There is good news and bad news surrounding the short story. Every other month the literary world seems to suggest either its death or its resurgence, and it’s hard to know whether either of these proclamations are remotely accurate.
This year, Momaya Press which exists to promote and publish the short story, celebrated its tenth anniversary at an event in London. Momaya runs a themed competition every year which attracts international entries and it’s quite an honour to be selected for its annual anthology. (This year the competition theme is Captivity
The event was fascinating for writers interested in the art of the short story. Some of those whose entries were in this year’s collection were asked to say a few words about their writing and it was interesting to see just how much those involved championed the genre, over the longer form.
Reasons were many and various, from those who say they simply don’t have time to contemplate writing a novel and so feel more comfortable tackling the short story, to those who extol its particular ability to take a snapshot of the human condition. One of the judges credited the short stories of Guy de Maupassant, read (in translation – tut, tut!) for his French A-Level, for getting him back into his abandoned habit of reading fiction.
And whilst some of the writers at the event admitted to dabbling in the dark side of novel writing, most wanted to proclaim themselves true champions of what they believe is an under-rated form.
There were comments from those in the publishing industry too, some of whom were on the judging panel for this year’s competition. It is still true, unfortunately, that in these days of tight margins and squeezed budgets, publishers are no more likely to take a gamble on a short story collection from an unknown author than they ever were. But the double-edged sword that is Amazon means that it is easy for writers to make their work easily and cheaply available, and it has ever been simpler for readers to access it.
When the mistress of the form, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize for Literature it was seen as a boost for the genre and will undoubtedly have renewed interest in it. (Check out this fascinating video)
There was also a strong suggestion that in these days when so many of us are working harder, the short story has a renewed appeal to people who may want to download something they can read from start to finish on a bus, train or Tube commute.
So there is room for optimism, which is good news for those who do appreciate the charms of a well-crafted short story. I would urge caution, though, to anyone who sees it as an ‘easy’ option. Like all forms of writing it has its traps and any new writers should make sure to read widely, well beyond the magazine market, for hints on how to do it. If anything, it’s harder to do well than the longer form, so take any feedback on board while learning the craft. Do it well, though, and the miniature masterpiece you may produce will be worth the effort.
Who are your favourite short story writers? What do you admire about them?