Sophie Mackintosh is a writer who grew up in Wales and now lives in London. Her debut novel, The Water Cure, was published by Hamish Hamilton in 2018 and longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. Her work has appeared in Granta, The New York Times and SLEEK, amongst others, and she was the winner of the 2016 White Review Short Story Prize, the 2016 Stylist x Virago Short Story Prize, and shortlisted for the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize. We talked to her about what it is like to have your debut novel longlisted for The Booker Prize, Berlin, and what she expects from being a judge for The Berlin Writing Prize this time around.
This has been a very big year for you. How did having your novel The Water Cure longlisted for The Booker Prize 2018 affect you?
It was amazing – it really boosted the profile of the book and got it in front of so many more readers, which is always such a difficulty when launching a debut novel. It also really helped with my writing confidence – whatever happens to me for the rest of my career I’ll always have this brilliant thing that happened.
You were shortlisted for the last Berlin Writing Prize. How did you hear about the competition?
I think I saw it on Twitter and immediately was drawn to the idea of spending a whole month in a hotel to write – such an opportunity!
You gave a reading from The Water Cure for The Reader last summer. Are you a regular visitor?
I try and come to Berlin at least once a year – I have several friends who live there and it’s always been one of my favourite cities since my first visit a few years ago. Compared to London it’s feels very laid back, everything feels easier to me when I’m there (possibly because I’m on holiday – but I imagine it would be a great place to write in too!) It feels like there’s a small but very supportive and close-knit writing community there, which is lovely.
You’ve won and been shortlisted for a number of awards. How will this inform your experience of judging the competition? Have you judged a competition before?
I’ve never judged a competition before, but I’ve definitely been on the other end of entering a lot! I don’t know how much insight this has given me, as there’s no set formula or rule for what will make a story explode for me (I wish there was one, so I could use it). All I’ll be looking for is writing that surprises me, that makes me feel an unexpected way, that makes me want to jump to my feet.
You were Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library recently. Was it your first residency? How did you benefit from it?
It was my first residency and I loved it. I’d never had that much time and space to just write and read before, and there’s a fantastic amount of really interesting books there. It was a unique experience and a brilliant one that did so much for my writing. When you can work solidly on something for a long period of time, you almost go into a different state, one that becomes so beneficial for your work as you’re just super focussed.
The theme of the competition is ‘The Circus’. What does that conjure for you?
Fantastical, colourful, unexpected.
What kind of writing personally inspires you?
The great Joy Williams said that all short stories should have ‘a clean clear surface with much disturbance below’. Again, I don’t believe in writing ‘rules’ – but I do think this illustrates the kind of writing that really speaks to me and inspires me. Control and curiosity, a story that turns you upside down before you even know what’s going on.
For more on 2019 Berlin Writing Prize please check out the guidelines here.