You’ve just been shortlisted for the Young Writer of the Year Award. How does it feel? What does being shortlisted mean to you?
It’s completely bonkers, obviously, particularly given the extraordinary calibre of the other writers on the shortlist. Writing can feel a lot like singing to yourself in the mirror with a hairbrush microphone, sometimes, so it’s very weird to have it all suddenly taken seriously, like you’re singing into a real mic on a real stage with no advance warning that that was going to happen. It’s phenomenal and it’s also very scary.
When did you first start writing? What drew you into it?
I’ve always written, it’s a compulsion as much as it is a job or a hobby. I used to tell people I was going to be a writer when I was little, except for when I told them I was going to be an archaeologist, which I think is something everyone briefly thought they were going to be around the age of nine.
How did you come to write Salt Slow?
Writing a collection wasn’t an intentional process – I started writing short stories more or less because I wanted to learn how to do it and when the time came to build a collection, I found that many of the themes that pervaded my stories were the same ones. I’m interested in women and bodies, the ways in which existing as a physical object can harm us and shape us. I wanted to tell stories about the monstrous aspects of the everyday and the things both internal and external that can haunt us.
Tell us a bit more about the writing process: How long did it take you, what did it involve?
Salt slow took about two years to write. I work full-time so writing always has to fit around everything else and it was just something I did whenever I had a moment. It can be nice, in a way, to be able to treat the writing as a break from the day job, although it can also feel a little like always having homework. It’s not something I’d ever be able to give up, though – writing is just something I do.
Which writers do you look up to? What do you like in them?
As a short story writer, I’m completely obsessed with Sarah Hall – the way she blurs the speculative and realist, the way she can unwind such beautiful images from stories about trauma and alienation and loss. I think she’s a miraculous writer.
Elsewhere, I love Carmen Maria Machado and Shirley Jackson, Annie Proulx, Camilla Grudova, Daisy Johnson. Oh and Stephen King. I really do love Stephen King.
What are you planning to do next?
I’m currently deep in the mire with my first novel, which will also be coming out with Picador. It will be more than a little bit genre, the way I think my collection both is and isn’t horror writing, and will deal with a lot of the same concerns: women and isolation, the cult of the family and the squelch of the physical form. It’s a strange feeling, going back to the form I always thought I wanted to write in and finding it much less comfortable than I now find the short story. It’s a learning process, though, and hopefully I’ll be a better writer at the end of it!
Julia Armfield lives and works in London. She is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017, longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Prize 2018 and is the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018.