Interviewed by Amelia Loulli
Read Shannon Bushby’s fiction piece, proverbial
Amelia: One of the first things that struck me when reading ‘proverbial’ was your choice to only use lower case. Can you talk through that choice, and if playing with the mechanics of writing is something you often do?
Shannon: To be honest, no it’s not something I generally do. I have considered myself previously to be quite traditional in the forms of writing I’ve used, and this was something that was an interesting challenge for me. The main reason I swayed away from capitalizing, was that I felt the story was a constant stream, and while there might be some stopping, starting, pausing, it seemed natural to me that sentences wouldn’t be set apart in the mind, that you could jump from thinking about a language lecture, to a messy bedroom, as the narrative voice does, without either of those lines of thought having more significance than the other.
I love how the narrative voice is so thorough and constant. There’s a lovely, sweeping interior monologue flow. I wonder how much planning went into the creation of that voice?
I’m usually someone that likes to churn a piece out very quickly, then let it rest and come back some time later to edit, and that’s very much how this piece came about. I began writing, didn’t stop to make any edits until I’d got the majority of the body of work out onto the page, and then I left it. For me it genuinely was a train of thought, perhaps not a current one of my own voice, but reflections of past trains of thought certainly. I felt that the voice came quite naturally to me as a result of that. I also think because the narrator is characterised more through her perception of her surroundings, and the characters and moments she sees, that I didn’t need to work a lot to create her – you get a sense of who she is from her exasperation at a misspelling in a text message, not from the way she text-messages herself, or how she appears as she’s looking down at her phone. In short there was zero planning, but there was definitely a little grunt work after the fact. A couple of my trusted friends helped me tidy the final paragraph into the best version of itself – I can often find myself coming across a little melodramatic at climax, so it’s good to get some fresh eyes, and be happy to take critique – especially when using a form that isn’t necessarily familiar to you.
There’s also a lovely, steady build-up of fire-engine or fire references that are so well embedded on first reading, they offer a very satisfactory, as well as disturbing resonance at the end of the piece, upon discovery of the fire. I wonder if you knew from the start with this story that you would write about a house fire, or if the characters themselves presented to you first and led you there?
I’m glad it worked for you! The fire engines were actually the trigger for writing the story: I was walking home from university a few years ago and some engines flew past (I lived quite near the fire station at the time), and I was struck by the idea that I could get to the end of my journey and find that they had been headed to my house all along. It’s pretty morbid of course, but having that as a quiet, building twist felt perfectly juxtaposed alongside the musing walk of the narrator. Initially, the relationship between the narrator and her partner really wasn’t a central theme for me but it definitely became clear to me as I moved through that the lead up to the discovery of the fire was very much a mimicry of her personal frustrations.
Do you have any tips for other writers on handling the process of letting work go into the submission process?
I’m actually reading submissions for Profane Journal this year, so it’s fascinating to see the other side of the coin. I’m very gung-ho about submissions, as my friends would probably confirm. I very much believe in simultaneous submissions, and I do think striking while the iron is hot is important. Once I’m in love with a piece, and feel satisfied with the amount of editing I’ve put in, I will literally submit to 8-10 literary magazines or journals at once. I think it can be pretty easy to treat any piece of writing, whether that’s poetry or prose, as a fragile, bubble-wrapped infant, and want to keep it close, but by getting a plethora of submissions out there, you can let go and just wait for the reactions to come back to you. I think from initial submissions, it’s pretty hard to find the confidence to resubmit after a rejection, but if you’ve already got more lit mags to hear from, it’s not so disheartening.
I also highly recommend keeping a spreadsheet of where you’ve submitted – and you can include other things such as applications for fellowships or volunteer positions on there too – so that once you start to get some success, you can see how many tries it took to get that first acceptance. The feeling of that first one is just… air-punches, giddiness, fireworks. Worth the tries.