How would you describe The Redemption of Galen Pike to a reading group?
The Redemption of Galen Pike is a collection of short stories about love, death, survival, and the secrets we keep from other people. If I’d included an epigraph it would probably have been these lines from the late, great American novelist, James Salter: ‘There are really two kinds of life: there is the one people believe you are living and there is the other. It is this other which causes trouble, this other we long to see.’
What inspired you to write the collection?
Inspiration is such a mysterious thing, impossible really to pin down. It’s more in retrospect that I can trace, if not the origin of a story, then at least some element or elements (which may very well no longer be there in the story) that gave some spark to my imagination. When I look through the stories in this collection I can see traces of things I’ve seen, or heard tell of, or read, or thought about, or experienced – a painting, an argument with my husband, the life of a grandfather I never knew, the letters of Charlotte Bronte, a valley in Cumbria where I go walking.
The seventeen short stories explore universal themes such as love, death, morality, vulnerability... Did you set out to write a collection?
No. I write each story as it comes and trust that there will be things that, even though they’re set in wildly different worlds and times, make the stories feel that they belong together – a voice, a way of looking at the world, an obsession with certain ideas or situations.
The stories span across vast periods of time and place – Australia, Colorado, Siberia… How important is place to you in a short story?
Very. Until I have the place for a story, I have nothing at all. Without the place that defines them or, rather, explains them, my characters never seem able to take a breath. As I write, I have to see everything happening, scene by scene, image by image, and for that I have to know where the characters are and why – which windy beach, which garden, which dark forest, which church.
There has been such a fantastic response to The Redemption of Galen Pike. You have recently been announced as the winner of The Frank O’ Connor International Short Story Award and of course, you’re a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize winner! What does it mean to you to be a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize winning author?
A tremendous amount. It’s a joy that the judges read The Redemption of Galen Pike and enjoyed it enough to choose it, and then the publicity, promotion and distribution that come with the prize means that there’s more chance other people will read it too. The book came out last October and seemed to start quite quietly with only a few reviews and none at all in the national press and I did worry that it might just fade away, so it’s fantastic for me that it’s so much more visible now. And there’s the money! Short stories may be short but they are not quick to write – this collection and my last one both took me eight years each – and £5,000 has bought me a lot of time to write.
Do you think there are any characteristics that define British fiction writing?
No, I don’t. If you threw a handful of names in the air – say, Julian Barnes and Penelope Fitzgerald, PG Wodehouse and Hilary Mantel – you could decide that they shared a sense of the ridiculous, a certain sense of humour, a precision of style. And then you could throw a hundred, a thousand other names in the air and decide British writing shared some entirely different characteristics. I’ve been reading the other Fiction Uncovered books over the summer and none of them resembles any other in any way at all. They are all completely different.
Can you recommend a contemporary British fiction writer?
James Lasdun, novelist, poet, short story writer and memoirist extraordinaire – for the elegance and beauty of his writing, his poet’s eye, his sense of the silly and the profound, and for the funny, frightening lives of his anguished, introspective men.
And finally, do you have any works in progress that we should watch out for?
I’m working on a story about the trial of a young boy, and on a story commissioned for a series by Wales Arts Review,which should be out at the end of the year.
Carys Davies was the winner of the the 2010 Society of Authors’ Olive Cook Short Story Award, the 2011 Royal Society of Literature’s V S Pritchett Memorial Prize, a 2013 Northern Writers’ Award and the 2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. She has been shortlisted and longlisted for many other prizes including the Calvino Prize, the Manchester Fiction Prize, the Roland Mathias Prize, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, the Wales Book of the Year, and the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen Prize. Born in Wales, she now lives in Lancaster.