Launched in 2013, the London Short Story Prize seeks to discover, publish and profile the best stories and writers coming out of the capital. In 2018, Guy Ware was announced as the winner with ‘year of peace.’ Spread the Word’s Francesca Baker met up with him to find out more. You can read the full transcript below.
Francesca Baker: I’m here with Guy Ware. His short story, ‘the year of peace’, was the winner of the 2018 London Short Story Prize. It’s about a man and a woman who meet in London four or five times each year and their relationship evolves as they remember an historic coup in her father’s country.
The judges, Sarah Such, Clare Fisher, and Guy Gunaratne, unanimously voted the story. The competition received over 500 entries, so that’s pretty impressive.
Guy Ware: Thank you.
Francesca: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?
Guy : Right, back to the start. One of those things I wanted to do when I was young and then forgot about for decades. Then about 15 years ago, the itch returned. I started scribbling stuff and going nowhere. It coincided with having children, actually. They were young, and I started writing again.
I did an evening course, a couple of evening classes, creative writing classes, at Goldsmiths, and that got me into short story writing, which I hadn’t really been thinking about before. Took off from there.
Francesca: You’ve written two novels, haven’t you? Fat of Fed Beasts and Reconciliation.
Guy: Published two, written three.
Francesca: And you’ve got a short story collection as well. What’s the difference between writing a novel and a short story?
Guy: Apart from the time? What I like to do in short stories quite often, with a lot of my stories, is they have a couple of fundamental things driving them, being held in balance and tension. You never quite know which way it’s going to fall.
One of my earliest successful short stories was about a man who claimed to be living in witness protection. He turns up at his wife’s house and he claims he’s seen somebody killed by the police and he’s being protected from a potential court case. You never quite know whether this is true or whether he’s making this up, and the extent to which his wife plays along with this and why.
That’s a really quite difficult, delicate balancing act, and you can only keep that going for so long before it collapses and you have to have one or the other and the possibilities have to collapse, you have to have the result. But you couldn’t do that for 250, 300 pages.
Quite often I find that’s the difference. There’s a germ of an idea or two interacting, and there’s a time limit on how long that can live.
Francesca: ‘The year of peace’ is pretty unconventional, isn’t it, in style? It runs for nearly 2,000 words and doesn’t have a full stop.
Francesca: It makes it almost dreamlike. It’s lovely. But why did you decide to play with the punctuation that way? Was it a gamble to challenge the norm?
Guy: Yeah, it was. It’s not that I write all my stories that way, by any means. They wouldn’t all work … because that’s the way it came. The protagonist, the man who’s written the book is very unsure of himself, very uncertain.
It’s not a first person narrative, it’s a third person, but it’s very much his perspective most of the time. He’s very uncertain about what is happening and how to react. He’s perhaps overly sensitive about the way he reacts to the woman in the story. It just worked as a way of underlining that uncertainty and putting the reader in the same place as to what’s going on here.
Francesca: The style is really echoing the story and the plot and what’s going on. Are there any particular writers or writing that influences you?
Guy: Oh, they come and go. There are stories of books – my books, anyway; I kind of built one of the biggest books, I think – and there are writers who I find have a very strong influence and I have to not read them too close to when I’m trying to certainly do first drafts.
And they can be very, very different. There was a period I read a lot of David Foster Wallace, who I know goes in and out of esteem, but I really enjoyed it. He’s got a very distinctive, very strong prose style. I would find myself slipping into this kind of almost pastiche.
And then the opposite extreme. P. G. Wodehouse, who I read for utter delight when the world is too much, and again, you can very easily find yourself wholly inappropriately writing as if you’re in the Drones Club.
But I think on that story, it’s clearly – yes, it was a bit of a gamble in style for me. It was unconventional, but it’s in a tradition of the Modernists from Joyce onwards. I’m a big fan of Beckett. I read a lot of Beckett recently about the time I was doing that. I guess another one you have to be careful with.
There were people around at the time – Will Self, Eimear McBride, Midge Bubany – writing in that kind of style, “let’s play around with punctuation and stream of consciousness and the layout of the page” and all that kind of stuff. I just thought it would be worth a go.
Francesca: Give it a go, always. What’s winning the London Short Story Prize done for you? What’s been good about it?
Guy: It came at a really good time for me, actually. I’m struggling in the middle of another novel. I’m at the kind of “is this going anywhere?” It was a real boost. It was a real “oh yeah.”
I – like most writers, I’m sure, writers of short stories anyway – I have entered lots and lots of competitions. Some of them I’ve been shortlisted in and whatever, but I’d never won one before.
Guy: Hurray! You get quite used to seeing the response emails. “Oh yeah, it’s another rejection.” I almost didn’t read this one, to be honest, when I saw it. I was just coming out of the office, and I was like, yeah, it’ll be another “well done but you didn’t quite make it” kind of email. And it wasn’t, which is great.
Yeah, a real confidence boost. An opportunity to show off a bit, which is nice, and we all need it from time to time. Tell my critics at work it’s time they started reading my books and that kind of thing. Yeah, so it did encourage me. Hopefully we can bang on about it a bit for a little while yet.
Francesca: What’s next for you? More short stories, another novel?
Guy: As I said, at the moment I’m in the middle of struggling with novel number four. Number three is done and dusted and is with the publishers, and out in the summer.
What I’ve tended to do since I’ve started writing novels is take a break between drafts. That’s when I start to write stories again. Or sometimes a story will pop into my head. But usually with limited time, I try to focus on my novel draft, and I’ll take breaks from it when I need to get some distance.
So I guess the plan is the current one, current draft, month or two, and then I’ll stop and write a story.
Francesca: Brilliant. If people want to find out more about you, you’re online?
Guy: I’m on Twitter, @guyware. My publishers are Salt. The short stories are published by Comma. Do go and look at them, and you’ll find me there.
Francesca: Yay! Brilliant. Thank you so much.
Guy: Thank you.
Published 5 February 2019