We interviewed Dilys Rose about her new short story collection which was released on the 1st May 2022.
I tried my hand at poetry in my teens — it was typical adolescent, angst-ridden stuff, I think— but I began writing ‘with intent’ in my late twenties so, a while ago!
The stories are extraordinarily wide ranging, what inspirations do you draw on for your writing?
Anything and everything can provide inspiration— what I see, what I overhear, what I wonder about. Usually stories have a toe-hold in the real world but tend to work best when they combine what I know, and what I don’t know but feel motivated to find out. There has to be an element of discovery. I don’t go looking for a story; a story—or the seed of one—presents itself. What’s given is often fairly enigmatic and I have to write the story to find out what it means.
Place is not a passive, fixed backdrop in fiction; it’s an active, essential element. Writing fiction, particularly short stories, is all about selection, choosing which details to include and which to leave out. It may not be clear to me at the outset why I need these details, or what they contribute. I’m not attempting to present ‘the complete Amsterdam’, or even ‘the complete Applecross’. Any details of place must ultimately serve the story. As you can probably work out, I’m not a planner which means that I’m open to being surprised by the direction a story takes. If I could say in advance how a story is going to turn out, it’s unlikely I’d write it at all.
I rarely base a character entirely on a specific person. I may draw on some aspect of a person I’ve met or seen but usually it’s something small that I start with and, bit by bit, a character begins to take shape on the page. Too much information is often counter-productive for fiction. For me, fictional characters are built as much by what they say and how they say it, by what they do and how they do it, as by what they might think or believe.
For me, fictional characters are built as much by what they say and how they say it, by what they do and how they do it, as by what they might think or believe.
My aim is to create a sequence of events in which all the elements combine in some way—which may or may not be immediately obvious—to create a unified, dramatic whole. As with the fiction I like to read, the stories tend to be driven more by character, situation, mood, or idea, than by plot. Once a story is on the go, characters tend to shape plot and theme.
This particular story is written in the present tense, which tends to impart a sense of immediacy, of something unfolding as you read. It certainly wasn’t written like that but in this case that’s the impression I wanted. As Eudora Welty says: ‘Fiction is a lie. Never in its inside thought, always in its outside dress’.
As to process, often the stories have a fairly long gestation period. In the early stages, when one is ‘coming on’ (like a cold) I tend to become restless, distracted, twitchy. It’s not that I am actively thinking about the story. You might say I’m actively not thinking, attempting to clear my mind of all the silt it seems to fill up with constantly. Think of trying to dig a channel in the sand. You dig and dig but the channel continues to fill up with sandy water. I’m drawn to long, aimless walks, intense bouts of housework —always overdue —or other forms of displacement activity. I find that swimming regularly endless laps in the pool can help to sift the silt.
As Susan Sontag says: ‘Art is not only about something; it is something. A work of art is a thing in the world, not just a text or commentary on the world’. My aim is not to try to persuade a reader of any ‘message’ but to offer up an experience.
I’ve been writing for forty years and during that time there have been countless political events. I carry these around—who doesn’t?—and these events are likely to colour, or bleed into, the work but this might not happen for months, or years after, and when it does appear, it may not be recognisable for what it is. But fiction is not a vehicle for my own bugbears. The most recent story in this collection, ‘Rhoda, Blondie’ is placed firmly within lockdown but lockdown is not what the story is ‘about’. As Susan Sontag says: ‘Art is not only about something; it is something. A work of art is a thing in the world, not just a text or commentary on the world’. My aim is not to try to persuade a reader of any ‘message’ but to offer up an experience.
I’d say it’s more that characters—or stories— don’t have a neat ending, or one that is straightforward or easily summarised. I’m not writing fairy tales, after all. A good number of stories do end on an upbeat note, even if that note may be no more than a flicker of something better to come. I’m more interested in setting light against dark; you can only fully appreciate one if you have the other. As to mirroring life, my aim is not replicate the world around me, even if aspects of the stories may seem familiar, or life-like. Other forms of writing aim to replicate the world, and do it well. As a writer of fiction, I aim to bring something new into existence.
Other forms of writing aim to replicate the world, and do it well. As a writer of fiction, I aim to bring something new into existence.