Sam Szanto lives in Durham, UK. Her debut short story collection If No One Speaks was published by Alien Buddha Press in 2022. Over 50 of her stories and poems have been published/ listed in competitions. As well as her many published stories, in April 2022 she won the Shooter Flash Fiction Contest, was placed second in the 2022 Writer’s Mastermind Short Story Contest, third in the 2021 Erewash Open Competition, second in the 2019 Doris Gooderson Competition and was also a winner in the 2020 Literary Taxidermy Competition. Her short story collection Courage was a finalist in the 2021 St Lawrence Book Awards. She won the 2020 Charroux Prize for Poetry and the First Writers International Poetry Prize, and her poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals including The North. Find her on Twitter: @sam_szanto
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
All my work has always been different - you'll be able to tell from reading my current story collection 'If No One Speaks' that all my stories feel very different and are about very different people, as well as being located all over the world. One reviewer said it was amazing that all the stories had been written by the same person - I believe that was meant as a compliment!
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to novel writing first, but I've written poems for a long time too. Short stories came a little later.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I do everything fast, from speaking to walking to writing. Sometimes I'll leave a poem or story and come back to it with a slightly different idea that improves it immeasurably, sometimes things come fully formed. The MA in Writing Poetry course I'm currently taking has helped me work on shaping poems though, as rewriting is part of the craft we're learning.
4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Definitely the former, the stories have to find their own ways of threading together.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I don't enjoy speaking in public, but it's something I want to get better at. I've put myself forward for a live Twitter reading that my publisher has organised in a few weeks' time so will see how that goes! I'm happy to pre-record a reading though - it's the live speaking rather than the being watched that makes me nervous!
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don't write to answer questions, but I usually do realise what I've actually written about once I've finished a story - I've written quite a few stories that I thought were just about relationships that I realised later were about grief.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think writing has many purposes. We are teachers, we are entertainers, we are role models. But what I do always think of when I consider this type of question is a comment a novelist once made to me, which is that most people only read books in bed (before they go to sleep) or in the bath. We all think our writing is terribly important and impactful, and sometimes it is, but I try not to forget that really people just want to hear a story, just as my little children do before they go to bed, just as people have always done.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I actually work in a freelance capacity as a copy-editor so see it from the other side - a lot of the time, people ignore my brilliant suggestions and just do what they want to do. I pretty much accept whatever an editor says to me, though - they're the reader, after all, the person I'm doing this for. Once I've finished writing a story and given it to an audience, it's not really mine. However, I have felt a bit patronised occasionally! This has never happened with poetry, actually, only short stories (but not often).
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Pretty much everything Ernest Hemingway had to say about writing. I love his advice to omit what you feel is the last part of the story to leave the reader wanting more.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short stories)? What do you see as the appeal?
Easy, and necessary. Writing in the one genre constricts me if I do it all the time. Sometimes an idea just works as a poem but not as a story, or vice versa. It happened to me recently that I retold a piece of flash fiction as a prose poem and it worked to great acclaim.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don't really have one, as I have young kids who have to take priority, plus occasional freelance work. I write when the kids are at school and as much as possible at all other times.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Other people's writing.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Fresh paint at the moment!
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Music, yes. Transport, too, I get a lot of creativity from journeys. People, though, are my main influences: their conversations, their mannerisms, their jobs, everything about them.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
So many! Tessa Hadley, Curtis Sittenfeld, Kate Atkinson, Rose Tremain, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Moniza Alvi, Rebecca Goss, my writing tutors and the other writers I know...
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Have a novel and a poetry book published, travel to Japan/Canada/New Zealand, help my children to grow up happy (hopefully this will happen!)
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I've done many things... worked in marketing for a blind charity, a school and an engineering corporation; sold ice cream and shoes. I still do freelance as a copy-editor and an English tutor so would still be doing that (more often) if I didn't also write.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I had to write. There was never another goal.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I loved Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. I'm not that into films, really - I was obsessed with The Doors film as a teenager, though. On TV, I currently love Mad Men.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A novel that wants to be a thriller but we'll see... I'm about to start the second year of my MA in Writing Poetry, though, so will be writing a lot of poetry pretty soon!
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