Doing the Write Thing: Barrie Sherwood
What do a couple whose cat leaves offerings of dead birds; a Bangladeshi worker reawakening his musical longings while constructing a concert hall in Singapore; and a woman craving for croissants, have in common?
They're all featured in The Angel Tiger and Other Stories, a collection of short stories written by Barrie Sherwood. A Hong Kong native of Canadian and French nationality, he now lives in Singapore and is the assistant professor in the School of Humanities at Nanyang Technological University.
Barrie previously authored two novels, The Pillow Book of Lady Kasa (2000) and Escape from Amsterdam (2007). Here, he shares about The Anger Tiger and Other Stories, his debut short collection.
This is your first collection of short stories. How do you feel about it?
I appreciate formal invention in the novel, but less so in short-stories, for some reason. I never really set out to write a collection of short stories. I’ve merely fallen in and out of love with the genre enough times to have accumulated enough of them for a book!
Am I excited and anxious? Publishing a book is always a source of some anxiety for me. Flaubert said something to the effect of, "how erudite one would be if one knew well only five or six books". How many books are there in the world? Who would have the audacity to write another one? You’ve got to believe that this experience, rendered in words, not only entertains but adds something – some minute increment – to human understanding of the world and of ourselves. What hubris!
Was it easy putting the stories together?
There’s no particular theme or recurring motif in the collection. I wanted something different, for the stories to be disparate and discrete – a mixed bag of flavours alike (if I’ve succeeded) only in their quality. Picking them was the easy part; writing them was slow and finicky. Some have appeared with dazzling abruptness and fanfare, the development of others has been tectonic. My desire is that it be obvious to no one which story went through 100 revisions and which one 10.
The first challenge is always the same, no matter what I’m writing: how to achieve the utmost clarity. The second challenge is one the reader will never suspect: how to realign the scene in my head with the one that’s appearing on the page, not vice versa.
What are the expectations for this book?
Can I paraphrase a Japanese poet? Shinobu Orikuchi said of tanka that it was like squeezing snow in your palm: soon enough there won’t be anything left, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t feel something.
If some nameless emotion lingers on – like the feeling left by a dream you can’t quite remember – that’s a beautiful but unpremeditated thing. And it’s less a matter of hope than of hard work. If I’ve done my job well – which is to “live” these stories in my mind, playing all the characters’ roles in one mad oneiric rehearsal after another – the story will be as suggestive and ambiguous as life itself.
The Angel Tiger and Other Stories is available here, as well as at the Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop, and other major bookstores.