An interview with the winner of the inaugural National Short Story prizeby Sophie Lewis / September 24, 2006 / Leave a comment
James Lasdun won the inaugural National Short Story prize in May this year, for his story “An Anxious Man.” Lasdun, who is British but now lives in the US, is the author of two collections of short stories and three books of poetry. He is also a novelist and screenwriter, and one of his short stories, “The Siege,” was adapted by Bernardo Bertolucci into the film “Besieged.”
Lasdun was guest of honour at the press launch for the second year of the prize, held at the Edinburgh book festival in August. I found him there, a little dazed, and suggested we’d be better off in the Oxford Bar, which has its own place in literary history, as Ian Rankin’s favourite pub. Lasdun agreed to answer a few questions here between story readings and other festival events.
When did you first become aware of the National Short Story prize? My editor sent me an official email announcement. It made quite an impression. There’s nothing else like it. It’s an offer of serious money backed by serious institutions. I’ve been toiling away at short stories for years and there’s never been this kind of award for them before.
I was struck by the generous word limit. There are prizes for short stories in the US but most of them allow you no more than 3,000 words. A short story can still be distinctly a short story at 15 pages, although it’s too long for most magazines and no good as a filler in a newspaper.
Even in the US, book and magazine publishers do not actively seek out short stories. Most literary magazines are vanity projects; money is poured into them simply to raise the prestige of university departments. They’re part of the creative writing industry; people are getting published in them for the sake of their CVs.
Do you consider yourself a short story writer? I consider myself a writer. I don’t favour any type of writing. I sometimes wish short stories came more easily to me. I like to start something I can see the end of. I’d love to be like Chekhov—they said he could write a story about an ashtray if you asked him to. The short story seems like the best of all possible worlds. I do feel it is closer to writing poetry than to writing a novel, with its requirements of concentration and…