Jo Lloyd on Winning the 2019 BBC National Short Story Award
Jo Lloyd has won the 2019 BBC National Short Story Award for her piece The Invisible. She tells us about reading more than she writes, not counting words, and women writers who break the mould.
How do current affairs influence your writing if at all?
I am always impressed when writers can address current affairs in a direct and effective way. That’s not something I do, but what’s happening in the world and my thoughts about it do certainly influence my writing. Sometimes I find that the unconscious part of my writing brain has been bringing out those themes while I’ve been looking in another direction. I want to believe that writers and artists can contribute to making the world a better place through their work. I think one of the ways that can happen is by unsettling settled habits of thought.
What is your process? Has it/How has it changed as you’ve become more successful or recognized?
I read a lot more than I write. I don’t count words. I go slowly. I produce rather a lot of first pages that never go anywhere. But every now and then, in the early stages of a story, there is a magic moment when a paragraph falls into place and you can feel that it has in it all the seeds of the story that you don’t even understand yet. If I can find that paragraph I can continue with the story. At that point I’m happy to let it ramble all over the place so that I can see what’s interesting in it. Then I edit edit edit.
What do awards mean to you? How do you measure your own literary success, if at all?
Awards raise the profile of what writers do in a way nothing else does. For short fiction writers in particular that is important. The BBC NSSA is judged by, and has been won by, people whose work I admire hugely, so it’s just a wonderful, amazing, thing to be part of.
Like most writers, I imagine, I measure my own success firstly by whether I am happy with what I have written. Then I have a mental list of literary ambitions that I try to put in a sensible order and work through.
What inspires you to write? Where do most of your stories pull from?
I’m endlessly interested in all sorts of things, most of which are probably quite unsuitable for short stories. Probably that’s why I fail to finish so many of them!
You were in great company with some amazing women also being nominated for this award. What does it mean to you to be a female in literature?
Wise and wonderful women writers – it was really an honour to be among them – and there was a great feeling of solidarity and support among the shortlist.
Writing is one of the arts that women have always been allowed to do, so we have a long long history of female writing role models to encourage us and inspire us. I’m a fan of the great 19th century novelists, especially George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte, who pushed boundaries in their writing in a way that has perhaps been obscured by distance and TV adaptations. I often think about the chapter in Villette where Bronte writes about grief as a dormouse curled up in a wall – she develops the image for 2 whole pages and it boggles my mind every time. And right now, we’re blessed to have some extraordinary short fiction writers showing us how it’s done – Karen Russell, Lauren Groff, Jhumpa Lahiri, Rebecca Lee, Deborah Eisenberg, Yiyun Li, Ali Smith – I could go on.
Do you have a community you rely on to get through tough writing times, or are you more of a solitary person?
I imagine every writer has times when they need community and times when they need solitude. I’ve never discovered the ideal solution to tough writing times, so if anyone out there knows one, please tell me! I do think it’s important to be able to look at your work critically – provide your own feedback – but at the same time to try and keep faith in the path you have taken.
Jo Lloyd is the winner of the 2019 BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University. The BBC NSSA anthology is published by Comma Press (£7.99).
Interview by Rachael Petty.