Balham Literary Festival: Critic Chris Power on becoming an author

Prolific columnist and author Chris Power will be discussing the ins and outs of the short story form for the Balham Literary Festival this Sunday, June 10.

Mr Power will be joined by fellow author and columnist Tessa Hadley and founding publishing director of Indigo Press Ellah Wakatama Allfrey for the Scones and Short Stories event at Balham Bowls Club on Ramsey Road.

The writer of the Guardian column ‘A brief survey of the short story’ since 2007, Mr Power, 43, did not deliberately set out to write his newly-released short story collection ‘Mothers’.

Mr Power said: “At first, I was just writing one story at a time.

“For years and years I had been writing here and there, but quite fitfully, and in a kind of way that many people people write.

You say you want to write but you’re not actually sitting down every day and doing it, you’re waiting for inspiration to strike.”

‘Mothers’, published by Faber & Faber in March, is a collection of ten loosely-linked short stories focusing on themes of alienation, personal dead ends and motherhood.

Mr Powers said that the motherhood theme wasn’t a deliberate choice, as he had written all the stories at various points in time, but rather something that organically emerged after he’d written the book.

Three of the stories in the book centre around the experiences and struggles of a woman called Eva, her childhood in Sweden, her relationship with her mother and becoming a mother herself.

Mr Powers has been providing well-crafted insightful commentary on the short story form for years and now, as a newly published author, finds himself on the other side of this equation.

He said: “It’s an interesting process.

“I’m always interested to hear what other people’s view is of my work, partly because people have such a wide range of views.

“I’m not necessarily talking about whether people like it, or love it, or hate it, you’re always going to get that sort of spectrum, because it’s subjective.”

“I’m a big fan of ambiguity, of the sort of works of art that give the reader or viewer depending on the medium some space to bring their own interpretations to bear,” he added.

Mr Power has been passionate about short stories since walking into a book shop and picking up Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, which he still describes as the best short story collection he’s ever read.

A self-described short story ‘cheerleader’, Mr Power nevertheless said he understood why some people have frustrations with the genre, the periods of intense short focus it demands and the work required in getting invested in multiple stories and contexts.

Despite being known for his short story literary analysis, Mr Power didn’t give much thought to transitioning to an author in the form or the reception of his work until after the book had come out.

He said: “I’ve just really enjoyed that process, because really it’s been people engaging with your work and there’s nothing more gratifying than that.

“As a writer, everything is a hurdle — it’s a hurdle to get an agent, or it’s a hurdle to sell a manuscript, but the greatest fear is after you’ve done all those things, the book goes out there and there’s just silence.”

He added: “It’s hugely rewarding and gratifying to know that some people out there have read and engaged with the work.”

He is currently working on his first full-length novel for Faber & Faber, which is set to come out early next year.

On advice for aspiring authors, Mr Power said: “Only speaking for myself, I only started really producing work that I rated myself when I made it a daily unbreakable activity.

“I started getting up every day, writing for two hours before I get to work and it’s just that regularity of just doing it whether you want to or not, whether it’s the last place you want to be, just plugging away at it.

“I think that no writing you do is wasted, whether it’s a novel that gets abandoned halfway through or whether it’s drafts and drafts that just aren’t quite hitting the mark, it’s all building up your experience and your reserve.”

What: Balham Literary Festival
Where: Venues across Balham
When: Main weekend — June 8-11
How: Short walk from Balham train and underground station
Tickets: https://balhamliteraryfestival.co.uk/events/ 

Image credit: Claudia Berlotti

Related Articles