Saturday, March 14, 2009

Author Q&A with Elizabeth Baines, author of 'Balancing on the Edge of the World'

Elizabeth Baines is a writer of prose fiction and prize-winning plays for radio and stage. She has been a teacher and is also an occasional actor. Her collection of short stories, 'Balancing on the Edge of the World,' was nominated for the Frank O’Connor International Prize for the Short Story. She writes the critical-commentary blog Fictionbitch ( and also has her own author blog (
Her book, 'Balancing on the Edge of the World' (Salt Modern Fiction, 2007, 108 pages) includes stories about power and powerlessness, and those moments when the balance of power - between a violent father and his daughter, between a doctor and his smug patient, between an unsuspecting teenager and the dangerous world around him - can subtly or dramatically change forever...
Where do you call home? Manchester UK where I live, South Wales where I was born, and my old writing desk in the attic where I work. (Also Ireland, where my dad came from and where, whenever you go there, everyone keeps saying you’ve ‘come home’.)
Where can we find your work? It can be ordered from bookshops (Salt have UK, US, Australian and NZ distributors) and it’s available online from Amazon or The Book Depository, or direct from my publisher .
How did you get your start in writing? I began writing short stories and was published in literary magazines: I simply wrote one and sent it off and it was accepted. I had lots of stories published in magazines but getting a collection published was much harder. I went on an Arvon course here in the UK at Lumb Bank, Ted Hughes’s Yorkshire home, and my tutor the (now sadly deceased) novelist Martin Booth sent some of my stories off to his own agent, who immediately took me on. However, the agent said short story collections were impossible to sell, and he asked me to write a novel, which I did. I’d published two novels and had broadcast many radio plays before the market for stories opened up with the advent of independent publishers like Salt, and I felt it was worth trying for a collection again.
What does your writing routine look like? Boring from the outside, I guess! If I’m at home all day I just go up there to the attic at nine in the morning and work until about 1.30. I write by hand and if I’m on a deadline, or eager to finish something, or if I’m writing a novel, I’ll go back up after lunch and do some typing up.
Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why. WG Sebald for his unusual take on the world, and his air of getting right to the truth of things. Will Self for his verbal fizz and brilliant ideas. Margaret Atwood for her ironic yet lyrical sensibility and her wonderful vivid prose.
What are you working on next? I have a novel, 'Too Many Magpies,' coming from Salt in October, and I’m working on a new collection of short stories which they will publish next year.
What made you decide to write this book of short stories?
Like most of my writing, the stories in this book are fired by my sense of the need to air those experiences and viewpoints which aren’t always acknowledged – the flip side of things. There’s the homeless man, the Other Woman, the auxiliary nurse who knows what the Professor of Medicine doesn’t, the unheard children and children being made to suffer by adults.
What challenges did you face with this book?
I think there’s always a challenge in putting a collection of stories together – deciding which ones to include, which order to put them in, especially which ones to begin and end with, as I think these are the stories people tend to read when they browse. I chose a comic one for the start about a bunch of drunken pizza-parlour ‘philosophers’, and I hope I got it right…
What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?
Be prepared for failure, but don’t accept failure. Keep at it. If your work is rejected, take a good look and if you think it needs it, work on it again. If you honestly think it doesn’t, bang it off again, and quick!

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