Melbourne writer, blogger and bookseller A S Patrić tells David Cohen about his short-story collection The Rattler and Other Stories (Spineless Wonders). (See David Cohen’s review here.)
There are some strong links, thematic and otherwise, between many of these stories. Were they written with a collection in mind?
Perhaps I’m too bookish but I think we experience our lives in story sequences. We search for links and themes in a narrative so large we never get to see the whole thing at once. When we notice patterns and connections we are getting glimpses of a bigger picture. So that’s how I write my stories—as parts of a very large book, and The Rattler & Other Stories is chapter one.
In many of your stories, seemingly innocuous details are set against sinister or unsettling events and thereby take on an eerie, cinematic quality; for example, the image of headphones hanging from an armrest in the story ‘B O M B S’. Do your stories emerge from such images, or do you employ them to create a particular mood?
A detail like those headphones comes from an idea, more than an intention to juxtapose or to create an effect. ‘B O M B S’ is an explosion and each piece of it is a fragment. The headphones hanging from an armrest on a crashing plane (music tinkling amid the noise of destruction) is about how we collect moments into something like music (or literature) and comfort ourselves with the idea that a piece of ourselves or something we love might survive forever. So perhaps all we have are fragments—the bits and pieces of our exploding lives. ‘B O M B S’ emerged from that idea.
Of late, there seems to be a renewed enthusiasm, particularly from small independent publishers such as Affirm Press and Spineless Wonders, for short fiction or short-story collections. You’re a bookseller as well as a writer; are more people buying these formats?
Everyone involved in bookselling knows we’re in a critical period of transition and what readers are going to buy, even in the near future, is uncertain. An award like the Miles Franklin has degenerated to a point where an increase in sales, even for the winner, is negligible, since the award insists on traditional forms and themes. The Pulitzer is bolder, and the prize’s successes have been far more impressive with books like Olive Kitteridge and A Visit from the Goon Squad—both of which are linked story collections. Independent publishing is part of the seismic changes we’re experiencing. Those that have the nous and gumption will thrive in a market that is demanding diversity and bravery. Your local bookstore has never been a more exciting place.
Spineless Wonders is a new, Northern Territory-based small publisher, specialising in short fiction. It is heartening to see a publisher championing shortstory collections, especially quality ones such as The Rattler, the debut collection by Melbourne writer (and bookseller) A S Patrić. These stories range from narrative experiments such as the chilling ‘B O M B S’, an oblique look at terrorism, to more playful pieces such as ‘Ducks’, which imagines Anais Nin and June Miller living out their autumn years in Elwood. Regardless of mood or technique, the stories are highly poetic, both in terms of their rhythmic use of language and the way in which they show quotidian objects and landscapes—Melbourne suburbia in particular—in a strange, often unsettling, new light. The only real exception is the title story, which lacks the assurance and edginess of the shorter pieces. Its central character Atticus quits his job as a tram driver in order to devote himself to writing about his tram-driving experiences. The experiences themselves, rather than Atticus’ struggles to document them, might have been more interesting to read about. But there are enough gems among the other 17 stories to impress any short-fiction enthusiast seeking a fresh and vibrant new voice.
David Cohen is a Brisbane-based writer and former bookseller. This review first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Bookseller+Publisher, which is available online here. (Spineless Wonders is now based in Sydney.)
Well, the stylish November issue is in the house. As well as the usual reviews and news, it’s got interviews with author and bookseller A S Patric, whose short story collection The Rattler is published by Spineless Wonders in November, Brian Falkner who has a new YA series kicking off in November with Recon Team Angel: Assault (Walker Books), Frank Moorhouse, whose ‘Edith Trilogy’ wraps up with Cold Light (Random House, November) and, of course, Ray Martin, whose new book Ray Martin’s Favourites (Victory, November) contains the stories behind some of his favourite interviews.
In the same issue, Eloise Keating looks at changes to sales repping and Andrea Hanke investigates the finer details of digital rights. We report on the Melbourne and Brisbane writers’ festivals, Reuben Crossman reflects on the international book design awards and Kate Cuthbert interviews two digital advocates working in romance publishing.