Laura, I follow your lovely Instagram page. By looking at the pictures you take, I’ve guessed that you don’t live in a big city. Am I right? And it seems that you do love your neighborhood. Has your surroundings had a positive influence on your creativity?
Firstly, I’d like to thank you for asking to interview me, Maysam.
I actually live in a big city, but in a suburb which borders farmland, so in that respect I’m very lucky because I can walk out of my back door and into the countryside. Generally I don’t usually spend the whole day inside, but during lockdown it has become even more important to get out and get some fresh air. My surroundings don’t necessarily have a positive influence on my creativity, but I find walking often brings about ideas or solutions to problems within my writing.
You’ve published quite a lot of stories in literary journals. Does a writer like you still get rejected from time to time? If yes, what are the three top reasons that journals reject your pieces?
Oh yes, definitely! Lots and lots of rejections. More often than not, editors of journals don’t tell you why they don’t want one of your pieces – they have too many to read and respond to, so in all honesty, I don’t actually know the answer to that question. However, I often find that if I go back to a piece a month or two later, I can see some things I’d like to change, so that’s always worth trying before sending it out again.
Do you write creative nonfiction, too?
I never set out to write creative nonfiction, but occasionally something grips me that I want to write about. These pieces are largely just for me. They’re too personal to publish.
I know you have a lot of published micro fiction and flash fiction stories on the net, but let’s narrow it down to three. What are your three most liked short stories so far?
That is a really tough question, but these are certainly three that I really love.
That Apple (Fictive Dream) was my very first journal publication in 2017 and I remain grateful to the editor, Laura Black, for publishing it. It appears in The Almost Mothers, although has been edited slightly.
The Motherhood Contract (Ellipsis Zine) was my second journal publication in 2018. I wrote this story as part of a novella-in-flash (that several years later is very nearly finished). Elspeth, the main character, is one who is very close to my heart and there is a lot of me in this piece. This one is also in The Almost Mothers.
Another favourite is Her Glorious Face (50 word stories). I’ve found, especially recently, that the stories I write are getting increasingly shorter and I really enjoy the challenge of the strict word count.
Laura, what are some good characteristics of the English people? What do your people have in common that makes you feel proud of them?
Something, I feel, that has been noticeable during lockdown is how kind people can be. Not just English people, of course, but these are the stories I’ve predominantly heard about. I think people, as their lives have slowed down and become smaller in many ways, have been reminded to be kind. I’d like to think that this is something that we can hold onto when ‘normality’ resumes.
Charles Dickens is my most favorite British classic writer. I call him Uncle Charles. Who’s yours?
I don’t read many classics to be honest with you, however my favourite would have to be Thomas Hardy. I received Far From the Madding Crowd for my birthday when I was a teenager and immediately fell in love with it and the 2015 adaptation is one of my favourite films.
Let’s talk about The Almost Mothers now. What motivated you to write this book, and how long did it take you to write, edit, and publish it?
In 2018 I decided to do FlashNano (the idea being that you write a piece of flash fiction for every day in November). Every day, while my youngest son napped and my eldest was at school, I sat down and wrote a piece of flash fiction. Some days were better than others, but about halfway through the month, I realised that a lot of the pieces were about mothers and motherhood. In December I edited the pieces on that theme and put them in a collection along with previously published pieces about motherhood. I then entered the collection into a competition in January 2019 and was lucky enough to be long-listed, something I was thrilled about.
And please tell us about this experience of cooperating with Dahlia Books. Did they find you, or did you find them?
In April 2019 Farhana Shaikh, editor and director of Dahlia Books, put a call out for short story and/or flash fiction collections to be pitched in a single tweet. I did this and Farhana replied requesting my full manuscript. It was honestly a dance-around-the-kitchen moment. Farhana contacted me in September asking to meet and we discussed publishing the collection. There was quite a lot of editing involved, far more than I thought, and she asked me to write some additional stories as well. This was done over the months October to January and the manuscript was sent to the printers in February and officially published in March 2020.
Is it more accurate to say that “The Almost Mothers” is a flash fiction collection, or is it a novel/novella-in-flash?
The Almost Mothers is a flash fiction collection because it doesn’t have an overarching narrative, although there are a couple of stories that are linked.
You generously let me have your book for free. I appreciate that. While reading the book, I felt curious to know which part you most enjoyed writing? And which paragraph(s) of “The Almost Mothers” would you select to read aloud for our readers now?
You’re very welcome. I’m so pleased to know that you enjoyed it.
I don’t know that I particularly enjoyed writing some parts more than others, however, while I was writing this collection, I started experimenting with quirky and dystopian pieces. Until that point, I had never written pieces like that and some of those are the pieces I’m most proud of.
If I was reading a paragraph aloud, I would probably choose the first paragraph from the first story: ‘Mothers Anonymous’:
Are you currently working on a new book, or are you busy with some other projects? What are your plans for the next five years?
I’m currently writing new stories and editing others for my second collection, 100neHundred, which is due to be published in May 2021 by Arachne Press. This is a collection of 100×100-word stories.
As for my plans for the next five years, I very much hope there’ll be more writing and more published work.
And my last question, has Laura Besley achieved most of her goals?
In terms of achieving writing goals, I feel I still have a long way to go. A really long way. I write a lot of short and very short fiction, and want to continue doing this. However, recently I’ve been reading a lot of short stories and would also love to write a collection of short stories, maybe even a novel, but we’ll have to see what the future has in store for me.