I wanted to be a writer when I was a little girl, but I married young, had several children in quick succession and the dream got buried somewhere - probably under a big pile of dirty nappies. I started writing again as soon as my children were at school. I did a writing module during my Literature degree with the Open University and then I decided to do a Creative Writing MA.
I entered one of my early MA stories in the Strictly Writing Award competition and I was tremendously excited when I won. I was just beginning to think that perhaps, one day, when I’d had a lot more practice, I might actually be able to call myself a writer.
I kept writing stories after I’d finished my MA and I soon had enough to make a collection. I heard about Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize, the only international prize for debut collections of short stories written in English, and I decided to enter. I was delighted to be shortlisted and over the moon to win.
My collection, Sweet Home, is full of stories about family and the things that go right, and wrong, when people live together. Some of the stories are sad, some are funny and some are best described as fairy tales.
Lancashire Writing Hub guest editor Sarah Schofield reviewed Carys Bray’s Salt Scott Prize winning short story collection Sweet Home here: she says "...The collection is titled after the third story in the book. This decision is well measured. ‘Sweet Home’ is an updated twist on Hansel and Gretel. Playing on the original narrative, it highlights discrimination, racism and small community gossip. Refering to the foreign woman’s gingerbread home, one zenophobic character states: “She should have used an English recipe… Victoria sponge… You can’t get more English than that.” It seems more than appropriate that the Hansel and Gretel narrative, so ingrained in family life and read to generations of children, should have a re-evaluation and hold an important place in this collection. Challenging established expectations of what ‘family’ looks like...."
I get inspiration from everyday things. A couple of the stories are set in shops; one in a surreal store where people can buy children, and another in a midnight supermarket during the rescue of a group of Chilean miners. I read a lot of parenting books when my children were small and, over time, I developed a hatred of them. The opening story in the collection deals with that hatred - it is interrupted by ‘helpful’ quotes from fictional parenting books. I really like fairy tales and I think they have fuelled my love for short stories where impossible things happen. In one of my stories an old lady builds a gingerbread house and in another a carpenter sculpts a baby out of ice.
I like to read stories that are funny and sad, probably because real life is often both of those things. I like beautiful language and I also like to be surprised. Some stories I have really enjoyed recently are ‘Sports Leader’ from Jane Rogers’ new collection Hitting Trees With Sticks, ‘Sometimes Gulls Kill Other Gulls’ from A.J. Ashworth’s debut collection Somewhere Else, Or Even Here and ‘Tamagotchi’ from Adam Marek’s new collection The Stone Thrower.
I’m still writing short stories, although at the moment I’m mostly concentrating on a PhD and novel. I’m nearly at the end of my first draft of the novel. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s about the sudden death of a small child and it’s full of fairy tales and misplaced faith in the miraculous. It’s sad, but I hope it’s funny too, just like real life.
To find out more about Carys, you can find her blog here: http://carysbray.co.uk
To win a signed copy of 'Sweet Home', simply tell us which traditional fairy story YOU'D like to give a modern twist and why. Leave your idea in our comments box and we'll announce the winner next week on Strictly Writing.
Many thanks to Carys for coming back and telling us all about her rise to publication fame - we're so proud that we were able to play such a meaningful role in her success story.