Polly Samson loves to write, but hates sitting at her desk. She tells Colette Sheridan why she finds the short story to be the ideal form.
ACCOMPLISHED writer Polly Samson is allergic to sitting at the desk in front of a sheet of paper. Instead, the author of two novels and two short story collections, as well as lyrics for her husband, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame, likes to compose her work while walking.
She will be reading at the Cork International Short Story Festival, with Gilmour accompanying her, on a flying visit to the city.
“I write so much in my head before I commit anything to paper,” she says. “Sitting at the desk is so agitating. The great thing about writing short stories is that you can keep the whole thing in your head so that by the time I sit down to write, it’s a quick process.”
While this works for Samson’s short story writing, she says it’s not so easy for novel writing. “By the time I sit down, I want my writing to flow onto the page. When I try and adopt this method for novels, it’s a terrible feeling, as if my head is going to explode. I find writing a novel much harder than writing short stories.”
Publishers “would much rather that I write novels,” says the UK-based author whose most recent book is a novel called The Kindness, published last year by Bloomsbury. It’s a multi-layered tale of loss, dealing with a broken relationship and a seriously ill child.
“You can see publishers’ faces fall when you tell them about your short stories. When people get behind short stories, they can be really surprised that there is an audience out there for them.”
Samson has always written.
“At one point, my parents (her late father was a newspaper editor and her half Chinese mother wrote about being a major in Mao Zedong’s Red Army) gave me some stories that I wrote when I was five. I don’t think I ever stopped writing. It didn’t occur to me that it could be something I could do as a job. But once I was in the workplace, all my jobs ended up being writing jobs. I wrote poetry and stories when I was young.
"It took a lot for me to be able to show something I’d written to someone. A friend made me enter a short story competition and that led to getting an agent and so on. It wasn’t something I set out to do. It was a strange and lucky process. I started working in publishing and then became a journalist. I ended up on The Sunday Times with a daft column I did for a few years, as well as writing features and reviews.”
Samson has been writing lyrics for her husband for 20 years. She is one of only two female co-writers of Pink Floyd songs. She has contributed lyrics to half of the tracks on Gilmour’s recent album, Rattle That Lock.
“Writing lyrics is a wonderful thing. I can’t explain how it works. I think it’s because David doesn’t really want to write lyrics. Music just flows out of him. He loves to sing and he loves to have songs to sing. I don’t sit in the room and write them with him.
“For me, writing lyrics is the same as writing a short story except that instead of me having to find prompts, it’s there because the music comes first. So I have the music on my headphones and I just walk and walk and walk, listening to it. I start making up nonsense words and a meaning will emerge. I think it works because I know David so well. I can get out of a piece of music something that he didn’t even know he was thinking when he wrote the music.”
Does Samson mind being asked about her famous husband who now has a solo career since Pink Floyd split up? “If I find at the Cork International Short Story Festival that all anyone wants to talk about is Pink Floyd, I’ll be really grumpy! It’s all to do with the context.”
There is no clash of egos between the couple who have eight children between them, some from previous relationships.
“We’re very different. Maybe if I started to write music, there might be tension. But luckily, that’s not what I want to do.”
CORK SHORT STORY FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS
Neil Jordan, film maker and writer whose writing career took off with Night in Tunisia forty years ago, will be in conversation with Patrick Cotter from the Munster Literature Centre, at the Firkin Crane on Saturday at 9.30pm.
Doireann Ní Ghríofa has been commissioned to write a new short story inspired by the Farmgate Cafe’s Women of the South exhibition which highlights radical women associated with 1916. Ní Ghríofa will read her story at the Farmgate Cafe on Wednesday, September 7, at 6pm.
John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, whose latest novel is The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, will read alongside Sean O’Brien.
Mary Morrissy, whose most recent book is short story collection, Prosperity Drive, will read alongside Mark Tuthill, followed by a conversation with Jennifer Matthews, editor of Long Story Short. Cork City Library, Wednesday, 4pm.
Lucy Caldwell, whose latest work is short story collection, Multitudes, will read alongside David Park (shortlisted for the 2014 IMPAC Prize for The Light of Amsterdam). This will be followed by a discussion facilitated by writer, Paul McVeigh. Firkin Crane on Friday at 8.30pm.
Donal Ryan, author of the novels, The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December and his short story collection, A Slanting of the Sun, will read alongside Sara Majka, debut author of Cities I’ve Never Lived In. They’ll be in conversation with author and critic, Alannah Hopkin at the Firkin Crane on Thursday at 10pm.
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