Q: What was it about the stories selected for Brief Lives that caught your attention?

A: David Bateman’s is the one which tells a ‘life story’ in the most straightforward sense – but it’s certainly not a straightforward life! The combination of the detached tone of the writing and the weirdness of the story grabbed me. Kathleen Jones is actually a biographer herself, so I was interested in her response to the brief. At one level her story is an almost facetious reference to the idea of ‘Brief Lives’ (a girl growing up in a funeral home makes brief acquaintances with the clientele), but it also tells the longer-term story-so-far of its narrator in a thought-provoking way. Crista Ermiya’s piece adds another dimension because it’s not really fiction. At least, insofar as the whole piece is bound up with ideas about what’s really true, and what isn’t, and how much you can believe the stories families tell about themselves. Benjamin’s Mellor’s story was actually the first one I read when the submissions came in, and I liked it from the start. It’s a subtle weaving together of two completely different life stories, and has some interesting things to say about time passing, and the inevitability of change. Together, rather than four different versions of biographical, birth-to-death stories, they offer a range of interesting takes on the theme, which will leave readers – I hope – thinking about the capacity of the short story and what it can achieve.

Q: You’re clearly someone who is heavily involved in reading. Your biography states that you are reader-in-residence for the British Council’s international reading website. What does this entail?

A: A great job! I write lots of reviews, set book-related quizzes, interview writers and host online web chats with readers from around the world (it’s pretty amazing having a virtual conversation with people in Tashkent or Lagos about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or Things Fall Apart). I’ve also recently started a near-daily weblog about my reading life.

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