Monday, March 24, 2014

Dan Powell Tells Us About Writing & Place

I'm delighted to welcome Dan Powell to the blog today - he has just given birth to his first book, the short story collection Looking Out Of Broken Windows, published by Salt, who shortlisted the book for their Scott Prize - and you can win yourself a copy, more on that below. Congratulations, Dan. It is an enormously fine collection, for which I provided him with the following quote:

‘Short stories are portholes allowing us to peek – and, with great stories, step – into other worlds. Dan Powell’s broken windows are not themselves flawed or malfunctioning, rather doorways into the fraught and fractured lives of others. Powell’s mischievous imagination takes him wherever he pleases and where it lands he weaves story so tightly, so compellingly that you are held. Not constrained by the real, Powell uses surreality and magic – a wheeling-dealing cancer, unborn twins scanning their parents-to-be, a self-starting fire – to illuminate truths with poignancy and humour, paying subtle homage to the short story masters who inspired him, from Kafka to O’Connor and Carver.’

Dan is here today to give us a peek into his writing life by answering my writing&place questionnaire. First, here's a little about Dan:

Dan Powell is a prize winning author whose short fiction has appeared in the pages of Carve, Paraxis, Fleeting and The Best British Short Stories 2012. His debut collection of short fiction, Looking Out Of Broken Windows, was shortlisted for the Scott Prize in 2013 and is published by Salt. He procrastinates at and on Twitter as @danpowfiction.

Dan is giving away a signed copy of Looking Out of Broken Windows to one reader of the blog tour; he will post to anywhere in the world. To win just leave a comment on this post or any of the other LOoBW blog tour posts appearing across the internet during March 2014. The names of all commenters will be put in the hat for the draw which will take place on April 6th.

At the end of this blog post is a fabulous and unique video trailer of Dan reading an excerpt from one of his stories! Before we get to that, here's what Dan had to say on writing & place:

Tania: Where are you? 

Dan: I live in an old farmhouse in the midst of the Lincolnshire countryside. The nearest market town is Horncastle, the antiques capital of Lincolnshire. The stories in Jon McGregor's short fiction collection, This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You, are all set in Lincolnshire, with one even set in Horncastle itself. I bought and read the collection just after we moved here. A great way to experience the stories, surrounded by the places that inspired them. Our village is really just a street and a small, disused church, surrounded by pastureland. It's a wonderfully quiet part of the world, perfect for writing.

I am very lucky to have a study in this new house, it’s only a box room, just big enough for a desk and a few book shelves, but it is wonderful to finally have a room in which I can shut myself away to write. It even has a window overlooking the surrounding fields and in the summer evenings I sit there watching the house martins that nest in the eaves darting back and forth outside.

There are loads of great countryside walks we can take just by stepping outside our front door, so when the weather’s good, we make the most of it and get out and about. We also have a massive garden here, which feels even bigger with the views of the surrounding fields. Great for the kids. Lots of space to play in. In the summer heritage aircraft fly overhead, and throughout the year we get the odd fighter jet from the RAF bases scattered around the county, all of which my boys love, obviously.

T: How long have you been there? 

D: We moved here last August, when we returned from spending seven years or so living in Germany. It was only on coming back that my wife and I realised quite how much we had missed being in the UK. Simple things like browsing English bookshops and being able to buy good old fashioned Fish and Chips still feel like a real treat. We had put off coming back for a year or two and now I wish we had come back sooner.

T: What do you write? 

D: Up until now I have mostly written short fiction. My stories tend to move between gritty realism and magical realism with most of my latest work landing somewhere in between, bridging the gap between these often opposing approaches to story telling. A fair few people have commented on how my writing seems to pull off what they thought of as two conflicting and incompatible styles of writing in the same piece. My debut collection, Looking Out of Broken Windows, is made up of the best of my last five years or so of short story writing and I am already knee deep into a follow-up collection, with about seven or eight stories done.

I am also writing a novel as part of my MA Creative Writing studies. The deadline is this coming September and I am currently on target to finish. Writing the novel has been a massive challenge and a very different writing experience to writing short stories. I have enjoyed the challenge of the novel but I my heart belongs to short fiction.

T: How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write? 

D: Places which resonate with me tend to end up in my writing but often long after I have left there. In 2008 and 2009 we spent some excellent holidays in Highcliffe, on the south coast of England. The coastline there is striking, half of it landscaped the other half scarred by cliff-slips and eroded shores. This setting features in a few of my stories; Third Party, Fire & Theft in the collection is set in part in the public car park outside The Cliffhanger cafe their, while Rip Rap, recently shortlisted for the Willesden Herald Short Story Prize, is set in a fictitious version of one of the holiday camps set along the eroding cliff faces that stretch of to the east. More recently we spent a few holidays visiting various parts of Denmark and it’s wide skies and lengthy coastlines struck a chord with me. The notes I made in our holidays there are just starting to find their way into becoming stories.

That said, moving to Lincolnshire has had a real impact on my writing though, and it is the first place I have lived in that I have consciously tried to write about. The landscape moves between the sweeping hills of the Wolds and the broad flat farmland of the south of the county. The last few months I have been working on completing a draft of my novel, the final third of which now features a section set in a Lincolnshire village not unlike the one I am living in. I feel like I am starting to really understand how setting can be an integral part of my fiction. It is starting to move more to the fore of what I write. Looking back at the stories in the collection I can see this process actually began a while back with stories like Third Party, Fire and Theft and Storm in a Teacup. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the local area and hope it continues to inspire me.

Thank you, Dan, we hope so too! And talking of Storm In A Teacup, Dan has kindly made this teaser for us, listen to him read an excerpt:

Don't forget to leave a comment here for a chance to win a copy of the excellent Looking Out Of Broken Windows, which you can read more about, as well as about Dan himself, at

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