“You can feel unsettled and elated” – an interview with Richard V Hirst

IMG_2022-7-12-191005Richard V Hirst is a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Guardian and The Big Issue amongst other publications. He has writing in the following longer publications, Writing the Uncanny (2021), Plunge Hill (2020), and The Night Visitors (2017).  He is a past joint winner of the Manchester Fiction Prize (2011). His latest book, an anthology of stories in which writers are inspired by songs from the Bowie album, Low, is out now from Confingo.


Richard Clegg (RC): Why Confingo?

Richard V Hirst (RVH): I edited We Were Strangers which was published by Confingo in 2018. This began life as an idea for a book which I took to a few publishers – some of whom were interested, some of whom weren’t – and Confingo were the only one who seemed to “get it” from the outset.  Confingo specialises in three things: short fiction, interesting music and popular culture publications, and books which are tactile, beautiful looking objects. All three of these intersect in Waiting for the Gift. 

RC: Why Low?

RVH: There are a small number of albums which have an impact of significance beyond the world of music – and beyond the broader world of pop culture – instead opening up avenues in our ever-involving communal imagination. Low has always struck me as the ur-example of this. There’s something about it which haunts our culture. As well as this, the songs which constitute Low are mysterious – they tend to be either traditional songs which have a fragmented, fractured feel – as though they’re not quite finished – or they’re lengthy, brooding instrumental pieces. Taken together, the impression is one of connection and meaning, but what these connections are and what that meaning is, these are left to the imagination which is why short stories are such a natural fit – they too take in mystery, aberration and blank spaces.

RC: What did you learn from being the commissioning editor of these two anthologies?

RVH: There’s quite a high level of responsibility when treating a work of art which features cornerstone-of-culture artists like Joy Division and Bowie at the core. It was important for everyone that the book did service to Unknown Pleasures.

RC: How did you choose the writers in the latest book?

RVH: For Waiting for the Gift, it was important to me that the book featured writers who had an international aspect to their work. So, for instance, I asked Jen Calleja, a writer who also does some incredible translation work, to write a story. I also asked Rowan Hisayo Buchanan who’s British – American, Anne Billson who’s British but lives in Paris, Dima Alzayat who’s Syrian American and lives in America… Low, in particular, was a creative work fired by an openness to the world, so it was important that the cast of writers in the book reflected that.

RC: Your preferences in short story writing?

RVH: I don’t know! Short fiction – like any fiction I suppose – either works or it doesn’t. The key thing about short stories – the annoying thing about the I guess – is that it can be harder to pin down what makes them succeed or fail. With a novel you can generally diagnose a fault with plotting, characters, structure, etc. With a short story it can be harder to figure out – indeed, very often a powerful short story can act like a blow from an invisible assailant. You can feel unsettled and elated – but not really be sure how it all came about.

Richard Clegg


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