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Nina Killham interviews Roelof Bakker

Still writer Nina Killham interviewed Roelof Bakker for her blog a couple of days ago and asked him about the background to Still and Strong Room and how Negative Press London came about. Read her post, here
Roelof Bakker 16 years old

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Q&A | Nina Killham

‘Still’ writer Nina Killham at the <em>Still</em>launch

Nina Killham at the ‘Still’ book launch

NINA KILLHAM currently lives in Melbourne. She is the author of three novels: How to Cook a TartMounting Desire and Believe Me. She also writes short stories and screenplays. For Still she contributed ‘My Wife the Hyena’, which has been selected for inclusion in the annual anthology The Best British Short Stories 2013 (Salt), which is published next week. She’s currently writing a historical novel set in Singapore just before the Japanese invasion.

Why and when did you decide to become a writer?

Writing for me has been a way of processing my life. I’ve had a lot of change in my life. My father was a diplomat and so we moved every three years. I was always the new kid on the block, always the outsider, looking in, taking notes. I was writing in my mind long before I was putting it on paper. And once I began I couldn’t stop. The downside is that sometimes I become a spectator in my life rather than a participant. It’s something I’m trying to change.

How do you fit time in to write?
My children are growing up and I thought it would get easier to find the time to write. In fact it’s sometimes harder. Yes, they are out of the house longer going to school but I probably worry about them more. I wrote my first novel around my daughter’s naps. And it showed. My daughter wasn’t a big sleeper so my first draft was a series of little snippets written in about twenty minutes. I’ve recently taken to writing in my bed. Since we moved to Melbourne from north London, I have the most beautiful view outside my window: beautiful spring green Honey Locust trees waving in the wind. So I prop myself up with my laptop and stare out and eventually get some work done.

Is life in the sunshine affecting your approach to writing?
Life in the sunshine. Ah, can’t tell you how lovely it is. I had forgotten sunshine! The people are sunnier as well. Not sure how it will affect my writing. But I am getting it done and for that I’m very grateful. Of course the flat whites are probably a huge help.

Does the short story format offer the opportunity to do something different and let your hair down so to speak?
What let my hair down was that I was not trying to please an editor, an agent, or a perceived ‘buyer’ of my fiction. I’d been writing novels to a varying degree of success. When I approached my fourth, my third had just come out and sank without a trace. I suddenly became very panicky about ever getting published again. So I started looking to see what worked; what was sold, what was marketable. I drove myself and others mad. So when you asked for submissions I delighted to write what I wanted. I felt free and the entire experience has been the utmost pleasure.

Do you have a secret/unpublished collection of short fiction?
I do have a collection! You astute man! The stories circle around a north London primary school. Surprise, surprise. One day, perhaps, after they’ve matured a bit in my cellar, I will sort them out.

Story or novel?
There is nothing more satisfying to read than a good short story. That intense concentration rewarded with a pungent ending thought. I tend, though, to read more novels as they are something to sink into, to completely immerse myself in another world. I also think novels, though more time consuming and horribly muddy and murky at times, are easier to write. Bigger canvas. You get to splash more paint about. Mistakes get lost in the length. Short stories, to be effective, require more control, a sharper focus.

‘The Mayor's Parlour’, ‘Still, Roelof Bakker

‘The Mayor’s Parlour’ from ‘Still’. ©2013 Roelof Bakker

Where did the inspiration for ‘My Wife the Hyena’ come from?
The title came first. In fact I’d wanted to write a story called ‘My Wife the Hyena’ for a while because I’ve long noticed the similarities between society’s perception of hyenas and women. A bit too pushy, a bit too gamey and earthy, possessed of a mean streak, with wicked, raucous laughter… When I saw your photograph I immediately saw how it could work. What I found evocative about your photos was the idea that even though there was no one in the rooms you felt a presence. It was as if someone had just stepped away. The photo I picked with the desk and the coat rack seemed so lonely. It spoke to me of a long, dutiful, rigid and utterly lonely life. Who knows what another viewer would have made of it. That was what was brilliant about Still. So many takes on one body of work.

How did you find working with a visual artist?
I loved working with a visual artist. I can spend hours looking at paintings and photography. In fact I always ask for art books for my birthday. So when you sent me the photographs it felt like something I do on my time off anyway and it really sparked my imagination. I’m also a Sunday painter and wish I was better. So I was just thrilled to be working with you.

Do you use visuals as inspiration for your writing?
I don’t usually. Perhaps I should. My first three novels were contemporary satires so I didn’t think to look at pictures. Currently I’m writing a historical novel and I am looking at photographs of the time. They inspire me in the sense I am trying very hard to impart my visual fascination with the era into words.

