Meet the Members: Frances Thimann
Frances Thimann was brought up in Sherwood, and now lives there permanently again, after many years living in London, and some time working abroad.
She has been writing for several years, mostly short stories, and has had three collections previously published. She completed the MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University in 2006.
The pieces in her latest collection ‘The Clock Museum and other stories’ are all in some way about words and meanings, about poems and books and the significance they can have for us, they ways in which they can weave in and out of our lives. And they are about writing and writers, the problems and dilemmas they may have to face, in this country and in very different ones…
Who are, or have been the important writers for you?
The English writer that I most admire is George Eliot. Amongst living writers, I would include Ian McEwen, Jon McGregor of course (I am looking forward to reading his latest novel), Robert Edric, Naomi Alderman, and Sarah Waters. And amongst US writers, Daniel Mason, George Saunders and Anthony Doerr, whose ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ is maybe the greatest recent novel I have read. Daniel Mason’s ‘A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth’ is for me the greatest collection of shorter pieces, though Italo Svevo’s ‘Invisible Cities’ the most extraordinary and unusual. For 19thC short stories, Chekhov and Maupassant of course – both had the ability to present one life-changing or heart-stopping moment in a few pages.
This last year, for some reason, I have read more non-fiction, in particular Philippe Sands’ ‘East-West Street’ – extremely long, detailed, but as gripping and moving as any fiction, much more so than some! I would like to read much more non-fiction from now on – good non-fiction has some of the qualities of fiction, and for some reason I am finding some highly-acclaimed modern fiction artificial, striving too much after effect. Is this it or me?
What has happened to make you feel proud of your written output?
For my own efforts, it is the approval of others that gives me confidence – perhaps that is obvious. Acceptance for publication itself, of course, which for short stories can nowadays be slow and difficult. My first collection was listed by Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves amongst his top ten books of that year, one of the biggest mentions that anyone could hope for; the occasional competition prize, especially the Society of Authors’ Tom-Gallon award; above all maybe the occasional comments of readers that a certain story has been enjoyed and even admired by them. If a tree falls in the forest and no-one hears it… And if a book is well-produced, with a striking cover, good quality paper and print, it becomes more than the sum of its parts, and that is very confidence-building too. A good collaboration with an editor or publisher – over content, layout, cover and so on – is very rewarding. All those things are more important to me than sales figures.
Have you ever read your work in public and how did it go?
Reading my work in public has sometimes been a problem for me, as I have a voice which doesn’t carry well, and never had a chance to practice much, as launches and other events do not come around very often – especially now! One can improve things by practice of course, and the most helpful thing for writers I think is to have a rehearsal in the room to be used, with the mike if one is available, and someone at the back telling us to speak up, or more slowly, or whatever it may be. I think all writers should have this opportunity if possible because we don’t all read our work very well. And of course, Zoom presents very different problems!
What do you think about writing groups and how have you experienced them?
Writing Groups have been most vital for me. When I joined the NTU MA course, I learned more in the first hour of critiquing with that group than ever before, either from individual critics or from reading books about writing. Since those days I have never not been part of a group. Even during this past year, my current group, formed within NWS, has continued to exchange work by email and we are hoping to meet again in person very soon.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am usually reading 2 or 3 books at any one time – at the moment ‘Stillicide’, a novel by Cynan Jones; ‘Daughter of the Desert,’ the biography of Gertrude Bell – an amazing book about an amazing woman; and I have just finished ‘The Cruellest Miles’, which tells the story of how diphtheria serum was carried in 1925 by dogsled over 647 miles in the deepest Alaskan winter to a small remote community. The parallels to some of our Covid- and vaccine-delivery stories earlier this year were very striking.
Was there a story or poem that you read and felt you had arrived home in the discovery of it?
One short story sums up for me what such a piece can do: it is by Chekhov (I cannot even remember what it is called, and may even have remembered it incorrectly!) – but this is what I think I remember: an impoverished, lonely young governess is jolting along in a cart through a cold Russian evening back to her house of miserable and unappreciated employment. When they stop at a level crossing, she sees the train to Moscow flash by, briefly, in front of her. It is full of wealthy, glamorous folk talking, laughing, drinking, on their way to the bright lights of the capital. In this moment she sees everything that she does not have and will never be. Then it is gone, and she is left in the cold, darkening landscape. That short piece evokes one moment of huge and defining significance; even sums up a life. But then all short stories do something different!
What is your best benefit from being a part of NWS?
The Writers’ Studio over the years has been a constant source of encouragement, community, advice, support, information, courses and publication – and gave me my current writing group.