David Gates & Thomas Morris – Stories in the Spirit of Raymond Carver – 17th August 2015.
What’s most interesting about Thomas Morris and David Gates’ event is that we get to see two writers at very different stages in their career discussing common experiences. Thomas’s debut story collection We Don’t Know What We’re Doing is up for the First Book Award; David was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and he’s been a writer of several forms for decades, the latest of which is A Hand Reached Down To Guide Me.
Short story culture is very healthy in literary journals, but in the mainstream it doesn’t appear as common, especially for a debut. “It was really easy,” Thomas jokes. “It was interesting for me. Short story culture is so strong in Ireland publishers are willing to take the risk. Maybe I was lulled into a false sense of security there.
“I didn’t set out to write a collection, but I just get writing. I had a story, and then I had another one, and they had things in common. I did write a novel, but it was dreadful. Nothing happened, but nothing happened really slowly.”
David has written in both long and short form, but “it’s been more short fiction recently. I hope to write another novel but it’ll be shorter than the other two. Well, I hope so or my editor will be upset. It’s due in a year, a year in June, I don’t have a word of it.” He has a background in journalism too. “I see to thrive on deadlines.”
The event title talks of Raymond Carver, and his writing was notoriously overhauled into the great works they are now by his editor. “The editor made Carver better than he was ever going to be,” says David. Look at the first and final drafts of Why Don’t You Dance? and “you’ll see what wonders a good editor can do.”
As for their relationship with their craft, David laughs, “I can’t think of a fun answer, so I’ll try answer it straight. My perception is that a collection is collecting all the stuff you wrote.” As for his evolution, “teaching has had a lot to do with it. I’m conscious of students looking over my shoulder. I had to edit earlier stories that did exactly what I discouraged them from doing. It’s good to find new ways to solve old problems.”
New writers, take note. It’s said that the first draft is always rubbish, and both authors have had pretty stern views of the originals of their work. “Reading over the first draft is awful,” says Thomas. “You think ‘This is awful, make it a little less awful’. Reading it back is awful.” So, awful then?
“When you finish a story it feels so good,” continues Thomas. “I think ‘I’ve written a masterpiece!’” Then, the next day or whenever he reads it back, you like maybe a line or two here or there, but rarely.
“It’s painful to write, painful to look at,” says David.Though, they evidently end up with work they do enjoy so the first draft is just a hurdle on the road of writing.
Another important notion for aspiring writers is that of intention. ‘My intention was…’ – to see the book through to your intention takes away the fun of discovering new twist and turns as you go. Follow where the text takes you.