Sam Szanto – Q&A

Sam Szanto

Sam Szanto

Sam Szanto lives in Durham, UK. Her debut short story collection “If No One Speaks” was published by Alien Buddha Press in 2022.

Over 50 of her stories and poems have been published/ listed in competitions. As well as her many published stories, in April 2022 she won the Shooter Flash Fiction Contest, was placed second in the 2022 Writer’s Mastermind Short Story Contest, third in the 2021 Erewash Open Competition, second in the 2019 Doris Gooderson Competition and was also a winner in the 2020 Literary Taxidermy Competition.

Her short story collection “Courage” was a finalist in the 2021 St Lawrence Book Awards. She won the 2020 Charroux Prize for Poetry and the First Writers International Poetry Prize, and her poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals including “The North”.

Sam can be found at:

Twitter: @sam_szanto
Facebook: sam-szanto
Instagram: samszantowriter

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) story collection?

The stories in my collection are all very different, inspired by different things. Often I’ll read a news story that will capture my attention enough for me to add a ‘What if?’ to the ending, and the story will find its own way from there. As a general theme, the collection is about voicelessness and displacement, which have impacted me personally and as such are rich sources of inspiration.

What came first the characters or the world?

I was taught to always start with a character, but actually that’s very difficult to do. Usually the idea or the scenario will come first and I will people it accordingly. But the characters usually end up taking over.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

It’s hard to get short story collections published in general, because there isn’t much a market for them, certainly not in the mainstream publishing industry. It wasn’t instant, but once the collection had a coherence it wasn’t years either. It’s just about finding the right publisher, and I knew as soon as I read another collection that Alien Buddha Press had published that they were the right people to approach.

How long did it take to write?

It’s hard to answer that, because unlike a novel I didn’t write the first story in the collection with the idea that’s where it would end up. They stood alone. I wrote one of the stories in the collection in 2009, and another about a month before the collection was published.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

No, I can’t write and listen to music, my attention is scattered enough as it is!

How many publishers turned you down?

Only one, I think (but I may have cognitive dissonance!), although I did also enter forms of the collection in various prizes and didn’t win, although it was a finalist in the Black Lawrence Press’ St Lawrence Award in 2021.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

Incredibly good, I’ve been amazed.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

A wonderful lady / writer called Laura Besley, who offered to review the book, has made three of the stories her ‘Stories of the Day’ on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, including quotes from each of the stories.

What can you tell us about your next book?

I’m trying (heavy emphasis on that word) to write a thriller. I’m also doing an MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University with the Poetry School so working towards a poetry pamphlet and subsequently hopefully a collection too.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

I do of my own! I would be more likely to take notice of a mainstream author’s reviews than an independent one, as the former are generally more likely to be impartial – I’m talking about on review sites rather than blurbs, which are never impartial.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

I don’t have a current genre, so yes.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

So many things… my last office job was a marketing officer for a national blind charity, then I freelanced for many years as a copy-editor and proofreader and an English tutor which I still do but not as much. When I was younger I worked in an array of jobs from ice cream seller to bakery assistant to marketing a girls’ school.

If No One Speaks

If No One Speaks

Which author(s) inspire you?

Again, so many… Off the top of my head, Kate Atkinson, Tessa Hadley (I was lucky enough to be taught short story writing by her), Elly Griffiths, Janice Hallett, Rose Tremain, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Sophie Hannah, so so many others…

Which genres do you read yourself?

Poetry, short stories (I would say that anyway), fiction. I do enjoy a biography too. Children’s stories to my children!

What is your biggest motivator?

Ego! Or, just the need to write. Writers need to write.

What will always distract you?

My children, particularly my son screaming at his tablet when he loses a game!

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

All the say – that’s the good thing about having an independent publisher.

Were you a big reader as a child?

I read all.the.time. Never stopped. I would read when I brushed my teeth, even when I was walking to the post box.

What were your favourite childhood books?

I don’t know if many people will have heard of these but I loved the Antonia Forest books about a family who went to boarding school. Also the Chalet School books, and the Sweet Valley High books. I loved boarding school books so much that I forced my parents to send me to one when I was 14; sadly the truth didn’t live up to the fiction.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

Not really, but the Waterstones in Bath is lovely. Collected Books in Durham too.

What books can you not resist buying?

I keep on buying books from my publisher Alien Buddha at the moment, because of all the lovely authors I’m interacting with on Twitter.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

About 10!

