Richard Blandford on The Shuffle
So, just what is The Shuffle anyway? A self-shuffling ebook that traps the reader in a never-ending story maze? Can Richard Blandford explain? Let’s fire some questions at the bugger and see if he can justify himself.
THE BIG HAND – What, in your view, is ‘The Shuffle’?
RICHARD BLANDFORD – First of all, The Shuffle is my exciting new ebook of 38 short stories, available for Kindle and priced very reasonably at £2.04. It’s a mix of things – some funny, some not, with the fantastic rubbing up against the banal. A few of the stories are quite long, others are just a paragraph. I personally happen to think it’s jolly good, and am rather proud of it. Thematically , the answer to your question is The Shuffle is a state of mind – the sense of a glut of stuff that cannot be processed, and the surrender to processes outside yourself in order to navigate it. It’s the rejection of desire and the embrace of randomness. It’s liberation and despair at the same time. Needless to say, digital technology has a lot to do with this.
TBG – How important is the format to the overall project? It has been web-based and a shuffling ebook – would it work so well as a physical book?
RB – I would say absolutely that The Shuffle makes the most sense digitally. There is much in there about, to borrow the words of Marx and Engels talking about something entirely different, how all that was solid is now melting into air. Ask any encyclopedia salesperson. It seems right that The Shuffle only exists as pure information, without any physical form of its own. There is a bit in Robert Hughes’s The Shock of the New where he mentions a bronze sculpture of a car in motion, and I think a printed version would be a bit like that. Also, the ebook actually does have a ‘shuffle’ option. It can embody the concept in a way a physical book couldn’t.
TBH – Why did you move from writing novels to writing short stories?
RB – I can’t really remember because the first short story dates from about 2006, but I might have read somewhere that writing them was a good thing for a writer’s career. Turns out this bit of advice was somewhat past its use-by date.
TBH – What’s your favourite story in the collection?
RB – This is a difficult one. It shifts over time. Unarguably the ‘best’ story is The Man Who Drew the Brook, about an artist repeatedly drawing the same scene. It’s the one people seem to have latched on to, and the one that most closely resembles what a short story is classically meant to be like. But I’m personally more drawn to the crazier ones at the moment, such as Table For One at the Unfolding Lotus, where a man attends a strange restaurant in the hope of being let in on a fantastic secret. It was inspired by me watching an episode of Doctors that was so ineptly written, what I thought was going on was completely different to the actual intended story. I decided my version was more interesting. Also, The Exiles of Selousia, about the former inhabitants of a country that no longer exists, continues to tickle my fancy. It’s not the sort of thing I’d expect myself to write, so I’m perpetually surprised to find that I did.
TBH – Is there an overarching theme to the collection?
RB – There are various themes, all shuffled together, but they intersect at points throughout. Firstly there’s what I mentioned earlier about the dissolving of the physical in the digital, but perhaps the overriding theme is the idea that we don’t really know anybody. We create models of people in our heads from our experience of them, but that model is not them. It’s argued that supernatural experiences and the feeling of knowing God are something to do with this process, and there are various stories to do with that. I question what makes up a person anyway, whether they have any sort of essential essence or soul, and there are speculations about any possible afterlife. Then there’s the question of how we experience others through the net and the like – how has that changed how we ‘know’ people? A fair bit about surrender and resistance, to both people and processes. There’s a lot to do with processes. Quite a bit of systematic, obsessive behaviour in The Shuffle. Being autistic myself I find that sort of thing especially interesting.
TBH – Do all these come from one short burst of writing or were they built up over time?
RB – For the most part, they were all written over a period of two years. I would say there was a period of my writing that I very much see as The Shuffle Era, and when the stories I was writing no longer seemed to fit with the work as a whole, I declared it finished.
TBH – In this new ebook era, do you think short story collections are becoming more popular? And if so is that because writers have been liberated from publisher’s demands for certain lengths, or because readers have shorter attention spans?
RB – I’m not sure. Maybe. I haven’t looked at the figures. I don’t know if they will become appreciably more popular, because the main reason people stay away from them – that they don’t like having to get their heads around a bunch of new characters every 20 pages or so – still stands. But it will provide an opportunity for people writing them to get them to people who want them. I can certainly see the novella getting a new lease of life.
TBH – What are you working on now?
RB – I’ve got two manuscripts that I have declared finished or near finished at various points over the years, but I want to rewrite both of them from scratch. I don’t know when that will happen though, because I’m helping bring up my one year-old daughter right now!
TBH – Snog, Marry, Kill: Amazon, Google, Apple?
RB – Snog: Google, because they genuinely are very good at what they do. There’s a few bad things about them like the tax avoidance and the time they made all those Chinese seven year-olds power that steampunk spaceship by having them all walk in a giant hamster wheel, but no one’s perfect.
Marry: Amazon. Realistically, an author like myself who has been spat out of the regular publishing industry due to the ‘two-strikes-and-you’re-out’ rule is going to mostly rely on Amazon just to get their work out there. But it would be a joyless marriage in which I constantly nag them about their negative effect on small independent bookshops.
Kill: Apple. When I got my first Mac a while back after having a PC for years it was like travelling into the future. Now I’ve gone back to a PC because they’re cheaper, and everything that was great about Macs has been absorbed. Apple pissed me off with their constant updates that push your hardware into obsolescence. In fact, they are dead to me already.