Interview: Samantha Memi answers to Elizabeth Archer
I am delighted to be able to interview talented British writer Samantha Memi on the occasion of the publication of her brilliant new chapbook “Kate Moss and Other Heroines,” an absurdist text being published by Black Scat Books.
EA: It is great to speak with a fellow writer about the craft, especially one as talented as you, Samantha. The first time I read one of your stories, I instantly looked for more Samantha Memi stories. They are addictive. Very fresh, very original, and so witty.
SM: Thank you. You sound like my daughter when she wants to borrow some money.
EA: The stories in your chapbook cover a variety of subjects, from Kate Moss to Marie Antoinette. Do you write every day?
SM: I would love to write every day. And be able to write according to a routine. But my stories always pop into my head when I least expect them. So they tend to write themselves, I often have little control over them. Even when I'm late for work. I know you manage to write every day and always come up with something wonderful. I’m envious of that.”
EA: Your stories deal frequently with the role of women, and their struggles to fit in to societal stereotypes. What female authors in particular have influenced your work?
SM: My first love was Katherine Mansfield. I recently reread “How Pearl Buttons was Kidnapped.” It’s almost 100 years old and yet reads as if it was written yesterday. It's so impressionistic. The next big influence was at uni. I studied Spanish and fell in love with Giovanna Benedetti. Sadly, very little of her work has been translated into English. But she certainly influenced my early stories
My love at the moment is Deb Olin Unferth. Her writing is clean and efficient. I adore Minor Robberies and I keep reading the stories hoping they will influence me. But I just keep coming out with the same clunky stuff. Also Diane Williams, Julie Koh, Kathy Fish, Kim Gek Lin Short, Sarah Manguso’s vignettes. Actually many others too.
EA: All women?
SM: Yes. Men are fine in bed, or fixing your car when it won't start, but…
EA: Do you think men and women approach life differently? What do women writers see that men miss?
SM: It has been said that men write about events and women write about feelings, A simplification, but true nevertheless. Women pick up the minutiae of life, men only want the Earth shattering situations. In general women get under the skin of their characters better than men. And of course women write about love better than men.
EA: What would you like readers to take away from your stories?
SM: My idea of what I want readers to take away from my stories has changed. I used to be happy just writing silly stories, but more recently I've started to want write stuff that makes people think. This brings an entirely different aspect to what I write because I have to avoid being didactic, and ensuring that entertainment comes first. Because I think fiction should be entertainment above all else.
EA: Where do you imagine people reading your flash fiction?
SM: I hope people don’t read my stories when they're sitting on the toilet. Unless they are reading a story I recently wrote, about a young lady on a toilet.
EA: Are you amused by the human condition in general?
SM: Humans are such ridiculous creatures, aren’t we? Fashion fascinates me; women tottering along on heels, the seams of their dresses bulging from one too many donuts, while their men saunter along in comfortable footwear and clothes.
Sex is hilarious. Some of us have sticks and others have holes and the idea is to push the stick in the hole and squirt. What the fuck is that about. Why can't we run on batteries and go down the supermarket and buy babies. God obviously has a sense of humour.
I wouldn’t write about paedophiles or rape. I have written about sex but in a jokey kind of way. I dislike genre in general and I particularly dislike erotic stuff. You know all this, ‘His magnificent member stood erect in all its glory and my love juices flowed freely.’ I mean who reads that crap?
EA: Is there a topic you would like to explore in greater depth in your fiction? You write humour. Would you like to explore more serious subjects in fiction? Perhaps write in a different genre?
SM: I hate soldiers, pharmaceutical companies, hypocrisy, the way we allow children to starve, so I’ve written on those themes. So far only two have been published, but these are new stories, and it can take me a year to write a story, so maybe next year.
The main difficulty for me is to find a balance between entertaining the reader and putting across my point of view. I would like to write about racism. It seems to have changed lately from blacks to Muslims. I did a story about Salmon Rushdie…
EA: Don’t you mean Sal-man?
SM: I call him Salmon ‘cos he looks like a fish. People say you shouldn’t attack other writers but I think if you feel strongly about something then write about it. Chekhov detested Ibsen and attacked him for being shallow and sentimental. I can’t stand all this namby-pamby pretty writing, where critics say, ‘Oh, what fine lines.’ I think Rushdie should have been taken to court for inciting racial hatred. If he'd written about blacks he would have been. He seems to think he's an ‘artist’, and as such, superior to others, and that gives him the right to say what he likes about others, however hurtful that may be. Everyone is human before anything else. Don’t you think?
EA: I think that good fiction recognizes the common humanity in everyone. And the best fiction is approachable by anyone, anywhere. That certainly is a goal of mine when I write. Not alienate people, but embrace and amuse.
SM: But some people will always be alienated. If you write an anti-war story, soldiers will either dislike it or misunderstand it.
EA: You said you like writing about fashion. Can a woman have too many pairs of shoes? Or are they limited by the number of legs she possesses?
SM: I used to believe that, apart from Imelda Marcos, no woman could have too many shoes, but as I've grown into adulthood I've come to realise that quality, not quantity, is the important criterion. But your second question raises an important point: if a woman has four legs, should she wear two identical pairs of shoes, or should her back legs wear different shoes from her front legs. Personally I would go for the identical shoes on all four feet, but then I'm very old fashioned – I only have two legs.
EA: You write flash fiction. Have you considered writing a novel? Or does flash seem to suit you better?
SM: I would never be able to write a novel. My creative energy runs out before I get to two thousand words. Most of my stories are about a thousand. I don’t think I write flash fiction. I just write stories. Some are longer than others.
EA: Like legs?
SM: If I had a choice: longer legs or longer stories. I'd go for legs.
EA: Thank you, Samantha, for a very enlightening glimpse into the life of a promising young writer. I think, like your characters, your stories will have a lot of legs, and I hope to see more of your writings published. Much success on your excellent and amusing chapbook, “Kate Moss and Other Heroines.”
Elizabeth Archer is a working technical writer with aspirations of something better. She is a published poet and has been a feature writer for local newspapers.
First published in Black Scat Review 1, http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/743629