AR: Your story Red in Unthology 5 charges in with real urgency and keeps going at a magnificent pace, how did you do that? It’s hard to imagine writing it was a relaxing process.
RB: I wrote it as if the events were taking place at the moment of writing, literally bashing away at the keys on my keyboard as fast as I could. Writing it was a very physical experience. I then spent a lot of time perfecting the story.The story was inspired by a photograph I took of a window display as well as having read The Language of Things by Deyan Sudjic (director of the Design Museum), in which he writes about the decline of design and the intentional short shelf-life of today’s products.
AR: I found myself rooting for the woman in ‘Red’, though I knew I possibly shouldn’t. I loved how the consumerist products mirrored her mental state, what inspired you do to do this?
RB: She is very much a part of consumer culture, branded like everyone else. There is no escape. The products reflect her mental state but are also used to add a touch of humour.
AR: ‘Red’ is your first published story, what has this meant for you as a writer?
RB: Submitting a story for publication is a pretty scary thing. It was incredibly exciting when I received an email from Ashley Stokes informing me that Unthank would like to include ‘Red’ in Unthology 5. Having a story accepted for publication is a validation of one’s work and also a confidence booster, I hope it will help push my work forward. It’s also amazing to be in the company of accomplished writers like yourself.
AR: You’re also an editor at Negative Press and edited the publication Still. Do you find photographs inspire your work? I could really see ‘Red’.
RB: For Still I was both the (accidental) editor and the photographer. The book was the final stage of a project in which I experimented with a number of ways to breathe life into vacated spaces. I invited writers from across the world to select a photograph from my exhibition ‘Still’ and use this as inspiration for new writing. I love the short stories that appear in Still, the book is an exciting mix of writers and genres. I collaborated with twenty-six writers including Evie Wyld, Nicholas Royle, Aamer Hussein, Jan van Mersbergen and XuXi. Before I embarked on Still, my reading habits had slacked. Researching writers meant lots of reading and then, once the stories started coming in, the reading continued and every time a new story arrived it was like receiving a little treasure in the post, a gift that had flowed from somebody else’s imagination. If felt like the skies were opening up before me. Six months after the book was published, I decided to turn the tables on my self and pick a photograph from the project to use as a starting point for writing, as an experiment to see what it would evoke. This story didn’t really work out but it was the opening of a door, the beginning of a new chapter.
AR: When did you start writing? I often hear writers say they always knew they had to do it…
RB: Growing up in the Netherlands I was an introverted teenager and wrote dark song lyrics and poetry. I have dabbled writing poetry over the years, and used it as a means of exploring themes for an as yet unshown photography project (Silence, 2006-2014) exploring death from a personal viewpoint. Now that I am reaching the final stage of this project, the words are not needed as the photographs express more than words can say.
AR: Where did the love of short stories come from? What fascinates you about the form?
RB: It really came from doing writer research for Still. I bought Best British Short Stories 2011 (Salt Publishing), which introduced me to the genius of David Rose and his story ‘Flora’ and also ‘The Swimmer’ by SJ Butler. To me these are very physical, very sensual stories, both express a love of language, a playfulness of words. I like this idea that a few sheets of paper with a bit of text can transform a person for a few minutes or maybe even have a lasting impact.
AR: What are you working on now? What’s next?
RB: I am writing a series of stories inspired by colours. There are two more colours being published by Unthank Books, ‘Blue’ and ‘Green’, which will appear in Unthology 6 and Unthology 7. As a photographer I collaborated with artist/writer Jane Wildgoose on Strong Room (Negative Press London, 2014), published in January, see www.neg-press.com. This book has been selected for an exhibition of new European artists’ books (KALEID 2014, 19 July 2014). Jane and I will be launching our project Strong Room Unlocked in the next few months.
AR: What do you hope for?
RB: I secretly hope for a world where people are present in the moment, not elsewhere, lost in an electronic machine.
AR: When are you happiest?
RB: When ideas reach the point of completion, when it makes sense. When I photograph someone or something that inspires or evokes. Otherwise, when I swim, when I cycle, when I hold a book for the first time, when I smell the earth in the middle of a field, when there is a window that opens…
Red by Roelof Bakker and A Little More Prayer by Angela Readman can both be found in Unthology 5.
Praise for Unthology 5: “In Unthology 5, Unthank Books’ new short story collection edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones, this modern spirit of doubt and negation is ever-present. Each of the fourteen stories, by new and established authors, turns on a moment of uncertainty, unease, or loss of control. The first story is entitled “A Little More Prayer” (“that’s all we need”, one of its lead characters complains, “a little more prayers”) and the last story “The End of the World”. We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Andre van Loon in Litro.