Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Robert Shearman Interview (with Charles Tan)

Robert Shearman

First off, what is it about the short story format that appeals to you?

I love the economy of it. I love the way, quite genuinely, that you can work on a piece of writing and know that every single word has to justify its place. I think in longer pieces I write it's sometimes hard to stay focused on that, and inevitably to keep the overall pacing and rhythm right you get tempted by padding and detours. And speaking as really rather a lazy writer, who wants to get from First Idea to the endorphin rush of The End, I am thrilled that I can start work on a project on a Monday morning, and by Tuesday evening it may all be finished. It gives you so much more chance to celebrate and feel clever.

You've written for a lot of other mediums, such as plays. What are some skills that work well when transitioning from plays to fiction?

The joy of theatre - and also the terror of it! - is that you never escape the verdict of your audience. You may think you have written the smartest or funniest thing ever, but night after night, as you sit in that darkened auditorium, listening to the reaction of strangers around you, you're given a pretty honest wake-up call. There's no sound more grim, or more undisguised, than an audience who is bored. And the first thing you want to do is snatch back your play and just cut out all the bits during which people were yawning. I came to prose pretty late, after fifteen years or so exclusively writing drama - and I suppose my first instincts are to try to avoid all the boring bits. I can always imagine that theatre audience on my shoulder, even now I'm scribbling in paragraphs and punctuation, and I do my best to keep them awake.

There's a certain level of absurdity in your writing. In your opinion, what are the strengths or absurdity and comedy ?

The danger of absurdism is that it takes the reader to a world where nothing makes sense, and therefore nothing matters. But if it's used carefully - if you break the normality very precisely, and only in a specific area, leaving the rest of reality intact - then the comic contrast is really rewarding. You can break the rules of what the reader expects, so long as you stick to the ones you want to obey with strict rigour! Comedy's wonderful. There's nothing so dark or so emotional that it can't be told through comedy. Comedy and horror are the two things that deliberately try to provoke an audible reaction from the audience - and they're not so very far apart.

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