Approval is a thorough exploration of fatherhood and the often-unseen view of a man going through the adoption approval process. While the collection is fictional, it is inspired by some of your own experiences. What was it about the process that made you want to write about it?
Approval is fictional, but like all writers I have drawn from my own experience. In real life I am very familiar with the adoption process and the biological processes that often precede it. This meant there was an emotional engine from my own life driving the story, and the focus on adoption made the book about an important social issue as well as being a character study. I was surprised at how little fiction there is about male infertility and the man’s role in parenting and adoption, so I hope Approval fills a gap.
Each short story in the collection feels like it connects seamlessly to the next. How did you start piecing together the individual stories and why did you choose to structure it in the way you did? Which story did you write first?
In the end Approval has developed into a novel because it has the characteristics of a plot arc and a quest. The process inspired the unusual mechanism of introducing each chapter with an imagined part of an adoption agency questionnaire giving it structure. I had been writing some of the pieces since as long ago as Lancaster University in 2011-12. The classroom story was one of the first I completed, and ‘Green Gables (number 79)’, about the end of a relationship, was the first published in an anthology. By the end of my PhD I had around 130 stories, and simply arranged a selection of them in a logical sequence; childhood, parents, education, relationships and so on. I must give credit to my supervisors at Edge Hill University, Rodge Glass, who frankly gave notes on most of those 130 stories, and Kim Wiltshire, whose advice led to realising how emotional the adoption process had been for me, which in turn led to the epiphany of structuring the book that way.
Approval is richly detailed in place and setting – the description of David’s parents’ house in ‘Opposite Sides’ still sticks in my mind. How important was it to you to ground the stories in the everyday details of life?
There is quite a lot of dialogue, so I wanted to make sure there were a few authentic details of houses and pubs. They are drawn to some extent from real life, though in ‘Opposite Sides’ I had a bit of fun imagining a few ghastly details alongside true images from real life. I’ve realised from Castles from Cobwebs, 2019’s winner, how powerful a sense of place can be.
While obviously necessary, it was eye-opening to see the sheer scale and frankly exhausting intensity of the adoption process. What message would you want readers to take from Approval‘s portrayal of adoption?
I really hope that Approval will draw attention to the subject of adoption as there are 80,000 children in care. In fact, all the elements of the application process are necessary, and the fiction shows some of the reasons why, but for the great majority of applicants the process is straightforward and informative. If someone is considering adoption and goes through the application aware of the thoroughness of the process, then I hope they will be well-informed and be able to provide a safe, loving home for one of those children.
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John D. Rutter is a short story writer who also teaches, edits and writes about short stories. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and a PhD on the short story at Edge Hill University where he has taught part time for several years. He has delivered conference papers on short fiction and published an article in the Journal of the Short Story in English.
His stories have been published as chapbooks by Nightjar Press and In Short Publishing, in anthologies by Unthank Books, Quinn Publications and Edge Hill University, in the Lancashire Evening Post, and online by Holland Park Press, 1,000 Word Story, The Short Story and Synaesthesia Magazine. Approval is his first full-length collection and was published by Saraband Books with the support of the Northbound Book Award 2020.