Interview with Zoe Lambert, Author of The War Tour

I reviewed The War Tour a few months ago for LWH and I was delighted to be able to spend some time with the author in the Cornerhouse in Manchester in the pouring rain discussing aspects of this book and the short story over mint tea and coffee.

Apart from enjoying the process of exploring history Zoe has experienced many of the places described in the book and worked with some of the groups of people that we meet on The War Tour.  Through real campaign work she has created authentic legal materials from real people though all of the stories are fictional.

So where did you start?

“This differs from earlier stories published by Comma Press in that the stories are deliberately external, inspired partly by anger at the legal system that lets down asylum seekers.  I also wanted to write about how people live with their actions after the war.”

By working in their world Zoe has developed strong views on how to portray refugees and the victims of war. In her world there are no good guys and bad guys.  There is a challenge for readers and writers alike about the lines between fact and fiction.  This book asks us about who is culpable for history and whose responsibility it is to tell these stories.

“I am concerned that past events may be forgotten or that we learn a version of history that distorts.  That’s what happens in our cultural memory of colonialism.”

But why short stories? (it isn’t for the money.)

“A novel tends to have grand narratives and the characters and themes have to eventually reconcile.  I was more interested in the everyday moments, a glimpse at a person’s life.  I like to have several different perspectives.  I don’t think of the characters as victims, it’s more complex than that.”

So how do you make the stories link together into a coherent collection?

“I prefer to just write and let the links emerge.  By letting the imagery, metaphors and language develop and trusting the unconscious part of the process one story tends to lead to another.”

In the opening story the narrator talks to the reader in the second person, making me a character on a bus (man with a briefcase) listening to an old lady.  Zoe is deliberately playing with points of view and testing our ways of reading.  My Americano went cold while she explained how this writing technique aims to connect the reader to alienated people by removing distance and testing the way we read.

The extensive notes at the end of the book talk about appropriation of voice but something else is going here, something that demands a second look.  The characters in these stories are fictional yet they represent important truths.  What’s going on there?

“I wanted to focus on silenced narratives, about the forgotten stories and to foreground issues.  I want to expose the roles of people involved in frontier genocide.  We hear one version of history but what about the silent voices, the women like Charlotte Manning who are witnesses but are themselves complicit?”

Can Zoe give any advice to other short story writers?

“It’s all about time and realising that the first draft is just that…and being greedy for feedback.  Having a good publisher like Comma who gave me lots of ideas and suggestions, helps.”

Finally, what can we look forward to next from Zoe Lambert?

“I am working on a novel.  It is a more personal subject about the way we treat disability and illness.”

I for one am looking forward to another book that will challenge my perspectives.

The War Tour is shortlisted for the prestigious Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2012.

Zoe Lambert is a Manchester based writer.  She has an MA in Creative Writing from UAE and a PhD from MMU.  She is on the board of the Northwest Short Story Network and lectures at Universities around the North West.  She also runs writing workshops and online courses. 


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