Britain is a funny place. We like to theme our years. The publishing world has decided that 2012 is the Year of the Short Story, when over in America it's pretty much been the decade of the short story. (A quick Google will reveal that three of the last four years were similarly dubbed and that website Year of the Short Story 2011 has since dropped the defining year, rendering it an eternal movement). And, much like how the world likes to ponder the death of literature, the literati like to ponder the death of the short story. For whatever reason, the British reading public is ambivalent toward this wonderful and brilliant form of writing. So if we're theming our latest year as the Year of the Short Story, then this reader is all for it. As are, it turns out, many, many British short story anthologies or magazines, which this blog will try and reveal, for the benefit of your reading pleasure.
In recent years - not just this year! - British short story enthusiasts have sprung up all over the country. The reason is wonderfully modern - the short form is perfectly suited to our super-saturated electronic contemporary culture of smart phones, Kindles, tablets and easy distractions. The short story fits wonderfully within those moments of 'down time' we get during which a reader can ingest an entire narrative within the time it takes to complete the commute, a coffee, or, dare I suggest, a pint...
Speaking of e-Readers, there is a rich tradition of online short story destinations perfect for those platforms. 3:AM Magazine has been about for years, offering free (and delightfully acerbic) short stories for the past decade. Shortfire Press, described as 'the iTunes for the short story', launched in early 2011, and offers on demand short story downloads from established authors and new voices, for less than a quid. These stories are available both from the website and, smartly, from Amazon. Untitled Books, launched in 2009, releases a monthly issue containing no less than three short stories, two from established writers and one 'New Voice'. To say that Britain is getting on board with the Short Story is an understatement - it's been slowly re-growing the medium and now we, the readers, are reaping the benefits.
But it's unfair to say that this is a solely an electronic revival, because it isn't. The medium is intrinsically linked with its paper counterpart. Fabulous collections exist, such as The Bristol Prize, which welcomes submissions for its yearly prize of £1,000. Each year, they select the three winners along with a further shortlist of 17 and publish them in a high-quality collection. The ultimate winner will also see their story published in The Bristol Review of Books and Venue Magazine. Another new Anthology is The Fiction Desk, which began in a different form in 2007 but now focuses solely on its quarterly issue of narrative focused stories. A third is the Unthology, a yearly collection by Unthank Books, which celebrates the weird and esoteric in the short form. Everywhere you look there are great homes for the short story writer: The White Review, which mixtures culture with politics, Gutter, for the Scottish amongst you, Structo Magazine, for fans of slipstream. The Bridport Prize (1st Prize takes home £5000) is still going strong, as are stalwart magazines Granta and Litro.
What I love about these collections is that they are all so diverse and individual, offering a variety of writers a home for their fiction. After all, not everyone writes the same.
On top of these independent offerings, large publishers have decided to get involved too. It was, let's not forget, Bloomsbury who declared 2012 as the short story's year. Bloomsbury is currently halfway through their publication of five short story collections for each of the first five months - next month we will be treated to BBC National Short Story Award winner, D.W. Wilson, first collection, Once You Break a Knuckle. The BBC National Short Story award, in honor of the Olympics, has, for a one-time offer, opened itself up to international entrants, further broadening the short form's appeal. The Penguin Shorts programme, which launched in December 2011, whilst not primarily short stories, often offers a wide selection of them, as does Random House's Storycuts, at roughly 200 stories at time of writing.
And then you come to the wider community of short story enthusiasts; those that want to read and discuss the medium. You'll find a lot of them online, most likely arguing their points over at Thresholds, reviewing collections at The Short Review, or following blogs like RobAroundBooks. There is a vibrant and established community for the form, which at once belies and agrees with the constant rebranding of each year as 'THE year'. The simple truth is that people are writing and reading short stories and, regardless of the year, will keep doing so as long as there is a place for the medium to call a home. 2012, I'd say, has so many homes it kind-of resembles a city, or at least a cozy suburb.