Nigel Jarrett is the author of Funderland, a collection of short stories which explore the complexity of human relationships. Funderland was widely reviewed in the national press at the time of its publication, in October 2011, and has been longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2012.
Lesley McDowell, writing for the Independent on Sunday, said you’re “not afraid of unusual perspectives”
Can you explain what she means by this? What should readers expect when they buy a copy of your book?
She was probably referring to one or two stories in which the traditionally formal element of construction is varied- in one case it’s epistolary (though the ‘letter’ concerned is not one that you could ever imagine anyone writing) and the other is annalistic-episodic; it’s broken up into events at different times and places, in India and in London. I hope readers will enjoy being introduced to unusual settings and unfamiliar lives. I wouldn’t want to tell them anything they already knew.
Funderland is the name of your title story, the tale of a big-dipper crash.
Do you enjoy writing dark and scary stories, why?
I’m a dark and scary person (I jest). The story you refer to is not about a fairground fatality as such, but the accident is the background to the events depicted. The survivor becomes emeshed in a relationship that may already have begun, in one case at least, before the accident happened. Sometimes it takes trauma to bring these things into the open.
For many of us, our feelings and desires are literally unspoken. But if you’ve seen two friends or relatives fall to their deaths from a Big Dipper and been badly injured yourself, it’s likely that your inhibitions were among the things that fell away. Not that such cause and effect applies here with any immediacy; but clearly there’s something going on: the movements of the couple (a man and his sister-in-law) are still ritualised around what amounts to a taboo – that of incest, though the relationship is not a blood one. Incest also crops up in another of the stories. This is not the stuff of nightmare. I think taboos should be dealt with candidly.
Google says there are three theme parks in Belfast, Limerick and Dublin named Funderland.
Do you base your stories on real-life locations and situations or do they come from your imagination?
I found out about the Irish Funderlands only when I Googled my book after it went on sale. All my locations are real-life ones to a certain extent, but in this case I though I’d made up a word. I’m a keen neologist and have a pair of binoculars to prove it. Funderland is the title of the fairground accident story for (a) obvious reasons and because (b) it reverberates throughout the collection, in which the ‘fun’ element is paradoxical (a lot of these happenings are not funny). The ‘wonderland’ part reflects the extraordinary world of human relationships.
As for real-life situations, none of my stories is autobiographical. My father often took me, my brother and sister and my mother from South Wales to Cornwall on holiday and, before the Severn Bridge was built, the journey often took twelve hours. But he’s not the disturbing stepfather in Watching The Birdie, which depicts a car journey to a sort of domestic hell.
You’ve been a reporter and music critic for many years.
How did you make the transition from journalist to poet?
There was no change of clothes. The designations are mutually exclusive. In any case, I was writing poetry and fiction while I was reporting and sub-editing, though writing for a living makes the assumption of one activity, while pursuing the other, much easier. Until this year, I’d never based a poem or a work of fiction on my life as a journalist. I have now. It’s a novel about a former Fleet Street crime bureau chief washed up on a provincial weekly newspaper. I know all about this stuff. Sensational events ensue, needless to say. I have high hopes of publication.
Journalists are trained to keep copy sharp and accurate but poetry seems a different way of working with words.
Has your experience as a journalist affect the way you write or is it just a case of adapting your style for different platforms?
All writing should be sharp and accurate. Journalism obviously makes you keen to obey the same rules whatever you’re committing to print. The main difficulty is in wanting to escape the strictures of an economical style, to be more effusive and elaborate. It’s like going on holiday and drinking too much. The great example is Evelyn Waugh, who had economy of literary means from the start. No-one knows where it originated – certainly not in the English of his day, in which ‘far-reaching propositions’ was always rendered as ‘propositions of a far-reaching character’. It’s called circumlocution and I’ve spent years banishing it from reporters’ copy. It’s Sod’s Law, of course, that some will identify it in these answers.
What’s it like to have the tables turned? Is it odd to see your work being critiqued instead of being a critic?
I don’t mind criticism, as long as it’s well-meant. ‘Tables turned’ suggests some kind of hostility. We’re all in this together though I feel that destructive criticism is often written for effect or notoriety and effusive praise for ease and to avoid trouble. Except in my case, where unbounded enthusiasm for my work is carefully-considered and well-meant. He said.
Short story collections are often tied together by a common theme or idea and critics have noted the stories in Funderland often deal with family relationships.
Would you agree with this and why? How long did the collection take to complete and is it organised in particular way?
Interesting. Four stories in the script submitted originally had to be dropped because my wonderful editor, Eluned Gramich, didn’t think much could be cut. So we were left with a quart of words and a pint-sized book. She noted the family theme, which I hadn’t. That’s the genius of editing. She was right, of course. We then knew which stories to drop.
Someone has also pointed out to me since publication that there’s a lot of sitting on settees , a lot of people staring out of windows and two ‘abstemious’ families. These are clearly deep psychological observations. I don’t know what they mean or whether they’re significant, and I hadn’t even noticed them. But I love it when readers pick up on things I’ve been unaware of. It proves there’s something else going on when stories are written
The collection is not ‘organised’ as such. Most of the stories had already appeared in literary magazines of solemn obscurity; in my more raffish moments I describe such publications as ‘underground’. But obviously I had to choose what to include out of the forty or so I’ve had published. I’m still writing – every day of every week – and not just stories.
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