Following on from the longlist announcement of the 2016/17 GBP Short Story Prize, we asked each of the thirteen writers three questions about themselves, their story, and their inspirations. Here's Linda McVeigh, whose longlisted short story Back Seat is available to read as a digital single. You'll also find a short biography of Linda after her answers.
(1) Tell us a little about yourself – how long have you been writing? Any publications?
I’ve been writing since 2006, when I joined a creative writing course at Sussex University. I was lucky enough to have an inspiring, critical but kind, teacher, Umi Sinha, who encouraged me then and encourages me now. My first success was winning the Charleston Small Wonder Short Story Festival slam in 2007, which was hugely motivating. I’ve done a few more live-lit events since then and enjoy the scary, but character-building, experience of reading to a live audience and getting their reaction to my work first-hand.
I have tended not to submit stories to publications for various reasons (restrictive word counts, long waits, work not ‘fluffy’ enough to meet submission criteria, etc) but do enter two or three competitions every year in an effort to get my work out there and build my CV. One of my competition successes, The Asham Award, resulted in my story, All Over the Place, being published in Virago’s anthology, Something Was There, but I haven’t got anything else in print yet, so thank you, Galley Beggar Press, for publishing the longlisted stories.
(2) Specifically, tell us a bit more about your longlisted story – the inspiration behind it, the writing of it…
I lived in Turkey for five years and, while there was much that I did and do love about that country, I never came to terms with the way women were expected to adhere to different values from men. In Back Seat, I wanted to explore the theme of ‘honour’ – a concept that has specific value in Turkish culture – and which can sometimes result in horrific acts being carried out to ‘repair’ dishonour.
Some elements of the story are based on the truth. For example, I have made the long car journey from ‘Yeşilköy’ (not its real name) to Belen myself. I have spent hours listening to Sezen Aksu laments while our car remained trapped behind mattress-laden lorries on narrow roads, I have eaten lahmacun and tripe soup (only the once) in roadside cafes and seen the dawn break over Mersin. Sadly, I have also heard too many stories about women who were accused of bringing shame to their families.
My story has a strong female protagonist, Yeter, who is literally expected to take the back seat as she accompanies her father and brother on a journey along the south coast of Turkey. I chose to tell the story in the present tense and from Yeter’s point of view, in the hope that the reader would feel like a fellow traveller on her journey.
(3) Name three short story writers you especially admire – why?
As other respondents have pointed out, this is so unfair! Three? Where do you even begin?
Jhumpa Lahiri – I use her story A Real Durwan in one of the creative writing classes I teach and every time I come back to it, I see something I didn’t notice before. Lahiri is a master of creating character and place.
Junot Diaz’s collection, Drown, is brilliant and really packs a punch, especially the stories that make you feel as if he’s standing five inches away from your face, relating – or maybe yelling – the story to you in his unique voice.
How could I not mention some of my other long-time favourites, like Flannery O’Connor, Jane Gardam, William Trevor, Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Mansfield?
And what about the more contemporary writers I admire, like Stewart Evers, Alison McLeod and Kate Clanchy?
Okay… for my third choice I’m going to give a shout-out to Melanie Whipman because I’m in the middle of reading her debut collection, Llama Sutra, right now. Some of the stories in this collection are very short – six pages or so – but contain a world of emotion, often seasoned with surreal, black humour. I first heard one of them, Peacock Girl, at a reading event in Brighton and it stayed with me for a long, long time. That’s all you really need from a good story, isn’t it?
Linda McVeigh grew up in London, lived in Turkey for five years, and now lives on the south coast. She has been writing for ten years or so and teaching for about five. During that time, she has won the Charleston Small Wonder Short Story Festival slam (in 2007 and again in 2011), the Rainy Cities Short Stories prize in 2010 and the 2011 Asham Award, judged by Sarah Waters. Her story All Over the Place was published in ‘Something Was There’ (Virago, 2011). She also won the inaugural Brighton Prize in 2014. She loves the constraints of writing short stories but is also writing a novel, set in a small Turkish town in the closing decades of the twentieth century. She writes about the lives of ordinary people and hates superfluous adjectives and adverbs.