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Cockfosters in Red, White & Blue

Cockfosters in Red, White & Blue

Red, white and blue jacket for Knopf’s 2017 edition of Cockfosters.

If it were easy to explain what Helen Simpson can do with a story, more writers would be fashioning such jewels…What more does one want in a short story besides memorable characters, comic timing, originality, economy and poignancy? And heart.  All there.”  Elinor Lipman, New York Times Book Review

 

British Museum Reading Room

British Museum Reading Room

If the heart of Bloomsbury is the British Museum, then the British Museum Reading Room was until recently at the very heart of its heart. I used to go there in the 1980s, when this central domed chamber (only 2ft less in diameter than the Roman Pantheon) still housed the British Library.

Walking over from Hanover Square after work, I would be seated by 6.30pm, bracing myself against the Reading Room’s drowsy embrace: I had quotations to check! I don’t remember any overhead lighting except from the 20 windows around the dome (papier-mâché, painted sky blue) and the glazed area at its apex. As daylight faded and the ranks of readers began to thin out, only the lamps of those still at their desks remained lit, individual yellow pools in this toasty twilight.

Of course, when the Reading Room first opened in 1857, this evening shift would have been impossible. Then, there could be no artificial light at all, neither gas nor candlelight, because of the fire risk. Then, as soon as dusk fell, or even before that if there was a peasouper outside, the readers were all packed off home.

Read the full article here.

Guardian Interview, Sarah Crown

Guardian Interview, Sarah Crown

Halfway through our interview, Helen Simpson begins to worry about the time. We’d frittered the first few minutes on general civilities, and squandered several more fiddling with books and bags and glasses of water. Now the clock is ticking, and we’re paying for our profligacy. “We’ve only got an hour,” she frowns. “How far in are we?” She unclasps her watch and lays it on the table between us. “There. We’re all right. We can see how long we’ve got left.”

The characters in Cockfosters, Simpson’s latest short story collection, are checking their watches, too. The men and women who pick their way through its pages are deep into middle-age, and more or less relaxed about it: after the heads-down grind of the baby years, they have finally begun “to crawl up out of their burrows … and emerge blinking into the sunlight”. Identities have been re-established; relationships have regained a degree of equilibrium: there’s a sense of expansiveness, of room for reflection. But as the characters’ gazes lift, at last, to the horizon, they notice that it’s closer than it used to be. The stories are filled with markers of time’s passage: a birthday cake baked year-in year-out for a daughter who’s now fully grown; the rigid itinerary of a retirement package tour; the “lime-green digits” of a bedside clock counting down the minutes until morning. “‘It’s annoying not knowing how long we’ve got left, don’t you think?’” says Julie in the collection’s title story, as she and a schoolfriend, now in their 50s, track down her misplaced bifocals to the last stop on the Piccadilly line. “‘Thirty years,’ said Philippa. ‘Forty!’ ‘Or ten,’ said Julie. ‘Or two.’”


To read the full interview please click here.

Helen Simpson on ‘In-Flight Entertainment’, The Paris Review

Helen Simpson on ‘In-Flight Entertainment’, The Paris Review

By Jonathan Gharraie

I met Helen Simpson for a genial pub lunch near Dartmouth Park in North London on the day she received the American edition of In-Flight Entertainment: Stories. She was evidently quite pleased by the book’s spare but elegant design, which looks through an airplane window onto a locket of cerulean sky. I’m tempted to draw comparisons to her stories, many of which peek at other people’s blitheness, or cruelty, or dreams of escape. But nothing in Simpson’s fiction is quite as peaceful as that glimpse of blue. She is perhaps best known for the characterization of contemporary motherhood in her collections, but many of the stories in In-Flight Entertainment confront the prospect of climate change.

Your collections are never quite themed, but they do feel very painstakingly designed. Was that true for In-Flight Entertainment?

In-Flight Entertainment is my little climate-change suite, I suppose. But there are fifteen stories in it, and only five are about climate change. My only rule is to write about what’s interesting to me at the time. It’s a great subject, but it’s very hard to dramatize or to make particular, and not to hector, not to moralize.


To read the full interview please click here.

Helen Simpson by K. J. Orr

Helen Simpson by K. J. Orr

Helen Simpson by K. J. Orr
Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, Vol 1, Issue 1, March 2011 (ISSN 20430701)


EXCERPT

SFTP: When did you start writing stories?

HS: At university.  I entered a short story competition in Isis.  That’s how I heard about Angela Carter.  Brian Aldiss was judging, and he said something like, This reminds me of the young Angela Carter, and I thought, Who’s Angela Carter?  Then I read her and admired her, particularly her stories.  Much later, once I’d come to London, I went to a reading she did in Strawberry Hill and I thought she was wonderful.  I collared her in the car park and said, Would you like a lift?  I’d just passed my driving test, so all the way back I was saying, What do you think of the short story?  What do you think of Katherine Mansfield?  And she was saying things like, Look out! That’s a red light!….”


To read the full interview, please click here.

Guardian Interview, Lisa Allardice

Guardian Interview, Lisa Allardice

Helen Simpson’s new year’s resolution is to read one short story before she gets out of bed every morning. “I like the idea of something complete, one short story with a cup of tea – you’d have stolen a march on the day. If people can meditate or do yoga or whatever, I don’t see why I can’t read for 15 minutes each morning.” She is one of only a few writers to have built a reputation exclusively on short stories. There is Alice Munro, still writing – and getting “better and better” in Simpson’s view, and Katherine Mansfield, to whom she is often compared. In 1993 she was voted one of the Best Young British Novelists in Granta’s 20 writers under 40 on the strength of just one collection. “I thought, ‘Oh good, that gives me a bit more time with the short story. But whenever people mention it now, they still say, ‘Well, she hasn’t actually written a novel!’ I’ll do a novel if I feel like it. Up until now, everything I’ve wanted to say, I’ve been able to say in stories. I like to find an image. I like to cut things down.”


To read the full interview please click here.