Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner

Emma Martin

Emma Martin, who lives in Wellington, New Zealand, has published her stories in anthologies and literary journals both in New Zealand and the UK. Her story, ‘Two Girls in a Boat’, was selected by the judges for “its gorgeous, elegant and spare writing” and “its nuanced handling of time, place and relationships,” said the Prize’s chair, Bernardine Evaristo.

Global: How do you think winning the Commonwealth Short Story Prize might change things for you as a writer?

Emma Martin: I was walking around on cloud nine for a few days, hardly able to believe it. So that was wonderful, but I sup­pose I don’t want to get too carried away with the fact that I’ve written one good story because there’s actually quite a lot of work to be done before I can get any further down the path. It’s almost like I’m running a marathon and I’ve got a little cheer as I’ve finished my first lap but there’s actually quite a long way to run.

Do you see yourself more as a natural short story writer or might you like to turn your hand to novels one day?

I decided to start with short stories because I thought they would be a good way to learn about fiction and be able to try different things and be able to make mistakes, rather than diving into a novel. I think that with a novel if it all just goes terribly wrong then you’ve put an awful lot of time into it, and it just felt like I just wanted to be free to make mistakes.

I’ve got much more of an appreciation of the short story than I previously did. It’s funny because I’ve felt for a long time that I definitely wasn’t a short story writer, and in fact, I was adamant until quite recently that I wasn’t writing a short story collection, I was just practising writing stories. But without quite meaning to, I’ve ended up with probably about two thirds of the collection and now I’m thinking I’ll get the thing finished.

What do you think are the main challenges for writers in the world of social media and Kindles, and with all the changes that have affected traditional modes of publishing?

If I’m honest, when I think about the changes that are happening in the publishing industry, they make me feel uneasy and uncom­fortable because you don’t know what’s ahead. I think digital technology has changed every area of life in the last decade or two: education, business, my children’s life. Growing up is just so different to what my own [experience grow­ing up] was like. So of course those technologies are going to have an impact on writing and on publishing but often you can’t predict what those changes are going to be, so it’s sort of unknown.

I think humans tell stories; all humans tell sto­ries; all human societies have told stories. The form which that has taken, and I suppose the business that has grown around that, is culturally specific and it’s specific to a particular period in history and change will come. But your guess is as good as mine as to what that’s going to be. I’d like to write a novel and I’m not a very fast writer and I can imagine quite easily that it could take me four or five years to complete the thing and it’s, like, well, when I finish writing that book, will there still be novels in the sense that we have now? Will things have changed to the point that when you’ve finished your project the goalposts have completely shifted?

About the author:

Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner


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