Monday, 12 November 2012

Author Visit: Carys Bray

Happy Monday, pals! Today the lovely Carys Bray is here to talk about her wonderful short story collection Sweet Home. It won the Scott Prize, and I read the book last week. I think it's wonderful. The stories will haunt you, and trouble you; they'll also tug on your heart strings and make you tear up. Carys writes about the things people don't talk about: the hidden emotions of family life, the things that go on behind closed doors and inside the minds of children and parents. She tells the story of Hansel and Gretel from the point of view of an old woman who angers a town by building a house made of of ginger bread. There's a wonderful story called 'Ice Baby,' where a father creates a child from an ice block and tries to keep her alive when the weather gets warmer. I could go on, but I won't. I'd like you to go and check it out for yourself.

In fact, everyone who replies to this blog post by midnight Friday 16th November will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Sweet Home. This giveaway is open to everyone, worldwide.


Hi Carys! Welcome to the blog.  So, how would you describe Sweet Home to someone who hadn’t read it yet?

It’s a collection of stories about families. There are some sad stories, some funny stories and a couple of stories that could probably be classed as fairy tales. 

How long have you been writing?

I used to write when I was a little girl. I wrote terrible Enid Blyton fan fiction and presented it to my poor teachers. When I was 19 I did a writing module at university in America. For various reasons I came back to England early, before I finished my degree, and I didn’t write again until I was 34, when I decided it was time to stop daydreaming about being a writer and give it a go. So I enrolled on Edge Hill’s Creative Writing MA and had a go at writing short stories. (That was a very long way of saying three years and all my life!)

Which story in the collection did you write first? Which was the last?

‘Just In Case’ was the first story. It was the first time I reached the end of a story and thought: ‘yes, that’s pretty much how I wanted it to go.’ ‘Scaling Never’ was the last story. I was thinking about writing a novel and the idea terrified me, so I decided to begin the process by writing a scene from the novel as a short story. I told myself that if the story didn’t work I could abandon the novel idea, but when I finished the story I quite liked it, so I carried on – I’m up to 100,000 words now!

During the process of writing the stories, were you conscious of making them into a collection, or did you realise half-way through that you had stories with a similar theme?

Initially I just wrote about the things that preoccupied me. When I finished my MA I started to think about the way collections work and then I began to realise that most of my stories were about family.

My favourite story from the collection (though there are so many fantastic ones to choose from) is Baby Aisle, where you can buy babies at the supermarket, already named and listed with hair colour, eye colour, weight and performance guarantee. It reminded me a little of Ali Smith’s ‘the Child’ - both completely different stories about babies in supermarkets but both wonderfully twisted. What was the inspiration for this story?

I have four children and the inspiration for this story came from numerous fraught trips to the supermarket. One of my children used to run away and hide whenever we went shopping. It used to terrify and frustrate me. Occasionally, if there was a space, he would squeeze himself onto an empty bottom shelf and call, ‘Buy me, buy me!’ It made me wonder what it would be like to buy children at the supermarket. 

What made you decide to enter the Scott Prize?

I read and enjoyed the previous Scott Prize winners’ collections and I decided to have a go. I didn’t tell anyone about entering because I didn’t want to look silly when nothing happened. I couldn’t believe it when I ended up on the shortlist.

Where were you when you found out you’d won? How did you celebrate?

I was at home. A carpenter was installing a new bed in our odd-shaped box room and I was talking to him when the phone rang. I recognized Jen Hamilton Emery’s Scottish accent straight away. She told me I’d won and I started racing around the upstairs landing, blabbering about not believing it. My children were home from school and they realised what was happening and ran up the stairs. When I got off the phone I shouted, ‘I’ve won, I’ve won!’ and then the children ran around the house cheering. I think the carpenter thought we were all bonkers. (Jen: Ha! Fantastic :) )

What has been the most exciting part of the publishing process for you?

I think seeing the final cover was probably the most exciting thing. It made it all seem real.

