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Vanessa Gebbie Interview

Posted on 08 December 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

WriteWords talks to Vanessa Gebbie, multi award winning short story writer

Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing 

I write short fiction, literary and not so literary. Short stories, flash fiction, micro fiction. Have done for about four years. Earlier this year I started writing stories to be heard, as well as read. I’ve just written a monologue. I suppose I will try all sorts, so long as it’s not something that will take me a year to finish! 

I’ve won half a dozen competitions, been placed or short-listed in thirty or so. Lots of publications, print and web. 

(Firsts as follows: BBC Southern Counties/Guildford Book Festival (2006), Charleston Small Wonder festival Short Story Slam (2006), Willesden Competition (Judge, Zadie Smith, 2006), Cadenza Magazine(2005), JBWB (2005), Cotswold Writers Competition (2005). Runner Up twice in Good Housekeeping Magazine Short Story Competition (2004, 2005), Runner-Up Fish One Page Story (2006), Short-listed Fish Short Story Prize (2005, 2006), Longlisted, Bridport Prize (2006). Commended, Writers inc. Writers of the Year (2006). I think those are the main ones. 

Currently, I’m ‘written out’. I took part in a ‘writeathon’ for Children-in-Need, and haven’t recovered yet. Ten stories in as many hours. So, rather than ignore what I ‘do’, I am editing, reworking older pieces that didn’t quite make the grade.  

Other work besides writing; ie. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works for/against your own writing.

I am Assistant Editor of the small press literary magazine, Cadenza. (Joined the board this Autumn. With Editor Zoe King, I have been sifting and sorting competition entries on and off for the last couple of months. That is a real eye-opener. Unlike most competitions, every single entry gets two reads minimum, from two different editors/judges. That is a great thing to do. You are constantly running on ‘critique’… and as I learn by critiquing, not by having my own work critiqued, it’s a very full experience for me. 

I teach Creative Writing in several scenarios at the moment. To residents of three drugs rehabs - although I have been doing this for two and a half years, and feel it may be time to move on - to the homeless, and to refugees and asylum-seekers in Brighton. These last two groups are interesting: I am funded by community publisher QueenSpark Books to take these sessions, with the objective of producing enough autobiographical writing by the teams to fill two anthologies next year. It’s a fascinating thing to do, and I am privileged. I have also just finished a course of sessions at the Sure Start programme in Islington.  

Does it work for or against my writing? I think it works FOR my own writing, in that this is who I am. I share this gift, if that’s what it is, and couldn’t see myself being solitary and exclusive with what I do. I love seeing the way a person who says, “Write? I can’t do that. I was told at school that I was hopeless…” gradually begins to trust themselves, and lets go… and their innate creativity astounds them. Like swimming, I suppose. We can all do this thing, I believe that firmly. It just takes a little push, a little coaxing, sometimes! 

I also founded and edit an ezine specifically for writing by those whose lives have been touched by addiction, at http://www.tomsvoicemagazine.com 
How, when and why did you first start writing?

I have written as a freelance journalist for some ten years now, doing features on education for a glossy magazine based in Brighton, Sussex. (Brighton and Hove Life). Four years ago I started dabbling with fiction, and enrolled on a course at University. I lasted half of this course as it appeared to be encouraging novice writers who hadn’t mastered the basics to dive into the deep end and write a novel.

I wanted to write short stories. So… I just sort of did.

Who are your favourite writers/influences and why?

Jeepers, how long have you got? OK. Carver, Updike, Jim Crace, E. Annie Proulx, A S Byatt, Italo Calvino, Andrew Miller, William Trevor, Dylan Thomas, Frank McCourt, Alice Munro, W G Sebald. Among a zillion others.  

Why? Because they have strong ‘voices’. Because they transport me as a reader and inspire me as a writer. Because they ‘do their own thing’, break the rules sometimes and sod the rest of the world. I like that. It’s very liberating. 

But the person who has been the strongest influence on what I do and how I approach writing is the controversial tutor and writer Alex Keegan. I haven’t studied with him for nearly two years, but the discipline I learned from him is with me every day. 
How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication?

Agents?  I don’t think agents are interested in short story writers, are they? I’ve had a few say ‘Come to me when you’ve written a novel’… and I’m afraid they may have a long wait. I have TRIED to write a novel. Seriously. I think my website probably says I still am trying.  It’s in the bottom drawer of my desk. I LOVE what I do. With short fiction you can create a whole world in ten minutes.  

