Bren Gosling’s The Visitor is just one of the stories published in the London Short Story Prize Anthology 2018, having been shortlisted for the 2017 Prize. We have a chat with Bren, and are treated to a reading of the story by actor Paul Keating.
Can you give us a hint as to what your story is about?
My story The Visitor shines a torch on an episode in the life of 21 Almir – a young Kosovo immigrant- who is coaxed from bedsit inertia by a middle-aged befriender – Julie. They are as different as day is to night. And yet her visit to him effects a profound shift in his mental state, allowing him to re-engage with the world.
How did you go about developing your story – coming up with the theme, thinking of the plot etc?
I was trapped in a housebound state with CFS/ME for two years and used to watch this street sweeper go by my window each day. I made up a back story for how he might have come to the UK, and what his life might be like. I fed my own experiences of anxiety into the character, and did loads of research about post-traumatic stress, the Kosovo Conflict of the 1990’s, Albanian culture and street cleaning. I interviewed someone close to my fictional character’s age and background, which was very humbling, I have to say. I also spent a day in the local street sweeping depot.
The Visitor forms the premise for my novel – The Street Sweeper – which has been short listed for three awards for new writing including the Exeter Novel prize in 2017.
Why do you think short stories matter?
A good short story can deliver an emotional punch in a few thousand words, or less, even. I think it’s a good thing to transport people from their comfort zone with a foreign experience. A short story can do that. It makes people question the status quo, makes them think about certain issues differently perhaps. Also, a short story should be entertainment, and the writer needs to work hard to ensure they are not lazy with their prose.
I hope that my prose will conjure images for the reader – a bit like going to see a film. I’m really into writing very short stories – one thousand words – or less (flash fiction) and have had quite a few published. Some listed in competitions. Last year I experimented with using actors to perform some of my short stories either as they are written but read dramatically – and in costume – or adapted as monologues. I formed an Ensemble of actors, musicians, and a dancer, and we put on two very successful sold out shows last year at The Rose and Crown Theatre in Walthamstow, and at The Bloomsbury Festival.
What is it about the form that intrigues you?
Short, sharp. Straight into a pivotal moment or situation. And see where it takes you.
What is unique about the London writers scene?
Well, its vibrant and there’s loads going on. I belong to writers group and do open mic for it salon’s sometimes to showcase my prose. As an ‘oldie’ it does seem full of young writers. But, I love the challenge of getting my work out there. There are a lot of very good creative writing workshops and courses in London. City University is where I began my writing career with Katy Darby’s Short Story Writing course. Katy is the driving force behind the excellent lit salon Liar’s League.
How does a prize like the London Short Story Prize support you?
Just having some recognition at this level from readers I’ve never met who have enjoyed and been moved by my writing is huge reward.
What’s next for you?
I’ve completed a revised draft of a second novel. And in the autumn will go back to that and try to get it out there. I am currently studying play writing with John Burgess (ex-Director of New Writing at The National Theatre) and am enjoying extending my range. I recently won a place on The Putney Theatre Company’s New Writing Script Development Scheme, and that theatre will be putting on my short monologue play Wrong Entrance 22-26 May 2018, which is exciting for me…
And, really, the main thing, is to keep on writing.