Any book recommendations?

I’ve cut my response down to five short story collections, but I could keep going forever! The Stone Thrower by Adam Marek, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman, Hey Yeah Right Get a Life by Helen Simpson, Somewhere Else, or Even Here by A.J Ashworth and Dressing Up for the Carnival by Carol Shields. (Jen: I’ve actually got myself a copy of The Stone Thrower due to you mentioning it on your blog. Obviously I’m going to have to pretend I didn’t buy it, though, due to my ever-on-going book buying ban. The one I, er, don't stick to at all. Ahem)

I believe you’re writing a novel at the moment. Could you tell us a bit about that?

I feel really awkward talking about the novel. It was relatively easy to get a feeling about whether my short stories were working because I sent them out to magazines and they were either rejected or accepted. My novel is an entirely different beast. It’s unwieldy and enormous and I can’t ask anyone to have a quick look at it. (Jen: I know the feeling...)

As to the content, it’s about the sudden death of a small child. I’m really interested in the effects of grief and the restorative power of fiction. The novel is full of fairy tales and Bible stories and at its heart is an absent miracle. I’m hoping to finish the first draft before Christmas. (Jen: Sounds wonderful!)

Thanks Carys, and best of luck with Sweet Home; it really is a fantastic book!


Everyone who replies to this blog post by midnight Friday 16th November will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Sweet Home. This giveaway is open to everyone, worldwide.


  1. Sounds like a very beautiful collection. I'd love to be entered, please x

  2. I love the way she put the collection together! Nothing better than a bit of preoccupying-writing. Also, buying children in supermarkets sounds quite... interesting? xD Sounds like a beautiful collection!

  3. Great interview, thanks both.

    I love the story of your son, Carys, hiding under the supermarket shelves! What a sense of humour (but how very frustrating for you, of course).

  4. Wow, these short stories sound very interesting. Completely different than what I've been reading in the past years, maybe that's why it made me want to read them!

  5. Jen,you have a knack for short interviews that don't gush lazily but do make me want to discover a new writer's work. Not as common as you'd hope.

  6. That sounds wonderful! Will hope to be picked out of the hat to win a copy, but am putting it on my wishlist as well :)

  7. I'd love to be entered please. Look forward to reading the book. Thanks

  8. Lovely interview - I would love to be entered to win a copy of the book! Looking forward to reading Carys's novel too :)

  9. That sounds like a great read, lovely interview Jen! x

  10. This is my favourite theme. Yes please to being entered into the prize draw!

  11. You had me at Hansel and Gretel, honestly, but I loved this whole interview, especially the inspiration of your son on the grocery store shelves. I can't wait to read this collection!

  12. What lovely stories! I would so love to read them.

  13. "I wrote terrible Enid Blyton fan fiction and presented it to my poor teachers."
    This is the best answer to this question ever.

    I love the sound of this book [and the novel actually] I really really do. Whether I win the draw or not I shall absolutely be getting my hands on a copy. It sounds wonderful.

    [as an aside, Jen, i know of a certan somebody who would always be willing to give your novel a 'quick read' ;) ]

  14. This sounds like a very inspiring read! Will be looking for the book next time I am at the bookshop!

  15. This sounds like a great book! And a great interview!

  16. The more I read about Sweet Home the more I want to read it. And Carys' novel sounds like a powerful piece of fiction in progress. Like you Jen, I have a book buying ban going on at the moment, but only until Jan 1st 2013 so this is on my list of purchases to make as soon as the New Year bells ring.

  17. Great interview, some really illumninating questions on the process of writing and being published (especially the anecdote with the carpenter).

    I've had the pleasure of meeting Carys, and even if I don't win the collection I'll be buying it when wages allow. Can't wait to read the collection and can't wait for the novel to come out, sounds like a powerful piece.

  18. Thanks for entering everyone! The winner (picked using random number generator) is smudgedblue-x!

    For those who didn't win, I really recommend tracking this book down. I loved it. xx