Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with this year's winner Andrew Salomon
Andrew Salomon is the 2015 Short.Sharp.Stories Best Story Judges’ Choice Winner for his story ‘Train 124’. He works as an archaeologist in Cape Town, having gained a master’s degree from the Institute for Archaeology at University College London. His short fiction has appeared in numerous collections locally and abroad, including the inaugural Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Bloody Satisfied.
Welcome back to the Short.Sharp.Stories Anthology and congratulations! How does it feel to be this year’s winner?
Thank you! It’s an honour to have won. And my family has recently grown, so the prize money comes at a very welcome time.
As a repeat contributor how did writing this year’s story ‘Train 124’ differ from writing ‘A Beautiful Partnership’ for Bloody Satisfied?
I wrote the story for Bloody Satisfied particularly for that collection, but I had already started on ‘Train 124’ when I learned of the theme for this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories being ‘Incredible Journey’. There was a fortuitous alignment of the competition’s theme and the story I was already writing. A lot of ‘Train 124’ is borrowed from actual experience – more so than any other short story I have written – and I guess that confirms that truth is often stranger than fiction.
You must’ve taken a lot of journeys to write this story. That said, what does this year’s topic, ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?
I’m on a new incredible journey after I became a dad again in May, although at the moment it feels as if, when I speak or write, I’m broadcasting from the land of the sleep deprived. I have a real fondness for stories and characters that evolve through a journey or a quest – these experiences have the power to strip away a lot that is artificial and to leave a distilled, more authentic version of yourself, at least for a while.
Your story takes us inside the mind of a person who is hyper sensitive. What inspired this choice?
I had collected at least three months worth of bizarre, funny and shocking real-life experiences and observations that I was keen to concentrate into one short story, showing a single train trip. In order for this to be believable I came up with the idea of relating the story through the eyes of someone with a neurodevelopmental disorder, someone who focuses intently on his or her surroundings and constantly picks out the minutiae.
Why did you specifically choose neurodevelopmental disorder?
I wanted to write from the first-person perspective to allow the reader to experience the story through the eyes of the character, to hopefully give a more visceral experience. In my research I also learned that there are many people with these so-called neurodevelopmental disorders who make it work for them, and this was something I was also keen to explore.
Did you, as someone without this disorder, naturally pick up on the specific details you mention or did you have to pay extra attention?
I think writers naturally pay close attention to their environment, since there’s often something you can borrow for a story. Once I started taking note of the graffiti in the carriages, the conversations that you cannot help but overhear and the reactions of the passengers to other people or circumstances that are funny or challenging, I became very attuned and had more than enough material to work with. And since I’m still taking the train I now keep picking up details and often I observe something that I wish I could have included in the story.
For your character it seems like every journey is an ‘incredible journey’. Most of what you wrote was created from your experience but did you do any specific research on what would plague someone with sensory hypersensitivity?
I did a lot of reading about the effect of sensory hypersensitivity and the behaviours it can lead to. And I also watched many interviews with people who have such conditions, to get an idea of how it complicates and sometimes enriches their lives, and also how it contributes to their sense of self.
Describe your fiction writing process. Is it disciplined and 9-5pm or do you need to be in the mood?
With two small children and a day job there’s no such luxury as waiting for the muse. So my writing process is disciplined in the sense that when I do have a window of time to write in, I take it. Writing is hard (and to be worthwhile it should be) so waiting until you’re in the mood won’t yield much at all, and even if you have to drag the words out from some almost-incomprehensible place within yourself and you have to wrestle them down on the page where they look as rough as can be, at least you’ve got hold of them and you have created the opportunity to rewrite and polish.
As a winning author, what short story writing tip can you share?
Write a story you would love to read yourself. Don’t try and predict what you think competition judges may or may not be looking for. If you go out on a limb and write something you find yourself pleasantly surprised by, chances are good that others will experience your writing in the same way.
Do you believe you have a role in promoting South Africans’ interest in reading?
In my view, the primary role of a writer is to write good stories. When a reader can get swept along by a story and they have an emotional response to it, and you create the desire in someone to inhabit the world created by your story, they will be interested in reading. One of my novels, The Chrysalis, is a set work for Grade Nine learners and I hope it does just that. I also hope that making use of the incredible creatures found in African mythology will encourage local interest in reading. I did this in my previous novel, a fantasy thriller, called Tokoloshe Song.
What can we expect from you next?
I’ve recently finished my next novel, a dark speculative fiction tale called The Equilibrist, and I’m hoping to get a literary agent.
Interview by Liz Sarant
Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens