by Rumjhum Biswas
Kirsty Logan is a fiction writer, journalist, literary magazine editor, teacher, book reviewer, arts intern, and general layabout. She is currently working on a novel, Rust and Stardust, and a short story collection, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales. In 2009 she graduated from Glasgow University’s Creative Writing MLitt with Distinction; over the next year she won a New Writers Award from The Scottish Book Trust, The Gillian Purvis Award, and third place in the Bridport Prize. She regularly performs her work at events around Glasgow; recent performances further afield include London and Copenhagen, with upcoming readings in Nairn, Edinburgh and Bristol. Her short fiction has been published in around 80 anthologies and literary magazines, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She has a semicolon tattooed on her toe, and lives in Glasgow with her girlfriend. Kirsty can be found here. And in Fractured West, the magazine for flash fiction that she edits along with Helen Sedgewick.
Rumjhum Biswas: Strong coffee…a lot of writers can relate to. Can you tell us a bit more about your love for retold fairy tales and children’s ghost stories? (Incidentally I love these too, though not coffee!)
Kirsty Logan: I love fairy tales and ghost stories, both as entertainment and inspiration. I find that a lot of adult horror goes for shock or gore, and I just don’t find those things scary. When I read horror I want a quick, strange story: a perfect little gem of creepiness. For some reason, I find that children’s scary stories are much more satisfying than those for adults.
And fairytales? Well, I just can’t get enough! They also satisfy my need for a perfect little gem of story, though with fairytales it’s more a desire for strangeness, wonder and a sense of a satisfactory ending. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on retold fairytales. My favourite are in Emma Donoghue’s wonderful short story collection, “Kissing the Witch”, which I can’t recommend enough.
RB: Your Bridport 2010 3rd prize winning story “Underskirts”, subsequently published in Pank is unusual in that it packs in many voices and POVs into a single short story, with each like a piece of flash leading up to a smooth and sensuous homogenous whole (story). We’d love to learn more about the process behind “Underskirts”.
KL: I’m not sure how much I can comment on process because most of the time I just stumble and fumble and daydream on the page and somehow, eventually, it becomes a story. I know that for this story, as with most stories I write, I got most of the way through (about 80%) and then got stuck. I talked to my girlfriend about it and, in amongst that talking, the proper ending came to me. She must think I’m crazy because often I’m halfway through explaining a story when the answer occurs, so I stop mid-sentence and say ‘never mind, thank you, love you!’ then run to my laptop. I wrote more about the inspiration behind “Underskirts” in my blog series Thievery.
Incidentally, “Underskirts” is due to be reprinted in Best Lesbian Erotica 2013, which just goes to show that genre is mostly arbitrary!
RB: How often does the sea figure in your writing? What does the sea mean to you?
KL: The sea is a big part of my writing. It symbolises so much to me: freedom and claustrophobia, escape and stagnation, beauty and danger. Britain is such a tiny group of islands, entirely surrounded by water, and sometimes it seems like that makes us so free to go anywhere but sometimes it feels like we’re so isolated. Particularly in Scotland, because we’re so far North and there’s really not much above us but ice. In Britain you’re never really that far from the sea, and I try to go there as much as I can. It reminds me that I’m just one tiny person in an unimaginably huge world, and that never fails to calm me.
RB: You have achieved much success at a young age. Where do you see yourself in your writing journey next?
KL: A book! I have so many short stories published, and I’ve done commissions and performances and radio work and visual art, and I feel that it’s getting to be a bit silly that I don’t have a book yet. I think the problem is that I have such a short attention span, and I get excited about every new project and throw myself into it. I find it hard to sit down for a long period of time and work on a book, which is a huge project. But I have an agent and I feel that things are getting close to being complete. So maybe 2013 will be the year I’ll have a book.
RB: You’re working on a novel and a short story collection. Would you like to talk about your current projects a bit?
KL: Rust and Stardust is a dark, dreamy myth about a young woman trying to escape from her small island home while dealing with her little brother’s death by drowning. It was recently shortlisted for the Dundee Book Prize, and they put out a free e-book including a chapter from the novel, so you can have a wee read of it.
The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales is a short story collection. Some of the stories are retellings of classic fairytales and some are new, modern fables – it’s got clockwork hearts, paper men, circuses, and a gracekeeper. The stories have won prizes and been published in many literary journals, but I’ve been writing some brand-new stories too. I reckon I have one more story to write, then it will be finished.
RB: How many flash pieces do you have in your short story collection?
KL: If flash is defined as ‘under 1,000 words’, then only one. It’s called “Beauty”, it’s inspired by “Sleeping Beauty”, and you can read it at Annalemma.
RB: I understand you are also working on You Look Good Enough to Eat Me, a chapbook of poetry and flash fiction. That’s an interesting title! Do the poems and stories follow a particular theme? We’d like to know more about your chapbook.
