BackStory: Five Questions with Helen Chambers
Author of Evie Girl
What inspired you to write ‘Evie Girl’?
A photo of a window with four panes, with a small, ragged hole in the bottom right hand corner and cracks spreading throughout the pane. It was difficult to see what lay through the window, but it appeared to be grass – an ordinary garden, and an extraordinary happening. I wondered what might have caused the hole, and about the shock waves spreading through a family on the receiving end of a ‘punishment’ shooting.
What is your favourite piece of historical flash, prose poetry or hybrid work? What do you like about it?
I think that Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light we Cannot See could be described as a flash-novel. It comprises three story strands which move ever closer together, circling each other before becoming intertwined. Each strand is divided into tiny pieces which stand alone – and are, I would say, flash fiction – and progress the story. Quite apart from being the most compelling and well-written story, it’s a masterpiece of planning and organisation.
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers and why?
I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and several of Isabel Allende’s books – basically where the writing is so good it draws me right into the story so that I feel I’m there, experiencing life with the narrator. I enjoy the perspective of an unexpected narrator, like, for example, Ann Hathaway in Hamnet. I also especially admire Fiona J Mackintosh’s historical flash pieces.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
My most favourite part of writing is editing, and my least favourite is writing first drafts. I am a skilled procrastinator and have been known to avoid starting for weeks at a time. Once the painful first draft is on the paper (usually handwritten, often in an illegible scrawl) I do my first edit as I transfer it to computer. I can rearrange, restructure, rewrite, hack, cut, trim, tweak, and polish to my heart’s content, and I find this process hugely enjoyable. I would always rather edit something old than write a first draft of something new, especially when it’s only a half-formed wisp floating in the back of my head.
If you could have three historical figures over for dinner, who would they be?
I’d like to stretch the invite to four, please, and invite my great-grandmothers. I know little scraps about each of them, though I never met any of them, and would love to get to know them and find out more about my own family, and how we all fit together.
Helen is a writer from North East Essex, UK. She won the Fish Short Story in 2018 and was nominated for Best Microfictions in 2019 and a Pushcart Prize in 2021. She writes flash and short stories and you can read some of her publications at: helenchamberswriter.wordpress.com.