Saba Sams was shortlisted for her debut collection, Send Nudes. She is a fiction writer based in London. Her stories have appeared in The Stinging Fly and The Tangerine.
For you, what is the most difficult aspect of writing?
I find writing a lonely task. There’s a lot of time spent in my own mind, a lot of time wondering if an idea is good, or if a scene is making any kind of sense. I find it very easy to fall into self-doubt, and it doesn’t take much for me to abandon a draft. Recently I’ve been thinking of my work as a collaboration between myself and the page, as I find this takes the pressure off. It’s true that so much can appear in a story that I didn’t mean to put in there. I believe in chance and synchronicity as active components in the task of writing, and indeed that ideas or rhythms are able to emerge of their own accord. All it takes is to keep going.
There is an assumption that the first story in a collection should be the strongest or the most accessible/entertaining, that it should act as a hook. What are your thoughts on this?
It’s true that whenever I read a collection, I start with the first story and go chronologically from there. When I meet people who dip in and out of collections randomly, I’m embarrassed to admit that it feels like sacrilege. I put a lot of thought into the order of stories in Send Nudes, and at that time I believed that “Tinderloin” – the first story – was my strongest. I think most debut writers fear that readers will pick up their book and put it down again very quickly, so it’s hard to resist just stacking all the best work at the beginning. I definitely couldn’t. However, my relationship with each of my stories changes over time, and if I was working on Send Nudes now I very likely would have ordered it differently. Perhaps there is sense to reading in a random order, after all.
Out of all the characters in your collection, which one would you like to spend more time with and why? Today, I choose Stella in “Blue 4eva”. She’s such an observant character, completely wide-open to the world, and because of that she’s useful to me in terms of telling stories. “Blue 4eva” is about navigating positions among friends and family, about the way that dynamics shift as people move in and out of each other’s lives, or indeed as those people change within themselves. Stella is twelve, and constantly changing. Even within the span of the story, which takes place over a matter of days, her growth is evident. She’s a character who continues to walk around in my head, taking in so much and transforming within herself as she does so.
If you had to write a manifesto for writing short stories, what would be your first declaration?
In terms of description, how do you decide what to put in and what to leave out?
Send Nudes is full of descriptions of the sky. I don’t think I even knew I was doing it, until much later in the editing process. There are loads in there, and loads more than I ended up getting rid of. I obviously have a thing about skies. That is to say that, for me, I don’t think the putting in of description is a decision so much as the work of the subconscious, and then the taking out is just an attempt not to be so obvious about my preoccupations.
After finishing a story, how do you feel? Do you celebrate?
I wish I could say I popped a mini champagne every time I finished a story. I think the girls in Send Nudes would be into that. The truth is that “finished” is a very slow process, and there’s almost never a moment when I know that something is done. If I got the chance to edit any of the stories in my collection again, I’m sure they’d end up changing. I celebrate other things, though, and this shortlisting is one.