How do you approach a new writing project?
It differs. My first novel was fun because I didn’t know better. I just wrote what I thought was amusing and luckily I found an agent and editor who agreed. The second and third I had to approach more professionally, with a little more of an eye to what I thought might be of interest to readers. With my latest book, the historical novel, I have been fairly calculated, trying to come up with something my agent would approve of. And yet at the same time I have had to make sure it’s something that resonates with me, that truly fascinates me. Otherwise it will fall flat.

What are you working on at the moment?
It’s a historical novel set in Singapore right before the Japanese invasion. I find the Peranaken culture – which is a mixture of Chinese and Malay – fascinating. The book is a bit of an octopus at the moment as all the characters are coming alive and saying what they think. Which is brilliant. But I always find the length of novels cumbersome. It’s like being in a dark wood and I can’t see the path in front or behind. I lose my way in my own novel.

Favourite writers?
I love Evelyn Waugh. Handful of Dust would have to be my favourite book. I reread it regularly and laugh deliciously at his viciousness. The way the book ends is sheer brilliance. Graham Greene is another favourite. The Quiet American in particular. I’m coming to the age, unfortunately, where I forget everything I read almost as soon as I close the book. But I loved Life of Pi and oldies but goodies like Love in the Time of Cholera. Now that I’m in Australia I’m immersing myself in its literature. I recently read a gorgeous book called Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany. Just beautiful.

Advice to budding writers?
Advice to a budding writer? Had you asked me that ten years ago I would have said just write, write, write, and eventually you will learn your craft and you will get an agent who will get you a publisher. But now, I don’t know. I feel like so much has changed in the publishing world that it’s barely recognizable. And yes, I suppose, in the end, my advice would be the same. The write, write, write, part anyway. After that I’d probably add, learn your social media to make contacts. Mainly I’d say, be bold. Be you.

‘Still’, Negative Press London

‘Still’, Negative Press London

Any thoughts on the future of publishing?
Off the top of my head I think more small boutique online publishers will crop up. They will offer both ebooks and print but they will have zoomy websites and striking social media skills. They will create followers who will buy their books in the way people will buy branded clothes or music. Their customers will trust these publishers to pick books that they will like and be interested in. They will then create forums for the readers/customers to connect. Because as the world gets more connected and more overwhelming with choice, people will rely on book publishing brands to keep the noise at bay. A perfect example of this are the books published by Peirene Press. A wide eclectic stable of writers under one brief: short European literature. You want one of these, you go to Meike Ziervogel (publisher Peirene Press). She’s collecting the best. My two cents anyway…



The Best British Short Stories 2013

The Best British Short Stories 2013



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‘Still’ | Shortlisted for Saboteur Indy Lit Award

Still is shortlisted in the Saboteur Indy Lit Awards for Best Mixed Anthology. Congratulations to all the talented Still writers and many thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of the book.

Readers are invited to vote for the book, details at Saboteur Shortlist

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David Hebblethwaite’s story-by-story review of ‘Still’

DAVID HEBBLETHEWAITE is a renowned book blogger from Yorkshire, who reviews both novels and short fiction on his blog Follow the Thread. He also writes reviews for The Huffington PostStrange HorizonsWe Love This Book and Fiction Uncovered. He’s a big supporter of the short story format and since the end of September, he has reviewed every story that appears in Still – in chronological order. We’ve listed a brief excerpt from each individual review below, or you can read the full reviews here.

Foyles, Charing Cross Road, Still in Anthologies

‘Still’ on sale at Foyles

And the ending is a real shock to the system. ‘Midnight Hollow’ – Mark Piggott

But, for those four pages, the author convinces you it’s all true. ‘My Wife, The Hyena’ – Nina Killham

I also love the way Blackman transforms the imagery of dirt trailing down a wall; the ending of ‘Sanctuary’ becomes as much a tableau as one of Bakker’s photographs. ‘Sanctuary’ – Andrew Blackman

Wyld  keeps the atmosphere suitably unsettling, and any hope she offers comes with its own nagging doubt. ‘Corridor’ – Evie Wyld

There’s a neat reversal in this story, and I like Frey’s use of the staircase as an image and venue. ‘The Staircase Treatment’ – Myriam Frey

The choppy rhythms of van Mersbergen’s prose underline the sense of unease, up to a rather chilling end. ‘Pa-Dang’ – Jan van Mersbergen

The titular rose acts a symbol of the family’s hope – something to keep growing in the garden, and not to remove, for fear of angering the landlord. ‘A Rose For Raha’ – Ava Homa

Royle tops it off with a dark twist at the end. ‘The Blind Man’ – Nicholas Royle

It’’s amusing to read, but also leaves one with the nagging thought of just how easily that sort of thing could happen… ‘From the Archive’ – James Miller

Details of ‘real’ life are heightened through their transformation into Hershman’s science-fiction idiom, and the ending is especially poignant. ‘Switchgirls’ – Tania Hershman

