BBCNSSA Shortlist 2014
Lionel Shriver is an American writer who lives in London. The author of 11 novels, she is best known for the New York Times bestsellers So Much for That (a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award and the Wellcome Trust Book Prize) and The Post-Birthday World (Entertainment Weekly's Book of the Year and one of Time's top ten for 2007), as well as the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin. The 2005 Orange Prize winner, Kevin passed the million-copies-sold mark several years ago, and was adapted for an award-winning feature film by Lynne Ramsay in 2011. Both Kevin and So Much for That have been dramatised for BBC Radio 4.
Currently a BBC 2014 columnist for Standpoint, she is a widely published journalist who writes for the Guardian, the New York Times, the Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among manyother publications. Her eleventh novel, Big Brother, was published in spring of 2013. Shriver has been shortlisted twice previously for the BBC National Short Story Award in 2009 and 2013.
How does it feel to have been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award 2014?
Familiar. [This is the third time Shriver has been shortlisted for the Award]
Can you give us a bit of background to your shortlisted story? What inspired you to write it?
I have a little collection in my head of the occasions on which I almost died. Some of these are dramatic, but in others, to an observer, nothing would have occurred (I stepped off a curb, and the bus didn't hit me). For these are experiences of what didn't happen. But I have a keen sense of the "counterfactual," as one critic observed, which is only by way of saying I have some imagination, some appreciation for how at numerous junctures I might have veered in a different - in some cases, fatal - direction.
The unique element of the BBCNSSA is that your story will be read by an actor and broadcast to Radio 4 listeners. Have you thought about what your characters' voices might sound like/do you have a particular voice in your head?
Probably a female voice, sympathetic but mature. The story is about a very green woman, in her twenties for most of the tale, but the third-person perspective is much older and wiser, tender but matter of fact, and the voice even flirts with a touch of old-fashioned omniscience.
How does writing short stories differ from writing full-length fiction, and what do you enjoy about writing in the genre?
I love working in a form that doesn't consume a couple of years! For a story's first draft, I am probably risking no more than a week or two. Ironically, low temporal risk can facilitate high-risk style and content. In a short story, you can try anything. If it turns out not to work, big deal. A novel that 'turns out not to work' is a catastrophe.
Which short story or collection by another author have you recently discovered and would recommend?
We Live in Water by Jess Walter.