I’m pleased to welcome author Sue Hampton to Being Anne today. Sue is the author of Ravelled – a short story collection that certainly merits a closer look. I’ll let Sue tell you more – with a guest post we thought might appropriately be called “Short Stories – no cutting, no chase!”.
As a reader I like slow burners; I crave delicacy and depth. For me, fiction is an exploration of what it means to be human, and I assumed the short story was bound to skim the surface. Since marvelling forty years ago at Chekhov’s genius, I’d read stories that, for all their cleverness or style, felt like games or exercises: slight, manipulated and fundamentally trivial. So as an author, writing across genres for children, teens and adults, I chose the full-length option. Until I read Margaret Atwood’s Wilderness Tips, I didn’t know a few thousand words could deliver everything I need from a novel – interior character, narrative flow and linguistic power – in miniature and yet somehow in full. With Isis in Darkness Atwood blew away my assumptions that a short story must have a conceit or USP, a limited palette or a twist. That one sublime story opened my eyes and I began to write.
The result is Ravelled, described by writer and Creative Writing tutor Stephen Carver as “a masterclass in short story writing” and by poet and novelist John MacKenna as “a wonderfully diverse, challenging, beautifully written and understated collection.” I value such reviews above sales, and given the size of my profile and publishers, that’s just as well! The diversity was a choice over unity because I’d read collections that felt too uniform in tone and theme, like an album that grows less engaging a few tracks in because the rhythms are on repeat and the tunes are only variations. I hadn’t at that point come across the phrase ‘transgressive boundaries’ but if anything unites my stories – apart from the inevitable core of love and loss – it’s my characters that cross lines. As a woman with alopecia who no longer wears a wig and is married to a cross-dressing man, I’m drawn to unorthodox ways to be equally human.
I’ve experimented with different kinds of narrative too, including a dreamy fable that only feels like fantasy and another that unfolds in a few minutes of real time. There’s a traditional story with a modern sensibility, and yes, one or two that overturn assumptions for reasons bigger than the fun of it. Whether set long ago and far away, in the Seventies or the present, the stories have their own registers and moods. Elderly eccentric Gerry arrives at her annual hotel in Away for Christmas and introduces her new young driver: “Meet Kyle Green. He’s not a bus stop. I would have got off.” But grief has a different vocabulary in Included:
“His smiles were like missed notes, falling short. I saw – I heard – his attempts at normality slip away into a void, and that was where he’d find me, in mine.”
Author Karen Maitland described The Goddess as “dripping with sensuality” and “exquisitely beautiful”:
“In the waves that broke flat on sand, she looked for her old face. No longer edged in flickering black it seemed so small, like peeled fruit soft inside.”
But at the core of each contrasting story, characters must live – and vividly – through whatever changes in or around them.
That change may be small. In Sid’s case it feels total when, newly retired and single, he’s relocated to what the removal men call Divorce Drive. For Tess it’s a morning’s rebellious impulse that might be a rescue cry. And on Eva’s seventieth birthday, the past invades the present’s peace with the world she rejected. In the words of journalist reviewer and author, David Guest, “these are tales about dealing with life’s challenges” and sixty years have shown me how various those can be – even in the absence of vampires or invasive supernatural forces. Did I build stories around these ideas? No. I found my characters. It was up to them to find their own story.
Writing this collection was a challenge in itself. But it was so rewarding – as a process and in terms of reader response – that a follow-up collection, Woken, will be published in June this year. On the back the publishers quote American writer Rick Cross:
“Sue Hampton’s greatest strength is her almost preternatural ability to step into the shoes – the lives – of every character she introduces, large or small, every one of them as rich and real and secretly raw, as surreptitiously vulnerable, as any human being you’ve ever (or never) met. She is a sharp observer of the entire human experience, treating her creations with a remarkable tenderness and reverence even while she peels them to the bone.”
I’ll never have a review that means more or requires more tissues!
Many thanks, Sue – I’ll very much look forward to you joining me again on the publication of Woken.
About the author (from Sue’s Amazon page)
Sue Hampton writes for adults as well as children and teenagers, and across genres. She’s also proud to be an ambassador for Alopecia UK. An ex-teacher, she was inspired to write by the stories of Michael Morpurgo, because she witnessed their emotional power over young readers. Like him, she aims to write deep, compelling novels that will make people think and feel. Now a full-time author, Sue visits schools of all kinds and works with young people of all ages. Many of her passions can be detected in her novels, which are all different, (some historical, one futuristic, one magical and funny) but have in common themes like love, courage, freedom and our right to be different.
Sue herself looks a little different from most women because she has alopecia, having lost all her hair in 1981. After writing The Waterhouse Girl about a girl with alopecia, she began going bareheaded and feels strangely liberated even though it isn’t easy. As a result of a feature in The Big Issue, Sue has met several young people who have lost their hair and done an interview for a girls’ magazine in Australia. Sue also lectures on the importance of fiction in school.
Describe Sue in three adjectives? Passionate, individual and idealistic. Describe her novels in three adjectives? Powerful, “beautifully written” (says Michael Morpurgo of The Waterhouse Girl) and challenging. Traces made the top three in The People’s Book Prize 2012 and Frank won bronze in The Wishing Shelf award 2013. Her adult work includes Flashback and Purple, Aria, and the short story collection, Ravelled.