Asham Award interview

In 2006 my short story ‘The Wing’ won the Asham Award. This award was incepted by the Asham Literary Endowment trust to encourage and promote new writing by women. Please take a look at their website.

The below interview with me originally appeared on the Asham Award website, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Camilla Dinkel, the author.

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Annie Kirby, winner of the Fifth Asham Award,
talks to Camilla Dinkel

Annie Kirby makes it sound very simple.  One morning she woke with the image in her mind of a man wiping the face of a dead child. In the hour it took her to walk to work near her home in Dorset the whole story had formed in her mind.  By the end of the day she had written the first draft of her prize winning story, The Wing.

‘It sort of catherine-wheeled out from this central image’ she explains.  The result is a powerful and structurally complex story of a catastrophe set amongst European immigrants in a mining community somewhere in the States.  From the foreshadowing of the disaster in the first sentence to that final arresting image, the narrative rolls along in a light, steely prose that carries an astonishing weight of emotion, leaving the reader slightly breathless.

It is an impressive piece of writing which more than satisfies Annie’s own criterion of a good short story, that it should take a short time to read, but remain a long time in your head.

Annie Kirby has been writing ‘ever since she could’, and started taking it seriously three years ago. She is a graduate of the prestigious MA creative writing course at the University of East Anglia, where she was tutored by Michele Roberts and Patricia Duncker, and has already had a short story published in a collection by Comma Press, and another selected for BBC Radio 4′s One to Watch series.

Last year’s winner Victoria Briggs was also a creative writing MA student.  Is that what it takes to win the Asham Award, I wondered.  Annie thinks they are not for everybody. ‘Creative writing courses are helpful for writers who are open to criticism and feedback and don’t feel too defensive about their work’ she explains. ‘People starting out as writers don’t know whether they are any good or not, so of course it’s an enormous boost to your confidence to be selected.’    And while feedback is usually contradictory, she feels it helps a writer to determine her own position.  The opportunity to discuss and critique the work of other writers she also found very stimulating.

For her the particular significance of winning the Asham Award – out of over a thousand entries – was ‘being picked by other writers, as opposed to editors who often have something particular in mind’ and having her story published with those of established authors.  It also projected her immediately into the spotlight – the day after the presentation at the London Review Bookshop she was on stage at the Hay on Wye Literature festival, discussing the short story with last year’s winner Victoria Briggs and the novelist Louise Doughty, one of the Asham Award judges, in front of a large audience.

What are her hints for short story writing? ‘Trust your readers’ she replies, without hesitation. ‘Don’t feel you have to tell them everything. The reader owns half of the story; they can take the ambiguity and make something of it for themselves.’

‘Make every word count’ is her second principle, essential to the short story where you have relatively little space, but equally applicable to the novel.  Indeed her writing displays an economy of style that enables her to realise her characters with the minimum of description, through a gesture or a phrase.

In spite of what she describes as ‘her addiction’ to the short story, Annie is now working on a ‘melodramatic and mythological’ novel ‘though I can’t see myself devoting all my time to it’ she says.  There are six or seven short story outlines queuing up for attention when she has completed her PhD in Native American Film and Literature.

In the resurgence of the short story Annie Kirby is definitely one to watch.

(c) Camilla Dinkel