KL: The theme, which won’t be surprising from the title, is sex. Each of the poems and flashes look at intimacy, the body and relationships, often from a sexual or romantic angle, but also looking at the intimacy of parenthood, the liminality of the body, and how easily relationships can be built or broken. All my writing is about intimacy, really.
RB: Prior to your writing life, did anyone inspire you or help you become a writer?
KL: My parents were always an inspiration. They raised me in a house with a wall of books, none of which were off-limits to me, not even the ones about monsters or with bare breasts on the cover. I read George Orwell’s 1984 and JG Ballard’s Crash when I was far too young to know what they were really about, selected purely because the covers looked like something I shouldn’t be reading! Although they shocked and disturbed me, I’m glad I was given the chance to read them. I had a loving, supportive childhood, so I felt safe being unnerved by fiction. While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I see now how my parents’ trust and belief in me helped me to have faith in myself.
RB: Which writers do you enjoy reading most these days?
KL: I really enjoyed the latest novels from Louise Welsh, Sadie Jones, John Burnside, Jane Harris, Tana French and Emily Mackie. I love a good strong story, beautifully written, in a setting so vivid I think I’ve really been there – and all of the above writers deliver on that.
In terms of new writers, I think the ones to watch are Katy McAulay, Mercedes Yardley, Lynsey May, Amber Sparks, and Allan Wilson.
RB: I understand you always wanted to start a flash fiction magazine, and when you and Helen Sedgwick shared your views you found a like minded editor in each other. Can you take us to that day when you and Helen first discussed this? What was on your mind and how did you feel about the challenge? What steps did the two of you take after the initial brainstorming?
KL:It was a pretty spur-of-the-moment decision! Helen and I met on Glasgow University’s Creative Writing MLitt course, and we stayed in touch when it finished. It soon became clear that we liked a lot of the same sorts of books and stories, and we both wanted a new project after we finished university. We thought that editing a magazine would be fun, and so I applied for the Gillian Purvis Award (Helen graduated a year before me, and the award can only be given to students in their final year of postgraduate study). The application consisted of my own writing, but it was clear that I intended to use the prize money to launch Fractured West. That prize allowed us to launch the magazine. We work on a shoestring budget: the price of the issue covers the printing and postage costs to get the issue out to people, and the prize money pays for contributor copies, any promotion, and the launch events. Helen and I don’t take any money at all for our editing work, and my partner Susie McConnell is a freelance graphic designer at Firebrat so she very kindly does all of our print and web design for free. I think that the clean, professional design is part of the reason that the magazine has been successful, so we’re eternally grateful to Susie.
We had no idea what we were getting into, and things I thought would be simple always turn out to be so time-consuming and complicated! But editing the magazine is a joy, and I’m so glad that I’m on this journey with Helen.
RB: You find it hard not to be inspired, but “lassoing it into a coherent structure” requires more work. Can you tell us something about your writing process? Perhaps a little glimpse into your writing day?
KL: I have spent years trying to develop a writing schedule, but it never quite works out. My only rule is that I always write 100 words a day, no matter what. Even on the craziest, most hectic day, there is always time to take ten minutes and jump into my story. I often write my 100 words on my phone and email it to myself to be added to my work-in-progress. I’m always thinking about my current story, daydreaming about the characters and locations, trying to pick holes in the plot to make sure it’s sturdy. When it’s time to write I don’t need time to ‘get into it’, as I’m already there. I do write a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the time I spend daydreaming!
RB: Do you have any favourite genres in flash fiction? As a reader? As a writer?
KL: Both as a writer and read I love vivid, hyperreal, dreamy sort of stories. I love stories that do new things with old tales. I like to be surprised, I like the lullaby of words and syntax. Most of all, I love a story that takes me away to a vivid world and makes me feel a real emotion.
RB: Can you share some great pieces of flash that you’ve read lately? Also please give us a link to one or two of your own that you particularly enjoyed writing, with a couple of sentences about them.
KL: Lynsey May’s Two Dancing Doves (audio), Joe Kapitan’s Fossils, Amber Sparks’ You Will be the Living Equation.
My story “Love Riot: A Manual” at FRiGG. I love writing in vignettes, little prose-poems. And I love second person narration too, though I don’t do it often.
My story “The Romance of History” at For Every Year. I love this project! One story for every single year since 1400. It’s a beautiful idea and the stories never fail to inspire me.
RB: What words of advice do you have for writers who submit to Fractured West?
KL: Read the magazine, send us your best work, and don’t be discouraged by rejection – from us or from anyone else.
Rumjhum Biswas is a writer based in Chennai. Her fiction and poetry have been published all over the world. She has prizes and accolades for poetry and fiction inIndia and abroad, including having one of her stories among Story South’s top ten stories of 2007, being long listed for the Bridport in poetry in 2006, shortlisted for Aesthetica’s Creative Works in 2011 and recently the first prize in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Competition.