode, once you ditch the heroes. First person suits the observers, the people things happen to, rather than those who make things happen. I normally decide my point of view early on and stick to it, and I think that’s because the distance from the text to the reader is innate to that story. First person also avoids (generally) having to describe your protagonist, and I like that in the short form – I don’t like to fix the character in your imagination; only their plight.
In your biography on your author website, you jokingly mention that you were abandoned in a library aged three. Were you a reader and writer form a young age? What are the major changes that have occurred in your reading and writing habits over the years?
I certainly escaped into books as a kid. And I think “writer” was one of the earliest “what do you want to be when you grow up?” answers I gave. (So yay! Made it, finally…) I have to admit, at an early age, it didn’t matter much what I read – I devoured pulp sci-fi along with Agatha Christie, fantasy along with books on bird watching. So I guess I’ve become more discerning over the years, even if my to-read pile suggests otherwise.
As far as writing goes, I guess the narrowing down to a short story length is the main development, and one I think that both suits my style (relatively sparse descriptions) and my temperament (I like to see the story complete not too long after I come up with the idea).
Many of the short stories in the collection were originally written for Liars’ League. Could you speak about that for us?
Liars’ League is the rod I applied to my own back. It’s a wonderful conceit – get the best of both worlds by having actors read the stories to the audience (instead of introverted, untrained authors), but its main driver for me is the monthly deadline. It’s all too easy NOT to write, so I set myself the task of submitting to every theme. And kept this up when the Liars’ franchises in HongKong, New York and elsewhere started up. It’s that discipline that has resulted in the creation of so many short stories. Some have, and deserved to, sunk without a trace, but yes, seven of the stories were previously performed at various Liars’ Leagues, and many others were originally written for the Liars’ themes.
In fact, I was such a regular contributor that the Liars’ asked me to become a League member – which I was delighted to do, and it means I get to host their ten year anniversary event, on April 11th at the Phoenix, Cavendish Square (plug, plug!)
You’re a full time writer – what does your average day look like?
Alarm. Snooze. Alarm. Snooze. Alarm. Turn damned alarm off. Wake up an hour later. (Are you beginning to hate me yet?) Fret that I’ve slept the morning away, dive onto ageing PC while still eating breakfast. Write and check for submission opportunities. Set alarm for early next morning to make up for lost time. Rinse and repeat.
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently?
I took my first career break around 10 years ago, but failed to make much of it. It was only towards the end of that period that I discovered Liars’ League. If I’d been more organised, or better plugged into writing groups, perhaps we would have been conducting this interview a few years earlier!
Lastly, what’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Find something like Liars’ League that encourages you to write regularly and well. Oh, and don’t give up the day job. (Reader: I gave up the day job… Though, if you CAN give up the day job and not unduly suffer – DO!)
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Happy Ending Not Guaranteed? Perhaps some details of your tour, or some parting words of wisdom?
A big thanks goes out to Kevin Threlfall, who designed the cover. As a perennial bookshop browser myself the importance of a intriguing title and a good cover is not lost on me and Kevin did a great job of capturing the Happy Ending Not Guaranteed spirit. As for the tour, which includes bookshops and libraries across London and beyond, readers; please do come along – I’ve been practising my readings AND we’ve also got Liars’ actresses to show how it should be done. Details at the publisher’s website here.
Rupert Dastur is a writer, editor, and founding director of TSS Publishing. He studied English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he specialised in Modernism and the Short Story. He has supported several short story projects and anthologies and his own work as appeared in a number of places online and in print.