It’s a huge pleasure to welcome Angela Readman to the blog today, mostly because her latest book, the very wonderful Don’t Try This at Home is a huge pleasure to read. Not only that, it’s a book whose stories stick with you, like the good kind of bruises, long after you’ve put her down. It’s not often I get super excited about a book these (mostly because I’m not reading anywhere near as much as I’d like) but this one, let me tell you, is an absolute belter.
Angela’s been a friend for a good while now, and that always makes things better- I love seeing good people do good things and I love to see them doing well doing them. Angela’s was listed for the Costa Short Story Award a little while ago, and then she decided to go and win it. I loved her collection, Strip, too, so I asked her to come along here to talk about both and her journey from poetry to prose (which I think, as they’re very close relations, as something like simply moving from one window of a kitchen to the other).
But enough waxing lyrical. Don’t Try This at Home is without doubt the best collection I’ve read in a good while (and I read plenty of great ones). Here’s what I said about it when her publishers asked me for a quote:
“Angela Readman’s stories are gems. Rainbow coloured ones that probably glow in the dark and sing too. They are perfect, fizzing explosions of stories, told by a perfect storyteller. You will love them.”
And I meant every word.
So, here is the lady herself…
Angela! Welcome! I couldn’t be happier to have you here. You have a new book out. A book of short stories. How’s it been?
Hello. Thank you for inviting me over.
It’s been a surreal experience having a story book out, its still sinking in that it’s real! I keep seeing people I don’t know discussing the stories and which ones meant something to them. It’s been amazing to see how that varies for each reader. It’s quite moving to me. There is still a small part of me that doesn’t believe I have a book out, so I am stunned by it.
Now, I don’t say this kind of thing lightly but I absolutely adore Don’t Try This at Home. It’s one of those books that you fall in love with instantly and reminds me that I do believe in love at first sight. In fact, I’d go as far to say that I love it as much as the ones that made me realise that I could write the kinds of things I wanted to write in the days before Not So Perfect and Freaks! – I’m talking about Aimee Bender and Etgar Keret and those brilliant kinds of people. How does that sound?
That sounds amazing! They are both writers that changed something for me, I think. I was one of those people who had such a long list of books to read. I had dozens of unfinished books on my shelf. Many were books I thought I am supposed to read, rather than books I felt like. The first time I read Keret and Bender I had goose bumps. It was a revelation for me: stories can be strange and enjoyable, as well as serious. That’s when writing stories changed for me. It could suddenly be fun.
Your last book, the poetry collection, Strip, was another I loved and, after re-reading it a little while ago (I used Laundry Day in a workshop I was running) I did notice similarities between that and Don’t Try This at Home. How do you think they compare?
It’s always possible to see similarities between books, I think. The concerns of a writer come up again and again. One thing I’m always interested in is female characters, and the ways we resolve issues. The books share that. Don’t Try This at Home features different characters, relationships, and includes more men. It feels like a book with more fun in it than Strip. Oddly, it also has more sadness.
If the books were people, do you think they’d be friends?
Strip would be the girl who breaks Don’t Try This at Home’s heart. Don’t Try This would be that sort of chap who wants to fall in love, but it never works out. Strip would give him a fake number.
And here’s what I really want to get to – your journey (if we can be as wanky to call it that) from poetry to short fiction. How was it for you? For me it seems that it was very natural (I remember reading short stories you sent to me four or five years ago and thinking how seemingly effortlessly good at them you were). Was it that easy? Are things ever as easy as they look?
I work really hard to make things look easy, I think we all do! The journey was always going to happen, I think. Originally, I went on my MA for stories, but by the end of the course I already had poetry offers, so I ran with it. It kept me pretty busy. Now and then, a story would slip out anyway (like The Porn Star Letters in Strip) but not often.
Then, about five years ago, I started stories again. I couldn’t avoid it any more.
When I read your short stories it kind of makes me think that they could be my stories’ cousins. How would you describe the relationship between your stories and your poems?
There’s a strange relationship between poems and stories I’ve only noticed recently. There are some stories I write I’d never have found if I hadn’t written a poem first. It’s as if a poem opens a little door, just a chink, to let me see something small. I have to come back, fling the door open wide and see who is there sometimes by writing a story.
Could you describe Don’t Try This at Home in one sentence. Who’s it for? What’s it about?
Don’t Try This at Home is a story book of people who will try anything, however strange, to get through the day. It’s for dreamers, the disappointed, people who hope, and stare out the window wondering what if?
What’s next for you?
Not to sound unprofessional or anything, but I have absolutely no idea! I have poems waiting to be published. I’m writing other stuff too, but who knows ? Nothing is certain.
And last… have you ever considered cutting your husband in half?
Never in my wildest dreams, why half perfection?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you, and to people like you who have been so supportive about my stories. It is amazing to me.
Angela Readman’s stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines, winning awards such as the Inkspill Magazine Short Story Competition and the National Flash Fiction Competition. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award for ‘Don’t Try This at Home’ – an award she would go on to win in 2013 with the story ‘The Keeper of the Jackalopes’. Readman is also a published poet.
Don’t Try This at Home is available from all good book sellers, including this one.