CYNAN JONES | BOOK INTERVIEW
Welsh writer Cynan Jones came out on top at the Short Story Prize Awards in London, winning the competition with The Edge of The Shoal, the story of a man lost at sea, and the difficulties he faces as a storm hits. Beth Cruse caught up with the author.
Would you say your novel discusses characters you have experienced in your life, and is this a running theme in your writing?
Actually, the story has one character. But it does ask: is an individual actually a range of people? Do we alter our character depending on which others we connect with? Does circumstance define us, or are we a fundamental individual whatever happens? I don’t tend to base characters on actual people, as such. Mostly they are an amalgam, and more often than not a product of my assumptions about why people behave the way they do.
Is there reasoning behind the name The Edge of the Shoal?
Cressida Leyshon of The New Yorker suggested the title for the short story, which is a line from the early part of the narrative, but I had toyed with the title Shoal for the novel, using the double meaning of the word – “a hidden danger or difficulty”. More directly, the title suggests vulnerability. An ‘about to be’ distancing.
The Edge of the Shoal is a distillation of my short novel Cove (currently also shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize). The New Yorker was interested in the piece but wasn’t able to publish it as a whole, so needed a short story that worked in its own right.
Did you find difficulty in condensing an eventful story into so few pages?
The thing is to clearly know what you want to write, and to have the technical ability to put it on the page. Long or short form, that’s the difficulty to master. The challenge with Cove / The Edge of the Shoal was to take a story that was incredibly compressed, then cut it even further.
You’ve also been recognised for other works, such as The Long Dry published in 2006, and The Dig that won the 2014 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize and the 2015 Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize. Would you say this novel follows similar themes to the other successful stories you’ve written?
A broken man, his memory shot, out on an unknown ocean – I deliberately set out to write a story without the more overt themes I was starting to get a name for. Relationship to the land; interaction with others; sense of place for example. But the key theme remains: what is our relevance?”
Could you have imagined your short story getting the success it did that night?
I’m kind of in the business of imagining! But that doesn’t help you guess how it actually feels to have such success. The main feeling is a sense of arriving at a place I’ve wanted very much to get to. It validates the choices I’ve made with writing since the start. The reaction has been humbling. I’ve had a great response to my work over the last ten years, but it still feels surreal that many people like the story. The incoming congratulations and comments have been amazing.
Growing up in the Welsh countryside, how did you get your name out there?
I wrote as strongly as I could.
As a writer from a small place, far away from major cities where the big publishing houses often are, has the online world changed the potential outreach of your work and its potential accessibility?
From the outset, I’ve tried to focus on the words I put on the page. There are so many conversations, distractions, tactical discussions about how to ‘get your work out there’ and ‘be more accessible’. In the end, it comes down to your writing. That’s your task. Write. Everything else is a side effect.
Cynan Jones’ short story The Edge of the Shoal is the winner of the BBC’s National Short Story award. Info: https://www.cynanjones.com/
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