Eley Williams: Attrib. and other stories

September’s Novel Writers series, organised by Spike Island and Bristol Festival of Ideas, featured Eley Williams discussing her debut short stories collection, Attrib. and other stories.

Highly praised by critics, what Eley Williams brings to the literature table with this work is a feast for wordsmiths. It can be read as an ode to love of language. Pulling away from tradition, Eley doesn’t give us plots, instead she revels in characterisation and tone of voice. Pace is highly important in her stories as well, as she stumbles through long patches of running thoughts which, just like they do in our own heads, run amok uninterrupted and free when given the chance.

After reading one of her stories, with high diction, practised pace and eloquence, Eley talked about the book being about miscommunication, with each character being hampered indirectly in what they want to say and failing to speak in a way they value. She admitted her disregard for plotting and belief that resolution is not always necessary in a short story. For her, what you are left with after reading a short story is the aftertaste, which can be achieved via other means.

With a background in poetry, Eley discussed her habit of reading her writing aloud to check whether it sounds right and that she is applying poetry learnings to prose, without the need of defining her stories as prose poetry.

Although the characters in the collection sound similar, Williams said they are all separate characters with a shared vernaculum of how they express themselves.

She talked about the network of associations that every thought produces, all the different options, which can sometimes bring a cul-de-sac and cause us anxiety, so one is forced to pick one as soon as possible. In her book, Eley attempted to give her characters freedom to explore this process.

With a PhD on false entries in dictionaries, Eley Williams entertained the audience with anecdotes on funny etymologies and the random ways certain words come into use.

Attrib. and other stories is all about the detail. The dramas they portray mostly lies in the words themselves, in how things are said or not said. It’s a beautiful endeavour to undertake and Eley Williams achieves it spectacularly.

Attrib. and other stories is published by Influx.