“Head-and-heart hitters”: An Interview With Guest Reader Rupert Dastur

by Shasta Grant See all Guest Readers

You founded TSS Publishing in 2015 and it’s quickly grown — you publish stories and chapbooks, host several competitions, and also offer workshops. Can you tell us about your thought process and goals when you first established TSS? How have things changed since those early days?

Crikey, the time’s gone quickly! Before I do that, I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone here at SmokeLong. You guys consistently publish wonderful flash fiction, are passionate, professional, and supportive of your writers. Thank you, too, for inviting me to guest read – it’s an honour.

As for TSS… I had a passion for short prose fiction, which began at university. After graduating, I wanted to keep up my interest in the various forms and was also beginning to do a little writing myself. The aim was to publish great short fiction and present it in style.

I never really envisioned it growing to the extent it has, but that’s probably symptomatic of my need for freshness and fun – I love experimenting with new ideas and trying stuff out. Publishing high quality work and playing around with ideas remain the driving forces behind the journal. As a result of this, there have been a lot of changes – from bringing on some amazing editors, helpers, and regular contributors (a shout out to Katy Darby, Elisabeth Ingram Wallace, Giselle Leeb, Helen Rye, and Becky Tipper, Rachael Smart, and Yvonne Battle-Felton), to publishing new forms (creative non-fiction and soon narrative photography) to my own sense of responsibility to the journal which has increased (especially after the sad closing of Thresholds) year on year.

You’re currently working on a novel, which is, in some ways, the opposite of writing flash fiction. Can you tell us a little bit about your novel? How did you make the transition from flash to novel? Do you find one harder than the other? Is one more fun to write?

Ah! THE NOVEL! I’ve been working on it for so long, even my friends think it’s some kind of mystical beast that will only appear with the coming of the Apocalypse. Oh ye of little faith, say I!

To the Slaughter is about a farming family in North Wales struggling under financial hardship while they also come to terms with the dangers faced by their older son who’s been deployed in Iraq in late 2003. Thrown into the mix of this tightly knit rural space is adultery, addiction, and jealousy.

As for flash, I usually turn to it when I need a break from longer writing projects. The transition is quite tricky as it’s a different kind of headspace, but reading it helps me get into the spirit of the form. Competition deadlines are also a good way of focusing the mind.

In terms of making distinctions between the novel and flash fiction, I’m not sure how useful it is. It’s like comparing a three-course meal with a single sumptuous, red-ripe strawberry. The novel takes a hell of a lot longer, but I’ve written tons of flash and probably only have about two or three that I really love. And that’s really what it’s about. Finding those absolute head-and-heart hitters.

As an editor, what is one story topic you’re tired of reading?

There are a few, if truth be told!

1) Lots of stories about babies and children who have died.

2) Mermaids and selkies seem very popular at the moment.

3) Kitchen sink dramas (man and woman arguing in the kitchen about their failing relationship).

4) Pulpit pieces (a story written as a way of espousing a particular opinion).

5) Philosophers on a walk.

I also dislike characters ‘weeping’ in stories. I have no idea why, but it’s probably because I’m a cold-hearted lizard.

What kind of story would you love to find in your queue this week?

A much harder question, but I can give some pointers:

I like a story arc.

Something a bit weird, as long as the laws of the created universe are maintained.

Humour is great, but I appreciate it can be bloody difficult. I’m never funny, so kudos if you are.

An attention to the sentence level poetry of language. I love striking images, great metaphors and similes. The rhythm of the piece is also important.

Strong, unique voice, especially if it’s in first person.

There’s also something I think of as HEART. For me, it appears in the writing when I’ve fallen in love with my characters and with their story; once I’ve told their story in a way that does them justice and have really edited away anything that isn’t part of their life. When you’ve been with them long enough, you get this slight ache inside and when you send that story out in the world, you know someone else is going to feel the love that’s there inside the words. That’s what I want to read. I don’t want competence in the queue – lots of people can do that. I want heart.

About the Reader:

Rupert Dastur is a writer, editor, and publisher. He studied English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and now runs TSS Publishing and directs the Cambridge Prize. He is Associate Editor at The Word Factory, Events Coordinator for the Society of Young Publishers and curates WritingCompetitions.org  His own writing has appeared in a number of places online and in print. More can be found about his work at www.rupertdastur.com.

About the Interviewer:

Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She was the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellow and she won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, matchbook, MonkeyBicyclewigleaf, and elsewhere.