Thursday, 8 November 2012

The GBR Interview: Alison Moore - from short stories to the big screen (possibly)

Alison Moore - headshot tastic
In the second of the GBR Interview series, I spent a highly enjoyable half hour on the phone with Alison Moore, author of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted The Lighthouse.
I’m a little bit obsessed with short stories at the moment. Who better to inflict this obsession on than a writer whose career has been made up predominantly of short stories.

Before her debut novel exploded onto the scene, Alison Moore was one of the large crowd of writers who spend their time submitting short stories to magazines. She did, to be fair, have a great deal more success than most.
“I really enjoy short stories. They’re very satisfying. They taught me how to write. They fit my approach - I write quite slowly usually, and often go back and redraft things over and over, adding in more where I can. Some stories come out in one go over 24 hours, but they tend to have a different energy. I often start them with the spark of an idea, without knowing where they’re going to go, and just take the journey with the character. It’s how I’ve always written.”
For more than ten years, Moore has plugged away in her spare time at short stories, picking up various awards en route, and eventually developing enough of a reputation for a small independent publisher (Salt Publishing) to take a punt on her first full length novel.
So for a writer used to short stories, how did she approach The Lighthouse? “I had little windows of writing, and I knew I had to make the most of them. When it starting to come, it came piling out fairly quickly. I didn’t plan it out chapter by chapter, but I had a good idea of where it was going.”
This lack of meticulous planning is perhaps a strength of Moore’s. It gives her a freedom to leave things out. I’ve talked about it before; the balance needed in leaving enough unsaid to engage the imagination of the reader, without confusing them with major omissions. Will Self doesn’t concern himself with such trivialities. If the reader is confused, it’s not his fault. But Moore seems to pay this balance more heed.
“You do have to write what you want to write - you can't be worried about what your parents will say if they read it. You can't think too much of the reader when you're writing, but I do like to set the imagination of the audience going. Everything in The Lighthouse leads to a very definite ending, but I didn't feel the need to spell it out. There are a few strands of the story I leave the reader to wonder about. I had to be mindful, not keep things too hidden away. Fairly obvious conclusions can be drawn, but it seemed to fit the feel of the story and of Futh [the main protagonist] to build in this slight area of doubt.”
It shows a lot of confidence in a debut novelist, to leave so much between the lines. Perhaps the fact The Lighthouse was picked up by Salt Publishing before it was 100% finished fed this confidence. Perhaps her years practicing her craft as a short story writer did it. Whatever, it clearly works. Man Booker shortlistings don’t come to poorly played gambles.
And not just Man Booker recognition. Interest from the big screen as well. Just initial talks (aren’t they always), but the possibility is there. “I’m excited by the prospect of a film being made from The Lighthouse. I’m interested to see what someone else’s treatment of the story will be. I’d love to see what a good director can show me. I’m very mindful that any film would belong to the director. Their take might be rather different – I’m not precious about it.”
I believe her. Moore seems a very likeable sort of writer. Not the serious, fragile artiste I’d expected after reading her very literary, very melancholic novel. Rather, a writer who loves writing – someone who has kept it as a hobby for over a decade and is now treating the rest of the world to a talent which has been well honed.
The success has meant changes, of course. “I’ve been invited to speak at the Nottingham Festival of Words at the Lakeside Arts Centre. I was invited by the director, to whom I was a PA for many years.”

That must have been a mind bender, right? To while away at short stories in your spare time for years, and then suddenly be asked by your boss to come in as an honoured guest?
Staff at The Lakeside Arts Centre show their
support with Alison Moore Masks. Creepy.
Not a bit of it. “It’s a very lovely relationship, the one I have with the Lakeside. They’ve all been incredibly supportive of me. It’s all happened very quickly.”
And long may it continue. I’ll tell you the reasons I liked The Lighthouse when I get the review up soon, but for now, believe me when I say Alison Moore seems a writer deserving of recognition. A writer who simply enjoys writing. A writer generous with her time. A writer appreciative of the applause.
But above all, a writer with undeniable ability.

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