Sophie Grenham speaks to author CLARE FISHER about her new collection of short stories, How The Light Gets In …
Clare Fisher is an English author, creative writing teacher and editorial consultant. Originally from Tooting in south London, her first novel, All the Good Things (2017, Viking) won a Betty Trask Award, which was presented to her by none other than Stephen Fry. Her fiction has been published widely in anthologies and magazines including Cinnamon Press, Siren Press, Litro, Aesthetica, Annexe Magazine and Flight Press. She won the London Short Story Prize and Cinnamon Press Award in 2013. She has a BA in History from the University of Oxford and an MA (with Distinction) in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London.
Fisher’s first collection of very short stories, How The Light Gets In (2018) has been longlisted for both the Edgehill Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize 2019. The work was originally conceived as an interactive storytelling installation which explores the concept of light and dark, both literally and figuratively. It was commissioned for Night Light Leeds 2014, as part of the ACE-funded SHINE Emerging Artist Programme. Fisher developed the material through creative workshops all over Leeds, before selecting artists to perform the stories, while audiences contributed their own thoughts and experiences to the postcards, washing lines and display walls on stage.
How The Light Gets In is divided into four sections: learning to live with cracks, how the light gets between you and me, how the light gets out, and learning to live with cracks again. Moving between London and Yorkshire, each piece of mini-fiction gives a potent taste of realism, with individual moments in time plucked and wrapped for our consumption. Some could be poems in free form. Many characters yearn for a real connection to the world around them, a once standard way of life that’s slowly slipping thanks to on-demand technology. Fisher writes about everything from smart phones to beards to the healing powers of fried chicken, giving us very recognisable illustrations of modern life. Francis Spufford has said of her work, “If fiction was a language, Clare Fisher would be one of its native speakers.”
Clare Fisher lives in Leeds with her partner. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Leeds.
How The Light Gets In (€13.99) is published by Influx Press and available from all good bookshops.
I live in a grubby Victorian terrace with my partner in Headingley, Leeds. After living here for several years, I feel very at home, largely because I’ve got friends, woodland, coffee shops, pubs, parks, arts and music venues within a ten minute walking radius. Leeds is large enough to have lots to go along to, but small enough that you can actually be bothered to go to them. There are lots of people putting on their own nights; it’s got a friendly, DIY vibe. One of my favourite local places to hang out with a beer, or a coffee, or a laptop, or to have a dance, is the Hyde Park Book Club. Other favourites are the independent cinema, the Hyde Park Picture House and music venue, The Brudenell Social Club.
I grew up in Tooting, south London. I was an only child and I had a lot of imaginary friends, though never humans, always cats. The house was always messy with cardboard cat homes and cat spaceships and occasionally un-cat related constructions, in progress. Maybe this is what I’m trying to get back to when I write fiction. I’ve yet to write any fiction from the point of view of a cat, however.
On early reading
I’d make my Mum read me Beatrix Potter over and over and over again. I remember memorising all of The Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse long before I understood those strange squiggly shapes on the page. I remember feeling warm and full, like I’d eaten a big meal, like I’d made something of my own. I also remember my Mum and I laughing about how much my Dad resembled Mr Jeremy Fisher — the large toad who waddles wet footprints all over Mrs Tittlemouse’s clean home!
I’m lucky enough to have a spare room to write in. It’s a loft room with windows on both sides, which stops it feeling gloomy, even on a gloomy day. My desk faces the window, which is on a level with several leafy trees, which are great for staring at when I’m stuck. There’s a pile of books on my windowsill; a mixture of books I’ve recently read and books which have had a big influence on me, such as The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. On the wall there are postcards and bits of art that I like, there are photos of friends and family, postcards that people have sent me, theatre and concert tickets. All of these details help to brush away the suspicion, which is so hard to get rid of, that I should be tidying or washing up or paying bills or doing some other practical thing, instead of writing. But I’m also quite a restless person and do like a change of scene. Often I’ll work for a few hours in the morning, go for a run, eat, then walk into the University, where I’ve an office, or take my laptop to a local coffee shop. This is an especially useful strategy if, as is usually the case, I’ve several projects on the go: changing my physical surroundings makes it easier to switch from one to the other.
On independent bookshops
Sadly, there are no independent bookshops in Leeds. There is, however, a large Waterstones with a great café and knowledgeable, friendly staff. There’s also a Blackwell’s University Bookshop, where I used to work, and so obviously have to mention. Although I did hear that a queer bookstore, The Bookish Type, has just been set up, so am looking forward to checking that out. In London, Burley Fisher Books is one of my favourites, partly because of the care and precision with which its books are selected, and partly for its amazing programme of events.
On her “To Be Read” pile
I just started Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s second novel, Starling Days, a vivid, humane and surprisingly joyful exploration of love, mental illness and sexuality, among other things. I’m also reading Chérie Taylor Battiste’s debut poetry collection, Lioness. I saw Chérie perform at a spoken word event several years ago and was immediately entranced by the emotional power and intricate rhythms of her poetry; her collection, an exploration of race, womanhood, grief, trauma and recovery, demonstrates this.
I only go abroad once or twice a year, and when I do, I like to go to a place I’ve not been before. As for escaping at home, the great thing about Leeds is you can get out to the countryside in about half an hour. I love going for walks in the Dales, sometimes starting in a small town like Hebden Bridge or Saltaire, and preferably finishing up in a pub which serves great food and drink.
On How The Light Gets In
How The Light Gets In began life as a live art installation exploring the theme of light and dark and how we find our way from one to the other. Most satisfying was exploring the same issue from so many different angles and attempting to push the boundaries of the short story form. Most difficult was trying to shape and structure the fifty-odd stories into a coherent collection. It wasn’t an unpleasant difficulty, however; it was satisfying, a bit like how I imagine it might feel to solve a cryptic crossword puzzle, if I were the sort of person who can solve a cryptic crossword puzzle (sadly, I am not).
On short stories
If novels are flat whites — or, too often, in my opinion, extra extra large lattés — short stories are espressos. Writing them and reading them gives you a complete experience in a short space of time. The shortness shapes that experience in that the edges and ends compose a much greater part of the whole than with longform prose. This makes them great to read and write in the inevitably short chunks of time in which most of us are able to read. It also makes them a lot of fun.
On what’s next
I’m in the middle of a PhD in Creative Writing which asks how and how far writers can productively engage with failure. It asks, more specifically, how contemporary women writers can use formal experimentation with failure to challenge and re-imagine normative notions of “woman.” In the next two years, I’ll be exploring these issues both creatively and critically. I’m hoping a second novel might result from this, but I’m also having a lot of fun experimenting with hybrid forms.
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