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South London writer, Clare Fisher, has been crafting a series of short stories that exist as snapshots of the city. Different aspects and different perceptions of London grow out of Fisher’s narrative description. We caught up with her to chat about the project.
How long have you writing?
I’ve been writing for quite a while. I started seriously at university and followed it with a creative writing MA.
What forms do you enjoy writing in?
Always prose. I enjoy reading poetry, but I struggle with writing it. Generally short fiction is my thing. It’s harder to keep at a long project. Not that short stories are easier, but you can finish them!
So, the The City in my Head is a series about London. Have you always been London-based yourself?
Yes, more or less. Though I’m about to move to Leeds for a while, and I’ve spent the last few months in France. I feel a little nomadic at the moment.
How has that distance affected your view of the city? Has it changed the writing?
I certainly made me appreciate it more. And I actually had the idea for the series [The City in my Head] while I was in France. I wrote a lot of short fiction while out there and realised that each story was based around a particular area.
How did you start forming the stories into the current series?
I’d get an idea for a story and I started to see that the actions of the characters came from the area the story is written in. The area would become a character too. They formed into a group naturally.
I’m interested in the idea of how when you walk around a city you don’t know anything about anyone around you. You start to make up stories of your own. I wanted to explore those.
How long have you been working on the series so far?
A few months now. Since around November. I don’t know how long it will go on for yet! So far there are four stories finished and online: Marylebone, Kilburn, Peckham and Waterloo. Those are the ones I’m happy with so far.
Have the stories come from your own experiences?
It’s a mixture of places I’ve been to and know, and places that have caught my imagination.
Is the series following a particular journey or direction through the city?
I thought about trying that, but a lot of the stories include not just the place, but also journeys to and from them. The directions are all over the place. Like the Peckham story is in the form of a journey planner, telling different ways to get there.
That’s a very specific way to structure the story. Have you set out for a particular style in the series?
No, I didn’t set out for a particular style. Usually I try to get into the voice of the character and explore the area like that.
There is a psychogeographical tone to the project. Have you considered constructing journeys through the city to find stories?
Absolutely. I figure I’ll eventually run out of places if I don’t go out and find new areas to write about.
What would you look for?
I don’t know really. Whatever seems interesting. I’ve lived or worked in the places I’ve written about. So maybe something along those lines. I’ve been writing some of these stories while away. In some ways that helps to clarify things. I do worry that I’d lose the detail though. Now that I’m back I’ve just been strolling and noting things I see.
So, I guess there’s an autobiographical tone to the stories too-
In a way, yes. Fiction has to have a personal element. That’s also why I called it The City in My Head. I wouldn’t want to make any sweeping statements about the perceptions of the city. It’s all from my personal experience. It’s similar to what Craig Taylor conveys in his Londoners book. He shows that there’s such a variety in London and certainly he gets really close to a snapshot of the wider view, but I don’t think I could do that as well as him. I am happy to write about things I haven’t experienced, but for this project I don’t think it would feel very authentic.
Where do you see the project going?
Keep building it up. In a way it’s hard to say when it will stop because it could go on forever. The aim is to publish the collection.
You mentioned Craig Taylor. What else have you found that has influenced you?
Definitely that book. Often I find with inspiration, it takes a while to digest something so you don’t always know if it has influenced you directly or not. I’ve been reading a lot of Adrienne Rich poetry. She’s one of those writers that really reminds you why you write.
Clare Fisher’s The City in my Head can be found on Notes From The Underground. She will also be reading some of her work at the Annexe Words on Cities event in April. More on that very soon.