Carys Bray and ‘Sweet Home’

Carys Bray and ‘Sweet Home’
Life on the Home front


The stories in Carys Bray’s Sweet Home are full of families. Families who get things wrong. Families where well-meaning outsiders interfere with the delicate equilibrium of life. Babies are born and babies are lost. They are bought on a two-for-one deal and they are carved from ‘a perfectly round ball of ice’. A young boy struggles with the nature of existence and a teenage girl uncovers an unexpected thread of empathy as she watches the travails of a neighbour. Wherever we are, however, and whatever is going on in the story, Carys Bray makes it all utterly believable.

Each of the seventeen stories conjures up a complete world. The characters may teeter on the edge of insanity or stay resolutely in the matter of fact, but all are rooted in the minutiae of real life. The old woman who builds a gingerbread house shops for bargain marzipan in the January sales; a sleepy baby arches and stretches so that we can feel her soft weight; an old lady chases the darkness, ‘switching on lights in its wake, until the whole house is shining like a warning flare.’ There is a deep understanding of the world of the family, with its pitfalls, daily dramas and hidden places. Nothing jars. You can reach out and touch it.

It’s perhaps the stories with the everyday struggling mothers that particularly resonate for me, with the moments that I remember experiencing with my own children. I was the mother whose voice ‘wibbles, undermining her reported crossness.’ I’ve been there, stretching myself to breaking point in an attempt to keep the peace on a visit to the grandparents, or experiencing those days when you try your very best to get it right but still everything goes wrong. The mother in Wooden Mum is a hero: I would want her to be there, fighting my corner. She is how we all want to be, standing up for her child whatever the odds, even though the obstacles sometimes knock her down flat.

There is no sentimentality in this collection. Carys Bray never looks away from the aching hollows, or the hidden nightmares, but at every turn there is humour, a touch that is so difficult to pull off successfully. I left the stories with a feeling of lightness, and I’ll be returning to them very soon.


 In conversation with Carys:


Somewhere in The World According to Garp, there is a line to the effect that Garp’s first novel is characterised by being written in short bursts between childcare. You obviously have a very busy life. Where does the writing slot in: all nighters? Early mornings? Employing an avatar? And do you think that the constraints of fitting it in have an effect on what and how you write?

I used to squeeze writing into spare moments, but now I make time for it, something I didn’t feel I could do in the days before I’d had anything published. I try to treat writing like work, although I don’t always succeed. Sometimes real life interruptions make writing difficult and sometimes they are helpful. For example, one of my children had to have an emergency operation in the summer. I took my laptop to the hospital with me and as I waited for him to get back from theatre, I wrote the scenes of my novel that take place in a children’s hospital.

I do occasional all-nighters, particularly when there are pesky deadlines to meet. I’d love to have more time to write. Edge Hill actually agreed to fund a writing retreat for me this autumn. I was incredibly excited because I have never set aside a whole week to write, but unfortunately the retreat was cancelled.

I’m writing a novel at the moment. I am struggling for time – I feel that I need a clear stretch of at least an hour at a time in order to make working on it worthwhile, and that can be difficult, but I’ve nearly finished the first draft.


On my eldest daughter’s birth certificate back in 1994, my occupation is there as ‘writer’ even though it would be over a decade before I made good on that claim. For me, getting divorced and doing an MA were what gave me the impetus to do it. What were the moments that helped you on your writing journey, and what is helping you to keep going?

The MA really got me started. Up until then I didn’t even know any other writers. Being part of a writing community and meeting like-minded individuals was fantastic and it really inspired me.

I grew up in a very religious family with prescribed (domestic) roles for women. Once I let go of all that, it was suddenly much easier for me to be a little bit selfish and snatch some writing time.


Last week saw the launch of Sweet Home. What was the process of publication like? Any surprises? And which part did you most enjoy?

The publication process was pretty painless. The people at Salt removed one of the stories which didn’t work as well as the others and a few of the stories were subject to minor editorial changes. I think the most exciting part of the whole process was seeing the cover on a PDF and realising that it was actually going to be a real book!


I know you were a student on the Edge Hill Creative Writing MA, and now teach on the BA course. It always seems to me that the Edge Hill programme is very proactive in getting students to send work out and get stories published. What’s your advice for new writers who have stories but don’t know what to do with them?

I didn’t submit anything until I was half way through my MA. Part of the course dealt with submitting work; where to send it, how to present it etc. I decided to have a go at submitting stories and I got lots of rejections. It was very dispiriting, but I kept going and eventually I started to get acceptances.

There are a lot of places to submit work. Goggling ‘literary magazines UK and Ireland’ is a good place to start.

When your work is rejected, reread it, make any alterations that seem necessary and send it out again. Sometimes you will feel like a fraud. Sometimes a little voice in your head will tell you that you’re rubbish and you can’t write. Ignore it (here’s hoping I’m not the only one with a little voice in my head!).


I enjoyed spotting Southport in the final story of Sweet Home: recognising locations is such a satisfying insider moment! If you could pick any one person to spend an afternoon with in Southport, who would it be and where would you take them?

Oh, gosh. That’s really difficult. I really like listening to Mark Kermode’s film reviews on the Radio 5 and I do think he’s a bit lovely. I could go and watch a film with him and then he could launch into a rant about everything that was wrong with it. However, I’m not sure that he’d like to watch a film at Vue and unfortunately our Arts Centre is currently closed. Hmm.

Am I allowed powers of resurrection? If so, I think I’d like to spend an afternoon with Carol Shields. I came across her writing on my BA and I fell in love with it. Shields wrote about ordinary things and people but she did it in a beautiful and compassionate way. I’d take her along Lord Street to see the shops and the Victorian arcades. I’d drive her past the beach (the sea would be out – it’s a rule that whenever you want to take someone to the beach in Southport, the sea is always out) and then I’d drive her to a restaurant just outside Southport called Master McGraths. The food is amazing. I’d eat the best sticky toffee pudding in the world and listen to Carol Shields talk about writing.


Sweet Home is published by Salt, and you can buy a copy by following this link.

You can read Carys’ blog here




1 Comment

  1. carys bray
    14 Nov 2012

    Thanks so much for having me Sarah and thank you for the lovely review, too.


  1. A Song for Issy Bradley: Review - Sarah Jasmon - […] I interviewed Carys when her short story collection Sweet Home was published, and you can read that by clicking here…

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