Interview with B. Mamatha

So, your fiction’s kinda strange.
Thank you. That’s how I like it. I like to set scenarios up as believable – hum drum, even; with sudden and jarring drops into the unreal or even darker places. The emotions and reactions are, I hope, very human – something you can recognise in yourself. But I like challenging my characters. Even the ones who live in what looks like the here and now tend to find an element of unreality around the corner: haunted mirrors, odd fellows – even a dragon in the basement [The Smoke - out soon]. That’s the potential of fiction – anything can happen.
You don’t just create odd situations. You invent whole cultural traditions and even food and drink – why is that?
Writer’s egotism? The God complex? They’re just places my mind visits, and I try to capture it and encapsulate it on paper. In Keeping Lastly I wanted a world which wasn’t entirely identifiable. Kind of like reading a travelogue to some place you can never really go. I also didn’t want the details of any place you do know to get in the way of the situations and reactions my characters experience. I do like writing about food … and I just get a kick out of describing meals and mealtimes that are voluptuous and delicious but ultimately, like everything else, a work of fiction. And sometimes, the rhetoric of eating and drinking is about signifying something else in the story – hopefully all these elements bounce off each other and, eventually, come together … kind of.
So where do your ideas come from?
Everywhere! Sometimes, just from those tiny thoughts that creep into your mind when you’re doing something utterly innocuous … I can’t help thinking, “What if …? And then what? But what if …?” Smoke reflects my insomnia, for sure. Pork chop [coming soon] kind of materialised while I was watching a TV food show, and then it got stuck onto memories of growing up in a tiny flat in Northumbria juxtaposed with dreams that used to terrify me! I should add that everything that actually happened in that story – and the family in it – aren’t based on real experiences or people …
Is any of your fiction autobiographical?
Yes and no. Some of the things I’ve written about have happened; usually in the oblique, sometimes quite directly. More typically, it’s a mix of the two. Keeping Lastly was an attempt to write out the grief of my father’s death, which is probably why parts of it are exhibit morbid fascinations. It’s a book about love and loss and death. I wrote it when I was very young and then found I couldn’t be free of it until it was published – I imagine that’s the same for lots of writers. Getting ‘rid of it’ (the book or the grief, take it how you like) made it possible to start writing again. My current fiction is very different, I like to think. Obviously still strange, though.
How would you say your writing’s changed over the years?
I’d like to say it’s much tighter. It’s less flowery. I’m interested in balancing narrative with narrators right now. How reliable narrators are, for instance. I’d say my writing now – particularly Smoke and other work in progress – is about Things That Happen, rather than the interior monologue. Being honest, that’s probably an improvement.
Which of your titles is your favourite?
Right now? Smoke! It seems a distinct voice and is a closer step to ‘the real world’ (it’s set in London in the early 80s). It’s a recognisable world – and yes, the background to that story was very much taken from my life and periods of unemployment. Though parts of it are (hopefully!) impossible.
And what about your influences?
I’m not sure if they’re influences or just writers and characters that feel like they’ve become part of me:

Alice in Wonderland
Magda Szabo
EM Forster
Some of Schlink’s short stories.
Willem Elsschot

Hopefully that’s not an insult to any of the above!
Last words?
Well … that sounds ominous. But I’d say: while my short stories are being published as ‘singles’, some belong in sets [collection due in Autumn 2014]. The Gunnard Ultimatum, The Mirror Trick, Pork Chop, A Game of Invention and Smoke ‘belong together’: they’re part of an attempt to write about houses and homes and how we’re tied to them in different ways. But they’re all quite different in their own ways. If you enjoyed Keeping Lastly, you’ll probably enjoy A Game of Invention as the ‘bridge’ between my older and newer work. If you didn’t enjoy Keeping Lastly, start with my newer fiction: Pork Chop or Smoke, which are brighter, more contemporary pieces. If you don’t like any of these then here’s where we part company …
Published 2014-06-23.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The House They Couldn't Build
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 32,750. Language: English. Published: January 2, 2015 by The Goldman Press. Categories: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - single author, Fiction » Literature » Literary
Strange fiction, altered realities. Six short stories inspired by notions of ‘home’ - disorienting, comic and uniquely memorable. B. Mamatha writes strange fiction: beautifully crafted and seemingly recognisable worlds in which the unlikely meets the impossible head-on.