"Carson McCullers, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, even The Magus. That’s the stuff I keep coming back to. They lure you in with this idea of strangeness." Benjamin Wood
Even the losers

Even the losers

Here’s a little thought experiment for you: imagine you’re sitting at a bar, flanked by two strangers. On your left, a fortyish New Jerseyite orders round after round, which he downs in hefty swigs while examining the sloppy, bloodstained bandages wrapped around his left hand. Catching you staring, with a...
A road less travelled

A road less travelled

When, in May 2013, in the middle of a deserted Polish forest 662 miles from home, I found myself being pulled to the ground by a salivating Alsatian intent it seemed on either wrestling the bag from my back or sinking its teeth into my arm, I remember very clearly...
Jim Shepard: Some kind of hero

Jim Shepard: Some kind of hero

Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron is a remarkable portrait of the complicated nature of heroism and courage in the face of human atrocity. His fictional commemoration of philanthropist and children’s educator-activist Dr Janusz Korczak is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy forced to live on his wits,...
The empress's new clothes

The empress’s new clothes

One of the things that crops up a lot if you set fantasy in a historical period is, what’s real? I wrote about a watchmaker who remembers the future and that was fun, but it made everything else in the book look like I might have made it all up....
Benjamin Wood by extension

Benjamin Wood by extension

Benjamin Wood’s second novel The Ecliptic opens on a snowy winter’s day on Heybeliada, an island off the coast of Istanbul where a gated retreat, known as Portmantle, is home to a collection of artists, writers, architects and musicians seeking refuge from the outside world. Amongst them is Elspeth Conroy,...
The first apparition

The first apparition

I was attending a local kindergarten at the time, so I must have been about five years old. The azaleas had bloomed a bright red at the top of the hill, and my sisters were out filling their baskets with freshly-picked shepherd’s purse, which means it had to be early...
Visiting hour

Visiting hour

The hospital room smelled of antiseptic cleaner, but it could not mask the odor of sickness. It was Michael’s eighty-fourth birthday. He did not feel like celebrating. He had just survived a week in the Intensive Care Unit after his kidneys, heart and lungs had failed. When he was moved...
Nell Zink takes flight

Nell Zink takes flight

I’d be prepared to put money on the fact that even if you haven’t read either of her novels – The Wallcreeper and Mislaid – you’ve still heard of Nell Zink. Having burst onto the literary scene last autumn with the publication of the former in the US (by the...
Up in the clouds

Up in the clouds

Wednesday 27 May We are late taking off. The Airbus sits unmoving on the tarmac, the stale air tasting of dust and the faint, tantalising possibility of disaster, while outside the New York City evening is blackening to night. In London, it is one am: in seven hours or so,...
Miracle at Hawk's Bay

Miracle at Hawk’s Bay

Matthew High. We knew it would be him. Even before Hannah turned him over, we just knew it. It was Annie who saw him from the road. “Look,” she said, and when she pointed at the dark shape out there in the shallow water, there was only one thought in...
The fifth wife

The fifth wife

Blessings sometimes travelled in pairs. And when they did, especially during a rainy season, there was a unanimous decision by the Gods to give way to them through the traffic of the living. They floated above the still moist beds of earth where cassava plants slept, bounced off the hard...
Valeria Luiselli: Pearls among junk

Valeria Luiselli: Pearls among junk

Valeria Luiselli’s second novel The Story of My Teeth is a fiercely intelligent, inventive and hilarious exploration of worth, value and creation in the worlds of art and literature. The narrator, Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, is an enterprising auctioneer who will use his skills to sell anything – even his own...
Kitsune

Kitsune

“Goblin foxes are peculiarly dreaded in Izumo for three evil habits attributed to them… The third and worst is that of entering into people and taking diabolical possession of them and tormenting them into madness. This affliction is called kitsune-tsuki. “The favourite shape assumed by the goblin fox for the purpose...
Jami Attenberg: How to be

Jami Attenberg: How to be

Jami Attenberg’s new novel Saint Mazie tells the fictionalised story of one of Manhattan’s real-life heroes of the early 20th century: Mazie Phillips-Gordon, the brassy, big-hearted proprietress of the Venice movie theatre in the Bowery who spent most of her adult life helping the homeless. In 1940 Joseph Mitchell profiled Mazie for...
Sunny Singh: Among the ruins

Sunny Singh: Among the ruins

Sunny Singh’s new novel Hotel Arcadia plunges readers into the midst of a terror attack in a 5-star hotel in an unnamed city. War photographer Sam, known for her haunting portraits of the recently dead, has picked the wrong place to wind down after her latest assignment, but can’t resist...
Shouting at a river

Shouting at a river

Standing over a bassinet in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the early hours of Christmas Eve, 2002, I contemplated what the hell my first act as a father should be. My Miss Marie had been dragged into the world, with suction, only a few minutes before, and after flunking...
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A subtle undertaking

A subtle undertaking

Paddy Buckley and his story with Vincent Cullen has been with me for twenty-three years. The basic spine of the plot came to me as a single idea while I was sitting with a bereaved family, making arrangements for their son, who’d been killed in a hit-and-run accident the night before. As I sat there...
Autobiography of a reader

Autobiography of a reader

I translate for myself, then for the novel, finally for any future reader. It is for the pleasure of the work of translating that I do it, but I can only begin when I meet a text that moves me as a reader – which for me means to write. Haroldo Conti’s Sudeste was the...
On the delta

On the delta

Between the Pajarito and the river that’s an open sea, turning sharply northwards, narrowing and narrowing at first, to almost half its size, then widening again and drawing curves towards its mouth, coiling in on itself, secluded in the first islands, is the Anguilas Stream. Beyond the final bend the open sea breaks into view,...
Being both

Being both

I love learning and that’s why I write novels. I’m not talking about research. I’m talking about the process when I sit down to write and empty my mind of everything I’ve ever known in order to make space for stories to emerge from within me. That’s when the real learning happens. It’s at these...
Housewarming

Housewarming

His grin shows off his molars, and he grips you with a handshake that could hold up a bridge. He announces his name like he’s its proud parent, and then holds your gaze in a vice so that when you mumble your own name back to him, it sounds like ‘Uncle’. When you turn a...
Friday in the park

Friday in the park

On the third Friday in June, Stephen decided it would be as good as time as any to leave the house. See, Stephen had been inside for nearly a month. That’s what happens after guys like Stephen lose their jobs. Get fired. Go home. Stay there. Indefinitely. Stephen had gained, I don’t know, maybe twenty...
Tania James: 'Lion and Panther in London'

Tania James: ‘Lion and Panther in London’

Some short stories exist as fragments of time, giving you the middle of a moment, letting you figure out what brought people to that moment and what will become of them long after that fragment. Some short stories are static, in a head, in a simple interaction. If written badly, uncontrolled or imprecisely, these short...
Hunters and hunted

Hunters and hunted

“Every morning the gazelle wakes up knowing that it has to run more swiftly than the lion or it will be killed. Every morning the lion awakens knowing that it has to run faster than the gazelle or it will die of hunger. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle: When the...
Campfire tales

Campfire tales

My bandanna is rolled on the diagonal and retains water fairly well. I keep it knotted around my head, and now and again dip it into the river. The water is forty-six degrees. Against the temples, it is refrigerant and relieving. This has done away with the headaches that the sun caused in days before....