Naomi Booth is a writer and academic who lives in Yorkshire.. Her fiction explores unsettling landscapes, strange compulsions, dangerous bodies and contamination. Her debut novel, Sealed, is a work of eco-fiction that has been described as ‘the perfect modern horror’ (Helen Marshall) and ‘marvellous … though not for the faint-hearted’ (The Guardian). Sealed was shortlisted for the Not the Booker Award in 2018 and is published in the UK and the US. Her short fiction has been longlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, the Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize, and included in Best British Short Stories 2019. Her story Sour Hall was adapted into an audio drama by Audible. Animals at Night is Naomi Booth’s first collection of short stories. They are stories that illuminate the strange nocturnal meetings between humans and other animals.
What do you love about the short story?
I find that the best short stories have a strong rhythmical impact on me. Elizabeth Bowen, who was writing stories a century ago, describes them as standing at ‘the edge of prose’—in some ways closer to poetry than to the novel. I feel that rhythm is similarly important in short fiction and poetry. A story needs to create its own tempo, but then must rapidly disrupt, interrupt, sever it. A story’s ending can often be heart-stoppingly sudden. A brilliant short story feels, to me, like a whole-body rhythmical experience.
Is there a particular story in your collection you are proud of and why?
I’m probably proudest of ‘Sour Hall’, the story that closes the collection. There’s a particular landscape, the Todmorden moors above the Calder Valley, that I love, and I feel that in this story I come close to capturing what that landscape means to me: its haunting desolation as well as its beauty.
Do you have any particular writing habits and how do they help?
I try to write small and often—and I frequently fail. I’ve almost given up on trying to sustain sacrosanct writing space and time, but when I do manage to write in the morning, before too much of the day intrudes, everything is better for it.
Were there any surprising or unexpected moments that arose while you wrote your collection?
I needed to do some research into dairy farming when I was writing ‘Sour Hall’. I was interested to discover that the industrial equipment that is used to milk cows is called a ‘cluster’. There was another story in my collection that was already called ‘Cluster’: it focuses on a woman feeding a baby through the long hours of the night and explores different resonances of the word ‘cluster’—cluster feeding/cluster bombs/cluster fucks. I was struck by the unexpected recurrence of this word across the stories. For a while, I thought about calling the collection that—a cluster of stories, titled Cluster.
Are there any characters in your collection you would like to spend time with and why?
Generally, I’ve had enough of my characters by the time I’ve finished writing them; I tend to visit them at difficult, unedifying points in their lives. However, there’s a pair of young sisters who appear in my story ‘Transcendent inadequacies’, Coral and Molly, who enact revenge against a sadistic piano teacher. I’d like to hang out with them. I think Molly will become a formidable young woman.
What writers or stories have influenced you and why?
I’m an enormous admirer of Sarah Hall’s short fiction. I think she’s brilliant at endings that shift unexpectedly, creating a deep rhythmical disjuncture for the reader. Every time I read ‘Sudden Traveller’, for example, I feel transported by grief and beauty. She also writes landscapes in a powerfully sensual way. Her work has helped me to pay attention to the sensory as a fundamental part of writing.