BackStory: Four Questions with Sam Payne
Author of Torrey Canyon 1967
What inspired you to write ‘Torrey Canyon 1967’?
Some time ago I read article about the Torrey Canyon disaster. It was one of the world’s most serious oil spills and has left a devastating legacy. I wanted to write about it but at the time I didn’t know how, so I ended up abandoning the idea. Then whilst I was in lockdown, I was writing a great deal more than I normally do and this idea resurfaced. As I began to research it further I was struck by the witness reports. Many of the people that witnessed the event understandably found it hard to articulate the enormity of what was happening. I guess in some ways I just wanted to give those witnesses a voice.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
There were so many interesting facts and details. This disaster and the mistakes that were made at the time shaped how oil spills would be dealt with in the future. One image that stays with me but didn’t make the final piece was of fishermen crying over their pints in the pubs. This was because they were terrified of the effect this would have on their livelihoods. It was devastating for so many people.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
Favourite? Finishing a story and being happy with it because I like to have a sense of completion. Least favourite? Everything that comes before!! No, I’m joking. My least favourite part of the process is when nothing seems to come easy and writing feels like a struggle, these are hard days but I’m slowly learning that they are part of the process and that some stories just need more time and space.
What do you like most about writing flash?
I love how experimental it can be and how much fun that is. With flash there is this opportunity to try out all these different voices and different formats and I love the variety. Also, as a mum, I write in small pockets of time and flash is something that seems to suit that really well.