Thursday 26 July 2018

Interview with David Belbin

David Belbin is the author of fifty books, including several novels for adults, numerous YA novels and two collections of short stories. He lectures in Creative Writing part time at NTU and is chair of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. See:

Here, Rosalind Rustom talks to David about writing, short stories and his collection Provenance: New & Collected Stories

Interviewed by Rosalind Rustom 

RR: Provenance is a collection of your new and older stories - is there one which is your personal favourite?

DB: Seems wrong to choose, but if you put a gun to my head I'd probably choose one of the new ones, 'The Way It Works,' as it encapsulates a lot of the themes of my work and goes into several points of view, which stories rarely have room to do. Although, in a sense, that's
cheating as, at over 10,000 words, it's what I'd call a long story rather than a short story.

RR: My favourite thing about your short stories is the focus on the interesting lives of everyday people. Are any stories drawn from real-life experiences or people you've known?

DB: The one I just mentioned features two Beth Orton concerts I was at, and the experience of the person with the tickets not turning up did happen to me, although not quite in the same way. 'Being Bullied' is a true story, told to me by the boy it happened to. I own most of the paintings described in the title story, including the one on the cover. All of them are forgeries! That's it.

RR: You sometimes call yourself a 'Nottingham writer.' How is this sense of place reflected in your fiction?

DB: I've not counted recently, but suspect around half of my novels are set in Nottingham. There isn't as much space for a strong sense of place in the short stories but 'Vasectomy,' 'Paying For It' and 'The Nabob of Rococo Park' are very Nottingham stories. It's a city that's always changing, with plenty of strong contrasts and a vigorous, caustic sense of itself, all of which is useful in fiction.

RR: How was your experience writing 'Witchcraft' in 1989? Was it difficult to turn a real, sensitive event into a story?

DB: Some stories seem to write themselves. I heard about the so-called 'ritualised' child abuse being investigated from a trusted source long before it became news and fictionalised it because I had to make some kind of sense of what I'd heard, get it off my chest. It had to be from the child's point of view, which, of course, makes the story heartbreaking. Writing it was straightforward but getting it published wasn't. Numerous magazines turned it down before JG Ballard and Martin Bax took it for Ambit, nearly thirty years ago, and that began my career as a published writer of fiction.

RR: Who would you say has had the most influence on you as a writer?

DB: Loads of answers to that question but the most straightforward is the Northern Ireland novelist Brian Moore, who I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on. A fine, fine writer, most of whose work still holds up well. Check out The Doctor's Wife, Cold Heaven, The Statement or Judith Hearne. I learnt a lot from him about style, point of view, suspense (he worked with Hitchcock, who I also revere) and he made me feel it was fine to write frequently from a female point of view. I'm only sorry I never wrote to tell him what I just told you. I did write to Patricia Highsmith, who I also was very influenced by, and got a lovely note from her in response a few months before she died. You should always let writers you love know how grateful you are for their work. We're insecure - it goes with the territory.

RR: How do you find the process of writing short stories compared to your novels?

DB: I can't write short stories at the same time as I'm working on a novel or teaching heavily. They require complete concentration and have to be written in a burst, then revised at (lengthy) leisure. There are one or two stories in the collection that I couldn't get right and
left for years. The final story, 'Games in Bed,' for instance, sat around my metaphorical bottom drawer for the best part of a decade before I worked out how it needed to end. I used to write novels very quickly and intensely too, but those days, sadly, seem to be gone.

RR: Can you tell us about anything you're working on at the moment?

DB: I've just finished revising a short story, 'The All Night Bookshop,' which will be published as a pamphlet on National Bookshop day (October 6th) by Candlestick Press. With Rory Waterman, I'm editing an anthology to celebrate 25 years of the Creative Writing MA I teach on at NTU. There'll be a new short story in that. And I've nearly done the fourth Bone and Cane novel although, having seen the sequence's previous two publishers go bankrupt, I'm not sure whether anyone will dare to take it on ...

About the interviewer
Rosalind Rustom is a recent graduate from the University of Leicester with a degree in English and American Studies, with a particular interest in fantasy fiction.

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