INTERVIEW: Lara Williams, Author of ‘Treats’
Treats can come in different forms. Sometimes it’s a forbidden cigarette, a kiss from a stranger, a purchase that you know you can’t really afford.
Sometimes, Treats can be a fantastic collection of fiction by Lara Williams. Lara writes in a beautiful line between fierce and sensitive, and produced an amazing collection. Lara has an interesting career outside of writing wonderful stories, and was kind enough to share some of her history and techniques with us, and for that we are grateful.
Did you consider the order of the stories while putting together a collection?
I did! I knew which stories I wanted to bookend the collection, and to finish on a (relatively) optimistic note; but other than that I applied a loose sort of schema I might to a mixtape, making sure the beginnings and ends nicely segued, etc.
A lot of these stories were in the 2nd person, which most writers shy away from, what made you challenge this?
I’ve always liked second person narratives by writers such as Junot Diaz and Lorrie Moore, which prompted me to give it a go, then I sort of couldn’t stop. There’s something addictive about the second person, I think it’s to do with the rhythm; it tolerates shorter, punchier sentences and there’s a breathlessness to it. It’s like a steam train. Also, I think it mimics (at least my) thoughts (i.e. you need to empty the washing machine, you look terrible today) so there’s an immediacy. They’re terribly Creative Writing MA, though. I should be ashamed.
Treats is a story that also serves as the title. Did you feel pressure about having the collection named after the title?
I actually came up with the name before I’d written any of the stories. I wanted to write, not flash, but relatively short (short) fiction with a certain density. A snapshot the reader could quickly consume, as opposed to say, some meaty Alice Munro number with lots of characters and temporal leaps. Plus, I liked the idea of calling a book of unrelentingly depressive stories with consistently sad endings “treats”.
You’ve also written a lot of non-fiction, too. Do you see that as helping fuel your fiction skills, or different mediums?
I’ve done all sorts of writing; from embarrassingly earnest music reviews to nonsense SEO. A lot of the non-fiction I’ve written has been a series of compromises, you’re writing with somebody else’s tone of voice with their agenda in mind. And so, writing fiction has been a release from that. But the other stuff has made me a more judicious writer.
Did you consciously have a theme when putting together the collection, or was it a compilation of stories you had?
I definitely wrote them as a collection and the themes were always there. I also wanted to write about small kindnesses, little significant moments. I like fiction that articulates something recognisable but doesn’t over labour the point. That pulls the camera away before offering anything conclusive.
One of the things I loved about your story is people falling apart. Do you have any advice for people who are trying to keep it together?
I go completely berserk at the faintest inkling of things coming apart, so, no.
Another aspect of your characters was that they were dissatisfied with their relationships but not necessarily distraught as a result of this. Is it important to you to have characters who aren’t dependent in their relationships?
Hmmm, a lot of the stories are “relationship fiction” though the relationships are not always foregrounded. Something I wanted to write about, particularly as a female experience, is the negotiation between being outwardly independent and self-reliant, but wanting the validation of a relationship. And how that can feel like a betrayal. I also wanted to write characters who sort of welcome unhappiness, who relish it. It’s not something I’ve experienced so much since turning 30, but in my twenties I felt a compulsion to almost see how much misery I could take, and I wanted to write about that.
What’s the best treat you’ve ever received?
I really like it when somebody makes me a cup of tea in the evening.
Are you working on anything else we should be excited about?
I am persevering with a novel though whether you should be excited about it remains to be seen (probably not).
Treats is a collection, but can feel dangerously real. Have you had people question the element of fiction in the stories?
Yes, I had a few people ask me whether the story about a quite lonely woman, living with just her cat, was about me. I was offended because I’m really allergic to cats. I’d love a cat.