Following his dramatic new short story collection, The Pier Falls, Mark Haddon ponders why there isn’t more death and destruction in literary fiction.
“My wife said it should be called: ‘Everyone dies.’ She said: “Why don’t you write a story where no one dies,” says Mark Haddon. The children’s author turned bestselling novelist has now turned his hand to short stories in an unashamedly dark collection of tales, The Pier Falls.
Haddon, who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, is surprised there is not more death and violence in literary fiction.
“My question would be, why do literary novels stay away from that? I always think about horror and crime being bestselling genres.
“It’s surprising there isn’t more trauma and death in literary fiction. Narrative only lives because there is death, because we have a finite amount of time.”
His favourite story in The Pier Falls is a gothic fantasy tale, The Gun, based on the medieval epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
“There’s something mystical and elemental about it. I love the dog leg at the beginning. You think it is a social study of the middle classes at Christmas and then you roll into the ravine.”
Haddon also takes inspiration from classical mythology, from Victorian explorer narratives, and from the unforgiving stare of reality television, in a collection full of drama, action and extraordinary descriptive writing. He says: “What I like are stories shortened, rather than short stories. I write stories, which I then compress. “The Island started as a long narrative poem and three of the short stories in the book started as plays.” Haddon says it took him a long time before he realised what he wanted in a short story.
He had also completed at least three adult novels before he wrote and published The Curious Incident, a mystery story told through the eyes of a teenager with Asperger’s, which became a global success. “I knew I had something that worked and that’s all I knew. I was pretty sure it was a good book and I remember saying that I’d be happy if it sold 5,000 copies.” Haddon says: “no one is really counting”, but The Curious Incident went on to sell between five and ten million copies worldwide. The author believes its popularity was partly because it wasn’t, “tied to the English language. Readers do 85% of the work – so it is something they create themselves.”
For The Pier Falls, he has also provided the illustrations, producing a full-page drawing for each of the stories in the book. It is, he says, “a way of supporting local book shops, to encourage people to go into a shop to buy a physical book.” Haddon says he “writes for himself”, but has been delighted by the reaction to his ultra-real short stories, which have already collected a pile of awards.
“A lot of the reviews have said they are short stories for people who don’t like short stories. “Another said: ‘this could be the collection he is remembered for.’ “At the moment, I am halfway through a novel, but the reaction to the stories has been so positive I’m thinking I might turn 180 degrees and maybe write some more.”
Words: Claire Smith
Picture: Katherine Anne Rose
Mark Haddon, Bailie Gifford Main Theatre, 23 August, 3.15pm