Interview with Sam Szanto
Updated: Jan 23
Sam Szanto writes bold and fearless fiction. She has won prizes for her short stories and poetry, including 2022 Shooter Flash Competition and Literary Taxidermy Competition 2020. Her poem "Night-light", that explores the fears and joys of new motherhood, won first prize in the First Writer International Poetry Competition. These numerous wins and accolades demonstrate that Sam is a force to be reckoned with in the writing community!
I first met Sam through Alien Buddha Press (where we're press mates), when she was kind enough to send me an advanced reader copy of her collection If No One Speaks. In the collection, each story bristles with eclectic life and spirit. There are stories about mistaken identities, fires, sports days, and stabbings. Mothers, nuns, prisoners, and mountain climbers. I immediately loved Sam's honest, sometimes brutal, yet lyrical and beautiful writing style.
With Sam's writing you should expect the unexpected. A lot of her narratives, contain drama and trauma, and some are quiet, but they all feel raw and real. One of my favourites from If No One Speaks, which earnt Sam third place in Erewash Open Short Story Competition, "Quiet Love", is one of her more gentle pieces about the power of an unspoken connection. I dare you to read the opening line, "You became a nun because you were in love with Jesus. I became a nun because I was in love with quiet" and not be drawn into this intriguing "community of modern nuns in Surrey."
Meet the author:
Sam Szanto lives in Durham, UK. Her debut short story collection If No One Speaks was published by Alien Buddha Press in 2022.
Over 50 of her stories and poems have been published/listed in competitions. As well as her many published stories, in April 2022 she won the Shooter Flash Fiction Contest, was placed second in the 2022 Writer’s Mastermind Short Story Contest, third in the 2021 Erewash Open Competition, second in the 2019 Doris Gooderson Competition and was also a winner in the 2020 Literary Taxidermy Competition. Her short story collection was a finalist in the 2021 St Lawrence Book Awards.
Sam is also a poet. She won the 2020 Charroux Prize for Poetry and the First Writers International Poetry Prize, and her poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals including The North.
Sam's picks were: 1-4-5-6-7-9-10-12-13-14-16-18-19-20-23-26-28-29-31-32-34-38-41-47-57-58-60-62
What’s your favourite piece you’ve had published,to date, and why?
SS: When my first child (now nearly nine) was three weeks’ old, I wrote the first poem I’d written in nearly twenty years, "Night Light". It was about the feeling of waking up at night to breastfeed, and the feeling of overwhelming love mixed with fear at being responsible for such a tiny creature. To my utter astonishment, it won first prize in the First Writer International Competition. He’s still too young to fully understand it, but I love telling him that story and I hope he reads it to his own family one day.
Do you own any pets and what are they called?
SS: Oscar, an aged tabby cat. He keeps our family sane, although his dribbling and late-life mousing isn’t ideal.
When did you start writing?
I feel like I was born with a pen in my hand (that might explain my mum’s painful labour). My first book, ‘The Elves and the Fairies’ was written during my infant school days – the headteacher, Mrs Woolgar, bound it for my parents!
What is a surprising fact not many people know about you?
SS: My cousin is the Hollywood actress Minnie Driver. Possibly cousin-in-law – her mum was married to my uncle. I think I’ve only actually been in the same place with her once, when she came with Matt Perry (yes, the one from Friends! They were in a film together at the time) to my uncle’s funeral – she wore black trainers.
How do you feel about twist endings?
SS: I love them, as long as they don’t feel entirely at odds with all that’s gone before!
What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
SS: The best writing advice was not to use more than three sentences in a row with the same structure/punctuation unless absolutely necessary. I tend towards long sentences with lots of commas, and following that advice helped my writing to become a lot more sparing and generally more readable.
Would you rather, a day at the water park or at the cinema?
SS: Cinema, any day! I only go now to watch kids’ films though (with my kids, I should probably add).
What are you currently reading?
SS: I’ve just finished ‘The Stranger’ by Elly Griffiths, which I absolutely loved.
What’s your reading guilty pleasure?
SS: I really love chick lit. Possibly because I spent so many years as a literature student and I sometimes feel that the classics/literary fiction are work! To be honest, if I could write chick lit myself (I’ve tried: I can’t), I would.
Who would win in a fight, a piece of flash fiction, a prose poem or a drabble?
SS: A flash fiction piece would have its sword in your heart before you knew the fight had started.
Tell me a joke
SS: What’s brown and sticky? A stick.
What is your favourite method for generating new stories?
SS: I like to read a news story and ask myself ‘what if?’ something had happened. Often this takes me in a completely different direction to what actually did happen – often to a completely different country!
Who’s writing is a must read?
SS: Kate Atkinson.
Name you first celebrity crush
SS: This shows my age… Dylan, from Beverly Hills 90210, played by Luke Perry. That quiff! That quizzical expression! He was just so damaged and brooding…
What book is your writing/craft bible?
SS: For poetry, Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry.
Do you have a hidden talent the world needs to know about?
SS: I’m a good Tarot card reader.
If you had to rate your cooking ability out of ten, what would you score yourself?
Who is your first reader on a new story?
SS: I don’t let anyone read anything until / unless it’s been published. Then I send it to my husband, my mother and father, and my mother and father in-law on our WhatsApp chat entitled ‘Tortoises’ (as that’s what my husband and I call our kids)!
Honestly, how many times a day do you check Submittable/refresh your email?
SS: I feel like I have been constantly on social media since my book launched!
What are the recurring themes in your writing?
SS: Voicelessness and displacement.
Do you keep track of your rejections and what’s this year’s tally?
SS: No, too depressing – I do of the acceptances!
How do you really feel about form rejections?
SS: I honestly don’t mind them – it’s more the patronising tone that some (not all, by any means!) editors (although more often contest organisers) use that grates.
Which writers do you have the strongest affinity with and why?
SS: Curtis Sittenfeld and Tessa Hadley have a fairly similar style, I’ve been told, and I love their work.
Are you a good speller?
SS: I am! I work as a copyeditor / proofreader so it’s necessary to know how to spell. I’ve always been able to do it, though– I think mainly because I read constantly as a child.
What’s the strangest story you’ve ever written?
SS: There’s one in my book about a woman’s mother who comes back as a ghost and does the washing-up and makes apple crumble.
When it comes to submitting stories, do you leave it until the last possible minute before a deadline?
SS: No no no, just the thought makes me shudder! I never leave anything to a deadline, I’m FAR too obsessive and paranoid.
What keeps you writing?
SS: I just have to – as the novelist Tricia Wastvedt once said to me, ‘Writers just have to write.’ So true.
When making a cup of tea do you pour the milk in first?
SS: No! My gran used to, actually.
What do you normally eat for breakfast?
SS: Like my stories, they’re always different! My husband does the breakfasts at weekends, and we have Sausage Saturday and Bacon Sandwich Sunday. On weekdays, it’s a bit duller. I do love cereal with Greek yoghurt and honey.
Huge thanks to Sam for such brilliant answers.
Make sure, if you haven't already, to grab yourself a copy of Sam's short story collection If No One Speaks.
If you'd like to discover more about Sam and her writing then she has an author website: www.samszanto.com and you can find her on Twitter: @sam_szanto, Facebook: sam-szanto or on Instagram: samszantowriter.
And excitingly Sam has just started her own blog. She's incredibly supportive of other authors and always brings something interesting to the table so go and check it out.