It is not that people are no longer writing short stories; the national competition declared itself 'unashamedly elitist' and invited only entries from previously published authors, yet it still received some 1, of them. But it is more difficult than at any time in the last years to make money from short stories and this may eventually have serious consequences for the form. It is not just that collections don't sell; individual stories have nowhere to go, since there are no longer any literary magazines to publish them.
Even in the US, where stories are traditionally held in greater esteem they began there, with Hawthorne and Melville , among national titles, only the New Yorker regularly publishes short fiction. This was not always the case. In the Fifties, John Updike was able to keep his family by selling just six short stories a year.
One of the judges in last week's competition, William Boyd, has written that, when he began his career, selling stories - to Punch, Company and Mayfair - was his best hope of getting published.
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What young writer could make such a claim now? If all this, as publishers insist, is the result of a lack of appetite among readers for the short story, well, I just can't understand it. I have loved short stories since I was at school, perhaps because they were one of the very few things you could find - who knows why? If you were a reader and you'd worked your way through all the Andrea Newman, John Steinbeck and Kingsley Amis novels it was nothing if not eclectic , all that was left to you were stories by Elizabeth Bowen, Somerset Maugham and VS Pritchett.
I read lots of Elizabeth Bowen stories as a teenager, without ever really understanding them in Bowen, everything happens beneath the surface, which made for quite a contrast with Andrea Newman. But I kept on reading because the atmosphere of them clung to me afterwards, a muggy cloud of things unsaid. They have stayed with me. This is why Picador Shots are cleverly named. While they nod to the word 'short', what they really suggest is a brandy thrown to the back of the throat, a sharp draught of something to help you get through the day.
This is exactly what short stories are like. You swig one down and the effect it has on you is inverse to the investment of time you have made in it.
PICADOR SHOTS - 'Chemistry' - AbeBooks - Graham Swift:
A novel is consumed in many sittings, a short story is a single binge. It is about distillation, concentration, economy, an unsettling kind of purity, which is why, though the reader has it easy, the writer most certainly does not. Some writers, to be sure, use the short story as an apprenticeship for the novel, but not many, and certainly not the ones who write truly great stories. The short story is hugely demanding; no word can be allowed to step out of line.
Muriel Spark thought it a more difficult form than novels, which seemed to her a kind of indulgence. I hope, then, that this initiative is successful. It would be especially good if other publishers followed Picador because, fond though I am of James Salter, Claire Messud and company, there are even better writers of short stories out there. My favourite is the numinous Lorrie Moore I once mentioned her name to a famous literary agent; the agent crossed herself, devoutly.
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I do think this could be a new moment for the story. It seems ironic that the Heat generation should have more time for novels than for stories. We're an impatient bunch, restless and agitated and assailed by endless information.
Good stories can scythe through all this. They are, as William Boyd once put it, 'an aesthetic daisy-cutter bomb of a reading experience that does its work with ruthless brevity and concentrated dispatch'. New arrivals. Making an Elephant Graham Swift June 23, Here Kazuo Ishiguro advises on how to choose a guitar; Salman Rushdie arrives for Christmas under guard; Caryl Phillips shares a beer with the author at a nightclub in Toronto.
He is also the author of Learning to Swim, a collection of short stories.
His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. Reviews Review Policy. Published on. Flowing text, Original pages. Best For. Web, Tablet, Phone, eReader.
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