Rechner makes good use of sensory detail to convey the stuffy and intense atmosphere of the theatre. ‘The Playwright Sits Next to Her Sister’ – Mary Rechner

Hussein reveals the full possibilities only gradually, and even then keeps the truth ambiguous. ‘The Tree at the Limit’ – Aamer Hussein

Just as Beard’s piece blurs the line between fact and fiction, so it effectively portrays lifts as simultaneously useful and threatening spaces. ‘Life Under Inspection, Do Not Touch’ – Richard Beard

This is a nicely paced story, with an effective sting in its ending. ‘Odd Job’ – Preeta Samarasan

What follows is a snappy, rhythmic jaunt through the cacophony of modern life. ‘Noise’ – James Higgerson

 ‘A Job Worth Doing’ is more a celebration of what has passed. ‘A Job Worth Doing’ – SJ Butler

Rose captures a certain stiff formality in the voice of his protagonist; and the range of details focused on creates an effective sense of diffuseness. ‘Sere’ – David Rose

This piece is both a portrait of the emotional value that books can have to someone; but it’s also a poignant tale of loss… ‘Morayo’ – Sarah Ladipo Manyika

A well-constructed mosaic of events from Justin Hill’s life, with recurring themes of memory and going through doors. ‘Waiting’ – Justin Hill

What gives this story its edge is a clear sense that this is a false hope, and that the protagonist can’t move on in life because she won’t let go of the idea. ‘Ten A Day’ – Jan Woolf

‘Opportunity’ provides an elegant and broad examination of its issues. ‘Opportunity’ – Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende

Its supernatural twist gives this tale a very effective chill. ‘In the Dressing Room Mirror’ – Claire Massey

I like the ambiguity in the ending of this piece, and especially how it illuminates the narrator’s character. ‘The Owl at the Gate’ – Nicholas Hogg

Definitely a story that carries greater force than its length might suggest. ‘Still’ – SL Grey

This absorbing read takes a shocking turn. ‘How to Make a Zombie’ – Deborah Klaassen

A fine note on which to end the anthology. ‘Winter Moon’ – Xu Xi

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Photographs from ‘Still’ launch event, 26 September 2012 at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London

THANK YOU! Negative Press London says a BIG thanks to all the writers (reading/non-reading) who were at the Still launch event in the Gallery at Foyles, as well to all the people who came for what was a very lively entertaining literary evening.

The readings went down a storm and the audience really enjoyed the mix of writing and related photography. It was a special treat to hear the stories read out with such passion and panache. Q&As, discussions and mingling followed!

Thanks to the writers who were there: SJ Butler, Myriam Frey, Tania Hersham, James Higgerson, Justin Hill, Nicholas Hogg, Aamer Hussein, Nina Killham, Deborah Klaassen (thanks for setting up Facebook event), Claire Massey, James Miller, Jan Woolf and Evie Wyld.

And thanks to the writers who were there in spirit: Richard Beard, Andrew Blackman, SL Grey, Ava Homa, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Jan van Mersbergen, Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende, Mark Piggott, Mary Rechner, David Rose, Nicholas Royle, Preeta Samarasan and Xu Xi.

A big cheers to Paul Savage for a fantastic bar service and to David Owen at Foyles for five star help and organisation.

All photographs by Roman Skyva,

If anyone has any photographs they want to share, email to (max file width 1000px at 72dpi, if possible)

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‘Still’ exhibition at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London – until 30 October

The Green Room

‘Still’: an exhibition of photographs and excerpts from related stories

An exhibition of photographs from Still by Roelof Bakker has opened at Foyles, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EB.

Twenty large size photographs of vacated spaces at Hornsey Town Hall are exhibited in two separate spaces: the Café on the first floor and the Gallery on the third floor.

In line with the approach of the literary art book, each photograph is accompanied by a brief excerpt from the related story with the writer’s name and story’s title included.

With excerpts from stories by Andrew Blackman, SL Grey, Tania Hershman, Justin Hill, Ava Homa, Claire Massey, Jan van Mersbergen, James Miller and Evie Wyld.

With excerpts from stories by Richard Beard, SJ Butler, James Higgerson, Nicholas Hogg, Nina Killham, Deborah Klaassen, Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende, Mark Piggott, Preeta Samarasan and Jan Woolf.

Justin Hill, Waiting, from Still Negative Press London 2012

Excerpt from ‘Waiting’ by Justin Hill to accompany the print ‘The Green Room’

The book itself was launched at Foyles on 26 September in the Gallery with a literary event including readings by Tania Hershman, Justin Hill, Nicholas Hogg, Aamer Hussein, James Miller (with Jan Woolf) and Evie Wyld as well as a screening of the video film from the project with other visuals.


Negative Press London and Foyles have also launched a short story competition.


20 C-type prints from negative film with film information borders, size 50cm x 50cm, framed. 20 plagues with story excerpts mounted on foam board.

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