What is your current or latest read?

Elly Griffith’s ‘The Stranger’, which my mother-in-law lent to me, and is fantastic.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

Kate Atkinson’s latest!

Any events in the near future?

I’m doing a live Twitter reading on 28th August with some other Alien Buddha authors. Also a live poetry reading organised by AUB, as I’m currently longlisted for their poetry competition, in October.

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

It just happened – probably because I don’t have the patience to sit down and write a novel (yet). Also because of the wonderful short story module that I took with Tessa Hadley.


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Beyond the Veil

Mark Morris (editor). Flame Tree Publishing. (320p) ISBN 9781787584624
Beyond the Veil

Beyond the Veil

I love a good collection of short stories and when I saw this on NetGalley I jumped at the chance of reading it.

You often find that an anthology of short stories will often have several good ones, a couple of outstanding stories, and a couple of mediocre or, even, poor stories. Fortunately this collection is ’all killer, no filler’ from start to finish.

My personal favourites were;

‘A Mystery for Julie Chu’ by Stephen Gallagher about a woman who can detect magic in ordinary things, a Mr. Disco robot that channels the dead, and midnight auctions.

‘Yellowback’ by Gemma Files, a stunning piece of cosmic horror, mutating women, and changing worlds.

‘Polaroid and Seaweed’ by Peter Harness, another piece with a lot of creeping horror and metamorphosis, loved the Polaroid Mum bit.

Overall though I enjoyed all of the stories but for me these three shone out.

Got a few of these authors on watch now for anything else by them to read 🙂


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories

Nayrouz Qarmout. Comma Press. (112p) ISBN 9781905583782

The Sea Cloak

The Sea Cloak

I’ve had this collection of short stories on the go for quite a while now as they are a difficult read, not that the words are difficult but the emotions those words stir are hard to process.

Nayrouz writes poetically about situations influenced by her time in Gaza as a young woman, each episode is a beauty to read. Flowing words that entangle you in the situation and emotions that are so expertly shared by her prose.

These situations/episodes describe a world so different from our own, but people who are just the same, and it is this juxtaposition that makes these difficult to process as you are able to feel the desperation, fear, confusion, love, and hope that Nayrouz’s characters are infused with so strongly.

Each story explores a part of the world we hear a lot about but can never really know from a more personal perspective than the news ever can, I loved the feeling of rebellion and hope in ‘The Long Braid’, the depth of history explored in ‘The Anklet of Maioumas’ but all the stories have something to give in understanding a situation so different from our own.

This is one of the reasons that we really need good translated fiction, we need to be able to share and feel the differences in the world where all people are the same but not the circumstances the people are in, this can help us develop an empathic understanding as emotions are universal.

Beautifully translated by Perween Richards for Comma Press.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.

Igifu

Scholastique Mukasonga. Archipelago Books. (160p) ISBN 9781939810786

Igifu

Igifu

It’s August so that must mean it’s Women in Translation month.

I’d already lined up quite a lot of novels and novellas for the month I was in the mood for some short story collections and did a shout out on Twitter for some suggestions. Igifu was one of the suggestions that really made me perk up and think I’ve not read any translated works from Rwanda, or sub-Saharan Africa before.

Scholastique Mukasonga builds upon a strong prose to bring to your heart a lost Rwanda through these heartfelt stories, full of family traditions, micro- and macro-politics, colonial impositions, but intertwined in grief and love throughout.

All the stories are brilliant at illuminating aspects of what life was like for Tutsi’s in exile during the genocides and. their aftermaths, and also shows what life was like before to some extent.

The collection is excellent throughout but I personally found ‘The Glorious Cow’ and ‘Grief’ to be the two strongest stories.

In ‘The Glorious Cow’ we hear of how the cows were treated and venerated as life givers and central to the culture of the families described in the story. Prestige and standing were both conferred through these beautiful animals, and the loss when they were slaughtered or had to be left behind when the genocide was ongoing is a different level of bereavement, a cultural loss.

Then there is ‘Grief’, such a strong story to end the collection on. Describing a woman’s discovery that she and her brother who had both left for exile in were the only ones of their family to escape slaughter during the genocide. We are taken through various stages of her personal grief, leading to some horrific discoveries and a knowledge that she has to be the conduit for the voices of the dead.

An emotionally crushing collection of short stories that are a must read, both for the history that’s imparted but also for the strength of Scholastique’s writing.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.