DAVID ROSE LIVES IN ASHFORD. He was forty when his debut story was published in the Literary Review. He has since had around three dozen stories published in literary magazines and anthologies, as well as a mini-collection, Stripe. His first novel, Vault, was published in 2011 (Salt Publishing) and a new story, ‘Puck’ has just been published as a chapbook by Nightjar Press. The story he’s contributed to Still is about the ongoing decay of language expressed in three pages of pure bliss.
Has writing always been a part of your life?
In my teens and twenties I wrote sporadic poetry, as many do, but with no serious intention of being published. Much later, in my mid-thirties, I suddenly had an idea for a short story. I had never written fiction before, so I wrote it more from curiosity.
At the time, I was working with a woman whose daughter worked with Graham Swift’s wife, and recommended his work; it was around the time he was writing Waterland, an extract from which had been published in Granta. I then read his first novel, The Sweetshop Owner, which I admired. Through that tenuous connection with him, I wrote to him, enclosing the story. He was diplomatically encouraging, and I decided to take it a little further.
I joined a Creative Writing workshop in Staines, an evening class, which continued for some years with a nucleus of writers re-enrolling year to year, giving them/us the confidence to be objective in our criticisms of each other’s work. I enjoyed it very much.
It was at that time that I had my first story published, in The Literary Review, which had then recently come under the editorship of Auberon Waugh (I still have his hand-written letter – in blue fountain pen ink – accepting the story, after an eighteen month wait).
Sadly, I had less time to attend, and the nucleus was breaking up, so it all came to an end. I carried on writing on my own; there is no writing community I’m aware of in Ashford – it is quite small.
In a workshop/evening class, naturally the emphasis is on brevity, to give everyone a fair hearing, hence poetry and short stories were the staple (and I think the discipline of poetry is one most novelists would benefit from). But I think that the short story is the form that most suited me anyway; you can take far more risks.
So the short story was my natural form, and I had around four dozen published over the years in magazines here and in Canada. But when one attempts to interest publishers/agents in a collection, the question is always: are you working on a novel? I became so fed up with this that I started writing a novel just in order to say, yes, I’m working on one, here in the meantime is my story collection.
Needless to say, it never worked; I finished the novel, Vault, and after showing it to a couple of publishers, put it in the drawer. It was Nick Royle who, in a casual conversation which touched on novels, asked to read it, and passed it on to his agent before then taking on the role himself.
While we were still attempting to place it, he suggested writing a longer novel, which might be easier to place, since publishers buy fiction by the yard in Britain. I started one, carried on, finished it, and that now is in the drawer, where it will remain.
Vault was written in the Staines branch of Pizza Express, do you still go there to write?
As Vault was a new genre, I needed a new writing discipline, which is where Pizza Express came in. I worked close by and went there for lunchtime coffee, with free biscuits, courtesy of a plump waitress who felt – maybe out of annoyance – that I needed fattening up. I would use that break to read, but decided to write instead, every workday writing something, however unusable, then revising and planning in the evenings. The discipline of regularity helped; it’s like riding a fixed-wheel bike – the momentum keeps you going.
I no longer work in Staines, and am no longer writing.
Do you spend a lot of time perfecting a story? When do you decide you’ve finished and you’re happy?
All my work was done initially in long hand, in pencil, to keep the draft as fluid as possible for as long as possible (it hardens once it is typed), and would be revised, then left for a few weeks, then revised again, until I became fed up with tinkering and would type it up, correct it and send it out. There is never a point where you feel satisfied with a story, only bored.
Why did you select this photograph?
I chose the OkeyKokey photograph immediately because it struck a nostalgic chord with me. Whole worlds, epochs, are summoned up in such phrases, and are lost with the loss of those phrases. I find myself at an age where remarks, words, allusions – to such things as threepenny bits or Blakeys – are met with blank stares. So I find the whole issue of language decay melancholic. And having to master computer skills made me feel even more alienated by the jargon.
This is, I think, at the root of the problem of old age: not physical age but cultural alienation, and the fact that the elderly, being no longer thought of as useful, are no longer thought of; they become invisible.
Do you often work with artists and/or use visual materials as inspiration?
‘Sere’ is the first story to be commissioned as a response to a photograph, but many stories have begun as responses to paintings, or in one case an African sculpture. The first, The Literary Review story, was the result of visiting the exhibition of Picasso’s sketchbooks; more specifically, from the catalogue introduction by Claude Picasso, expressing his feelings at seeing in galleries things he had grown up with as a child – including his toys, turned into sculptures by his father.
Other stories had similar genesis, in one case, a series of Munch paintings arranged at random, as a way of breaking the habit of plot. A more recent example, to appear in Unthology 3 in November, describes a guided tour of an art gallery for the blind, again based on a series of paintings (on postcards) arranged to form ostensibly a history of art.
And the new Nightjar Press story, which I at first refused to do, as I don’t usually write in the macabre, came from another Picasso painting, the composition of which was based on a visual pun, that of a jar as a memorial of a friend of Picasso’s of that name (Jarra).
Music too has sometimes been the starting point, and a second story in Unthology 3, probably my last, concerns the real-life case of Joyce Hatto, the pianist whose husband plagiarized other recordings on her behalf. It is a poignant story (the real one), and the fictional version has an appropriate valedictory feel.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am no longer writing.