We’re delighted that literary agent with Blake Friedmann, Samuel Hodder, has agreed to be our judge for the Bath Short Story Award 2019. Samuel graduated in Psychology from University of Warwick, and completed a Masters in Publishing, before working for several years as an editor for psychology research. In 2015 he joined Blake Friedmann in the Contracts and Finance departments and is building his own list of authors.
In literary and contemporary fiction he loves distinctive voices and complex characters (e.g. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh), coming-of-age novels, LGBTQI themes, and novels that explore the loss of innocence, desire, deceit, class, or the world of work. In historical fiction, novels so immersive they can show readers a different way of thinking and being: Mary Renault’s novels are favourites. In crime and thrillers, he loves an unusual, evocative setting (e.g. The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin), but would like to read anything from psychological suspense to the truly macabre.
He also welcomes dystopian and speculative fiction, including fantasy, science-fiction, and the supernatural, where he would like to see novels centred on the characters’ psychological journeys (e.g. the Earthsea novels by Ursula K Le Guin, The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, or The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley), but he likes huge, world-building novels too (e.g. Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks or Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky).
- You are currently building your author list at Blake Friedmann and you are looking for a wide variety of fiction, including coming-of -age novels, LGBTQI themes – novels that can immerse readers into a different way of thinking with unusual and evocative settings. I imagine this is what you might be looking for in short story entries as well?
Yes, in short! Stories in all genres – contemporary, historical, a thriller, even SFF – and all settings in time and place will be welcome by me. I am passionate about LGBT fiction, so a story with LGBT themes or characters would be very exciting. I recognise that a richly evocative setting is hard to accomplish within 2,200 words, but if you are able to transport me to another world within these constraints, I’ll be hugely impressed.
- Your background is in psychology, and you are also interested in dystopian and speculative fiction including fantasy and science fiction, novels centred on characters’ psychological journeys. Can you say a little more about this?
I think that what drew me into psychology – first at university and then as an editor for psychology research – was the same instinct that later drew me back to literature: a desire to learn more about myself and others, to understand life better, ultimately to seek comfort on this rollercoaster ride that is “the human condition.” The openness of science-fiction and fantasy, where the only limit to the story and its world is the author’s imagination, can be a wonderful space to take the reader on unique psychological journeys. I think this is part of Tolkien’s huge and enduring appeal, and I’m an enormous fan of Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea novels (which draw on Taoist philosophy, as Ged journeys towards a Taoist way of life) and the chilling, weird, uncanny Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.
- Do you see a future in the world of digital publishing at the moment, or do you think hard copy books are still the favoured way into publishing?
Certainly there is a future in the world of digital publishing. A few years ago, many commentators predicted that the rise ebooks would marginalise print books. It’s now clear that isn’t happening – ebooks have actually lost a little market share, as sales of print books have risen. However, ebooks remain very important, and publishing is now firmly a multi-format venture, with print books, ebooks and audio books all reaching large numbers of readers and providing crucial income to authors. Some ‘digital first’ publishers are doing great work right now – especially in commercial fiction – in reaching new readers and bringing new life to backlist titles. At Blake Friedmann we’ve seen books first published 30 years ago soar up the bestseller charts this year after being republished as ebooks and brought to a new generation of readers.
- At the moment, as well as novels and non-fiction, would you accept submissions of short story collections, stories in a linked sequence, or novellas, which seem to be becoming more popular?
Yes to all the above. It isn’t easy to convince a publisher to invest in a short story collection by a debut author, but it can be done – if the writing is outstanding – and many publishers are providing more space to short story collections today than just a few years ago. So please do submit them to me. Some of my favourite books of all time are novellas – from Death in Venice to Heart of Darkness to The Metamorphosis – so I welcome novellas as well. Booksellers have given more space to these lately, and publishers have produced innovative series in both short fiction and non-fiction. I love the Vintage Minis series by Penguin Books, to give one example.
- Which short story writers do you particularly like?
Any list of my all-time favourites must include Shirley Jackson. I adore her gloriously unsettling short stories, her gift for rendering the everyday sinister or uncanny. Start with the Dark Tales collection, if you’ve not read her before. Another favourite short story writer is John Cheever. I admire the pathos of his clever, quietly tragic stories, which are immediately transporting to the particular world of American post-war suburbia, yet still speak movingly today to readers who have never known it. Among contemporary writers, I loved Kevin Barry’s collection Dark Lies the Island – his linguistic agility, comedic timing, and startling voices, the alternating shades of levity and darkness. Ottessa Moshfegh is another favourite, the stories in Homesick for Another World are incredibly confident and controlled, her characters so often appalling but at the same time irresistible.
- What would be the ingredients of a stand-out short story entry for you?
I enjoy tension in short stories and being unnerved. I love a sharply distinctive voice and characters that are badly behaved and not sorry for it. My taste in humour can be jet-black. But I’m prepared to be completely surprised, and to fall in love with a story that is completely different to my usual tastes – even something gentle or romantic!