Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Gaynor Jones’ fiction piece, Amongst These Animals
John: This piece provides a really haunting portrait of the loneliness that can occur even in the company of others. Do you think this type of loneliness is worse than actual physical isolation?
Gaynor: Well for me, physical isolation is actually a positive. Solitude and time alone is what I dream about after nearly five years at home with my daughter and self-employed husband. But yes, I think it can be painful to feel alone when in the company of others. That sums up my personal experience of depression pretty well, a feeling of isolation and not being understood even when surrounded by people.
The woman in my story…I think if that was me I would rather be physically alone than be with the husband. They view each other as objects, to be used rather than interacted with but they seem to have accepted it.
Your story brought the phrase “sacrificial lamb” to mind, and I was a little bit startled by the casual cruelty in it, and in the fact that it’s a well-known idiomatic phrase in the English language. Why does this say about us?
It’s interesting that you’ve raised the idea of cruelty as it’s not something I thought of when I wrote this story, but you’re right. There is the cruelty of the husband towards the wife, there is the cruelty of her body not being able to do what she hoped for it, and there is the cruelty towards the sheep. I wrote this drawing on the pain of desperation I experienced in my own life when I longed to have a child, and that desperation did make me cruel at times. It’s surfaced in this story without me realising it.
As for ‘sacrifical lamb,’ yes, what a terrible phrase. I’m a pacifist and vegetarian. Although we have meat in the house, I won’t allow lamb, it just seems so cruel. What does it say about us? I’ll leave that to the philosophers.
A Buddhist monk once told me that one of the chants they did in his monastery was, roughly translated, that everything eats, meaning that it’s impossible to live in this world without causing harm. What are we to do with this situation?
Well, it is impossible. If you’d have asked me this question 20 or 15 or even 10 years ago you would have got some very idealistic answers. I have done my best to be a kind person throughout my life, but unfortunately that has come at some personal expense, particularly with regards to my mental health. So now I would say, do what you can but also look out for yourself. It’s not great to be selfish but it’s also not great to be completely selfless and to try and take on everything.
I hope to raise my daughter to be kind, but also with some measure of balance and self preservation. I have spent so much of my life feeling guilty about various things that I can’t do it anymore. I do my best to make the world a better place and encourage others to do the same, but I can’t overthink it or let it get to me.
Interestingly, when I had my anxiety disorder it manifested in thoughts that every action I took, no matter how insignificant, would cause terrible harm to someone. It was awful to live like that, so now I have to shut the world out a bit.
There is an admirable economy here—you sketch out the main character’s life in a very few strokes. What advantages does short fiction offer over longer forms?
This is difficult for me to answer because I don’t write longer form and I very rarely read it.
I was at Uni in 1998 when I did a course on American Fiction post 1945 which was mainly short stories, and 20 years later I am still reading mainly short stories—and mainly American. I have utmost respect for novel writers, but it’s not something I currently do, and I only read one or two novels a year compared with hundreds of short pieces.
The advantage for me is that I can get my stories down quickly. I know short fiction writers who spend eons on their pieces, but I don’t. When they’re good, they come out quickly with barely any editing. If I’m getting to a 5th or 6th draft on a piece then I know it probably wasn’t good in the first place. My most well known story, The Thing Between Your Legs in Bending Genres, was written and subbed within a few hours. But, and it is a big but, I have been writing for a long time. When Lara Williams was my tutor on the Comma Press short story course, she told us ‘write until it’s reflex’ and that stayed with me—I write so much and so often that I can tell when it’s good.