Tom Vowler has just been awarded the Scott Prize, an international annual prize for a first collection of short stories by a single author.
Congratulations on winning the Scott Prize. How did it all come about?
Thanks, Michelle. I wrote some stories for my dissertation on a creative writing MA, which doubled in length over the following year. Few publishers are interested in short stories, so it wasn’t something I really thought about. The inaugural Scott Prize was an opportunity to submit them as a collection, which it was fortunate enough to win.
Tell us a bit about your writing history / career before the collection was published.
Stints at journalism, editing and proofreading were enjoyable but absent of any creative fulfilment, so I dabbled with fiction. Played with it, I suppose – a hobby, as it must be initially. I began to write a novel without really knowing what was required, and although I’m still proud of it, it probably falls someway short. It was the MA that allowed me to take my writing seriously for the first time, inspired as I was by visiting writers and the set texts. My stories started appearing in literary journals, doing well in competitions, and in 2009 I received an Arts Council grant to research and write a (better) novel.
Regarding being with an independent publisher, how do you think that benefits the writer over having an agent?
The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and my novel is with an agent, though you’re right, indies often negate the need for an agent. Also Salt are doing more novels (they specialise in poetry and short stories), so who knows in the future. It’s both an interesting and anxious time for publishing, depending on your stance. Many see agents as unapproachable gatekeepers, but for me they have an important role. But my greatest fear, as funding dries up, is for the smaller independents, who are increasingly the only ones to take risks with new writing.
The collection is titled The Method and Other Stories. What is ‘The Method’?
You’ll have to read the book to find out. The title story is a darkly comic affair, the character suffering more than a little for his art. As for the book in general, the characters are all good at losing things: lovers, children, hope, the plot. The past tends to theme heavily, with its inexorable grip on the present. As does revenge. There is humour, tenderness and tragedy in equal measure.
You’re also writing a novel. How does that compare to writing short stories? Which do you prefer?
I enjoy the enormity of the novel, the stamina it demands. It’s daunting and you can’t quite imagine transforming all those blank pages into a book. It overwhelms; it feels absurd. There’s more research, there’s the total immersion into another world. The novel (hopefully) consumes all your waking hours and most of your sleep. Whatever you’re doing, you’re always writing it.
Stories represent a different challenge and are hard to get right. Daily output, for me, drops and I find myself working more with a poet’s scrutiny, carefully sculpting. I find they come in bursts and I’ll work on several at once.
It annoys me when people say that you can’t waste a single word in a story, the implication that you can in a novel.
I can’t say I have a preference. On a good day both forms excite and thrill me; on a bad they’re as tormenting as each other.
Do you have any writing rituals?
On the second Wednesday of the month I tend to write naked. Other than that, not really.
What’s next for Tom Vowler?
After the collection and a novel in three years, I need a break from writing fiction, just a month or so, to step back and regard the Next Big Thing. There are ideas dancing at the edges of my mind, nothing definitive yet, but another novel, I suspect. Set somewhere hot. Near a beach.