The Gull Workshop: At some point my son said, ‘That would be a cool title for a book’

July 2023

These stories strike me as quite different tonally from your novel The Artificial Newfoundlander – they’re still (broadly) contemporary and full of wit, but the situations often hint at, or veer into, something odd or offbeat or surreal. Does this come from a shorter narrative structure allowing for such trajectories? Or is this what’s on your mind these days? (I know the stories have been created and sometimes published over the past several years.)
I think you’re right to note the difference in tone, but that’s not deliberate. I think the “offbeat and surreal” comment applies to only about five of the thirteen stories in the collection. When I was writing them, I gave no thought to such issues as “narrative structure.” I was simply trying, as best I could, to write a story that might be good enough to be published in a literary journal.

Can you explain the genesis of one or two of the stories, such as “The Gull Workshop”? When you start, do you know where the stories are going?
I can certainly explain the genesis of the story “The Gull Workshop.” I owe the title to my son Tim. At some point we learned that his grandfather, an avid photographer and birdwatcher, had attended one. We had no idea what it would be (still don’t). At some point Tim said, “That would be a cool title for a book.” It was his idea to add the phrase “and other stories,” which I like in part because it’s somewhat misleading, since “The Gull Workshop” is the shortest story in the book. I simply tried to imagine what a gull workshop might be like. In the case of about half of the stories in the book, I knew from the start where they were going. The others, not so much. For them, it was a matter of trusting my intuition.

How do you keep your characters anchored in what are often fantastic scenarios?
I don’t worry about “anchoring” them to anything. They can float off in whatever direction they like. I just try to follow the logic of their stories.

Were the last three stories always envisioned as being linked around Hanrahan, or did you just find there was more to explore about him as you went along?
The three Hanrahan stories were written as individual pieces at the time of the first iteration of The Burning Rock (late 1980s, early 1990s). Each developed organically, largely in response to comments and suggestions from other members of the group.

You have been an English professor, an author, and, as mentioned above, a founding member of The Burning Rock, the influential writing group. What’s the best advice about writing you’ve given/been given?
The best advice I’ve given (to Lisa Moore, in 1985): Keep writing. I think that’s worked out rather well.

The Gull Workshop and Other Stories by Larry Mathews is published by Breakwater Books ($22.95)

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