My first publication was early 2004 in a literary ezine called BuzzWords. The editors saw a story of mine on a critiquing site I belonged to, and made the right noises. I’ll never forget what that first one feels like. Magic!

What’s the worst thing about writing?

The fact that it creeps up on you when you aren’t prepared. If a story wants to be written, it wants to be written NOW. Not in five minutes, or tomorrow. NOW. It gets in the way of family life, that’s for sure. And I think I have probably lost quite a few friends since I started writing seriously.   
And the best?

For the first time in my life I am doing something I really love doing. 
Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing

I’ve done a reading or two, and got decent feedback. That’s nice. I’ve had a couple of little stories on BBC radio, one in a competitive situation where the listeners voted for something I’d written. At the Charleston Small Wonder festival, the audience voted by making a noise. That is lovely, wonderful, generous, and it is very hard not to be influenced by it. 

In the end, a writer writes to be read, listened to, performed, whatever. I don’t believe writers who say “Oh, I only write because I want to hide it away so no one ever sees it!” but I make a concerted effort to write fresh, not to order or ‘for a market’.   
What was your breakthrough moment?

Looking back, it was when an English Teacher used to sit me in front of the class over and over and get me to read my latest masterpieces. I was 14. Now, of course, I realise she was only getting out of doing English lessons. At the time, I was of course, going to be the next Enid Blyton. (and earn the dosh to go with it… sadly… that’s another story) 
What inspires you to write?

Usually, something I see. A picture. Photo. Colours mixing. A look passing between two people. Something visual, often surreal. 

Do you have a writing routine? A place that’s special?

No. I am far too chaotic. I write in my study, but my son uses my computer for Runescape, whenever he can (a game). I give up, gracelessly. 
Do you address particular themes or issues in your writing?

Oh alright, we’ll be serious for a bit.  

Loneliness, displacement, non-communication, isolation, love that misses by a mile or two…that’s the ‘serious’ work.  

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

Elbowsnitch at 10:34 on 08 December 2006  Report this post
Great interview, Vanessa! - also good to read your blog, what you say about ezines. I feel we're lucky to have you in the flash fiction group.


Nessie at 12:10 on 08 December 2006  Report this post
Thanks Frances.

Don't know about the group being lucky... I think I'm lucky to be in the group!


Nessie at 12:22 on 08 December 2006  Report this post
Oh by the way...

I am very clear on my advice to new writers... and I'm hoping it will appear soon up there. there seems to be a glitch with the transcription.


optimist at 12:37 on 08 December 2006  Report this post
Thanks for the interview, Vanessa!


Nik Perring at 13:43 on 08 December 2006  Report this post
Great interview. Thanks for this.

I’ll never forget what that first one feels like. Magic!



nessiec at 15:55 on 08 December 2006  Report this post
Great interview, 'other Vanessa'. Two Vanessa interviews in a row - must be a record!

choille at 17:31 on 08 December 2006  Report this post
Good interview - Interesting & positive.
Feel lucky you've joined the flashers.

crowspark at 21:58 on 08 December 2006  Report this post
Great interview Nessie. I think the work you do with those on the edges of society is both worthwhile and exciting, discovering new voices and for them, new sense of self-worth.

Inspirational stuff.


Prospero at 04:05 on 09 December 2006  Report this post
See, I told you so, Vanessa is getting interviewed. Thta is the trouble with being a part-time psychic. You sometimes getting your timiing wrong .

Great interview, Vanessa and I'm glad to find some else feels fulfilled by the Flash story form.



Heckyspice at 15:22 on 11 December 2006  Report this post
Very good interview, I might even drag my self back over to flash.

Best wishes


titania177 at 08:55 on 12 December 2006  Report this post
Wonderful interview, Vanessa. So glad we're all in this Writing Life together.

Cholero at 21:40 on 12 December 2006  Report this post

Very enjoyable interview. I like your energy and your enthusiasm for the short form, it's great to hear.


MarkT at 21:11 on 22 December 2006  Report this post
Hi Vanessa,

Thanks for a great interview. :)

I didn't realise you were the same Nessie we have in Flash I - I am in great company indeed!

Thanks again,


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