Stuart Evers: “The reader needs to be alive to possibility”
Stuart Evers, author of the short story collections Ten Stories About Smoking and Your Father Sends His Love, let us into his book world.
What was the last thing you wrote in your notebook?
I tend to write snippets, the odd paragraph, things that I’m working on and need working out. The last thing I wrote was a schematic about how four characters could interact with a fifth. It’s not something I usually do, such scrupulous planning, but I’d hit a structural impasse and needed to work it through. Doing something like this manually, rather than on a computer, often makes things clearer, though you wouldn’t know it to see the pages.
Pages from Stuart Evers' notebook
Where in the world do you find yourself returning to and why?
I can’t help but think of the title of Kirsty Gunn’s collection of stories The Place You Return to is Home, which I’ve always thought was a brilliant line. I’ve had a few places I’ve called home over the years: Congleton, where I was brought up; Liverpool, which was the first city I ever fell in love with; London, where I’ve lived for the last 16 years. Home is now firmly Walthamstow in East London.
Tell us your favourite poem.
The instant answer is ‘The Day Lady Died’ by Frank O’Hara. In terms of contemporary poets I very much admire Frances Leviston, John Stammers, Kei Miller and Salena Godden.
Which writing do you find yourself returning to and why?
I don’t get much chance to re-read, which is a shame. Recently though I have gone back to some writers – Joyce, Beckett, Woolf – which has been liberating. In each instance, this has been because I have been reading a biography of them. I find literary biographies of writers I love an indulgence and a salve: very few authors seem to have had a smooth ride through life, and it’s always good to remind yourself that even the very best got bad reviews, were turned down for magazines or didn’t get nominated for the grand prizes.
Which other author would you most like to have for dinner and why?
Harold Pinter. I find his writing endlessly fascinating; his life also. I suspect he’s the only true genius of post-war English letters. Though I might have to steer the conversation away from cricket.
What’s your favourite fairytale or children’s book?
The first novel I wrote was very loosely based on Rapunzel, which I always found to be a nasty, but vital story. I used to keep a collection of Brothers Grimm tales in my bathroom and thrilled at their utter vileness. In terms of children’s books: Not Now Bernard by David McKee is superb; the Mr Wolf books by Jan Fearnley are deliciously witty; while Oi Frog by Kes Grey & Jim Field is one I think I enjoy more than my child. I can also recite all of The Gruffalo.
Print or ebook?
By day I work for NetGalley, which provides advance copies in digital form to professional readers, which means I spend a lot of time reading digitally. I like it a lot, but physical books have been my life until now, and that hunger to possess them, to hold them in my hand, has not diminished.
What’s your favourite film?
The film I go back to over and again is Un Couer En Hiver – a film of beauty and bleakness, of dreams and death, of love and indifference. The best film I’ve seen recently (i.e. in the last three years) was L’Amour, which had me weeping long after its end.
And your favourite music or music genre?
Probably my favourite band is Suede. Even at a distance of some twenty years, those songs are just ridiculously good. My current band of choice are The Drink.
There are way too many to mention, but in terms of a Desert Island choice, I’d go for Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec. It contains multitudes.
What was the last book that made you cry?
I can’t remember crying many times at books. The last time was the moment in Cormac McCarthy’s The Roadwhen they reach the nuclear fallout shelter. That got me right at the throat.
Why do you think short stories are important?
Short stories, to me, are one of the purest forms of the reading experience. Reading is probably the only form of entertainment that is not communal in spirit. It is you alone with the text. You bring your own ideas and imagination to the words on the page, and in stories you are expected to do this a little more than in other forms. It means the reader needs to be alive to intimation, to possibility, to inference, to really get the most from the story. And that is its very great thrill.
What continues to inspire you?
I spend a lot of time listening to people on the street, in pubs or on buses. There are stories everywhere: cadences of voice that catch you unawares, strange moments of kindness, of venom, of emotion.
What’s the worst or most unusual job you’ve had?
The worst was a nightshift in a ribbon factory. Alone on a huge factory floor, I would spend 12 hours a night feeding ribbon into a machine, of which about 6 was taken up with fixing the thing. Every hour the phone would go and the foreman who was on the floor below would say ‘Still alive then?’ and I would say yes and put down the receiver. It was during Euro ’96 and the weather was great; everyone I knew was having a great time. It still rankles.
If your collection of books was ravaged by a fire and you could save only one, what would it be, and why?
I’ve been collecting books since my late teens and find this a very stressful question. It would probably be the signed first edition copy of Light Years by James Salter. It was the book that my wife and I first discussed, and the first birthday present I bought her.
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