Barry’s top tip for aspiring authors: Be patient. The literary industry moves very slowly. Do your research on publishers, and take the time to get your approach right before sending your manuscript out. Find a publisher that you know will look after and respect your work. Take risks, be brave. And don’t be discouraged by rejection.
Barry Lee Thompson was born in Liverpool in the UK. After studying art history at the University of East Anglia, he moved to London. He lives in Melbourne, Australia. His short stories are published in Australia, the UK, and the USA, and have been recognised in awards including the Bridport Prize, The Age Short Story Award, and the Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize. His work appears frequently in Roomers magazine. He is a member of Elwood Writers, and of the Alumni Association of Varuna, the National Writers’ House. Broken Rules and Other Stories (Transit Lounge, September 2020) is his first collection of fiction. The book is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, and by Varuna, the National Writers’ House.
Find out more here: www.barryleethompson.com
Why do you write? Because I’m inquisitive and I always want to see what happens. Writing is a way to slow things down, to examine them closely.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d probably be wishing I were a writer.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Doubts about the viability of short-story collections. When I first started writing the stories in Broken Rules, there was talk of the demise of short fiction. And it was suggested in some quarters that readers might be disinclined to buy short-story collections not by a familiar author. Fortunately, there are publishers and readers out there who are willing to take a chance on new authors.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Transit Lounge has been terrific in keeping me involved and informed throughout the production process. I was given a choice of covers, and we discussed these and came to an easy consensus. Publishers are in the business of book production and understanding the marketplace. Transit Lounge is a successful independent press. I was familiar with their list from the very beginning, so I knew my book was in the best hands.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being responsible for my own time. Being able to escape into the page. And I love how reading is part of the job, and that sometimes the answer to a writing problem can come from walking, or from just staring into space. I like sitting still.
—the worst? The precariousness can sometimes be terrifying.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Nothing, probably. It’s been useful to go down a few wrong paths, to make mistakes and learn from them. Nothing’s a waste of time. But maybe that’s a boring answer. Perhaps I’d try to worry less.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been shown how to find the opportunities in rejections, to learn how to move on quickly and not be discouraged by them.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Keep your mind on the work. Cultivate gratitude for the people who take time to read your work.
How important is social media to you as an author? Other than a blog, which I treat more like a website, I don’t use social media. I deleted my accounts a few years ago. It was becoming too consuming. I don’t doubt social media has its benefits when used thoughtfully, but it’s not for everyone. I like the peace and freedom that comes from being unplugged.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t think I’ve experienced it. This may be to do with the way I write. I don’t sit down for lengthy periods in front of a page, but dip in and out through the day. Writing is a series of problems. I walk a lot, and think a lot, and sit and daydream, and ideas and solutions arrive in those moments. It’s all work because it’s all part of the process. A blank page can be an exciting thing, but sometimes it’s easier to visit an existing piece of work. Because I write short pieces, I’ve got hundreds on the go at any one time. I just have to delve into my files and open up a few documents, and before long I’ll stumble across a story I want to work on. If a story isn’t going anywhere, I file it away, sometimes until years later, then choose another page, blank or otherwise.
How do you deal with rejection? Rejection is cruel, but it’s all in the game, and everyone experiences it. I’ve found rejections often come in twos or threes, compounding the impact. Over time I’ve learned to understand them a bit better, and now they roll off more easily. It’s helpful to have some awareness of what might lie behind a rejection, and reframe it. A rejection is a decision made at a particular time by a particular person about a particular piece of work. All three of those are variables. The decision means the work wasn’t right for that occasion, but it will find its home, eventually. Rejection as opportunity. It’s easier said than done, though.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Let me think.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Samuel Beckett. I’d be interested in hearing his views on social media.
Barry Lee Thompson
These awards-listed, interlinked stories vividly capture the
small, rarely spoken moments of our lives that reverberate
with meaning, with darkness and with light. An adolescent
son and his parents on their annual holiday at a Bournemouth
guesthouse become intrigued with the glamour and
otherness of an American family from Boston. An adult son
and his mother navigate an unnerving relationship based on
dependence and ritual. A woman transgresses her husband’s
rules and his distaste for parties. A sex-worker empathises with
the life of an elderly client. From derelict industrial districts, to
a lonely highway diner, to the faded charm of a British seaside
resort, these are stories of growing up marginalised and living
in working-class England and Australia.
The book is available here.