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The Magic of the Short Form

12/08/2016 11:32 | Updated 12 August 2016

The first short story collection I owned sat on my bookshelf for seven years. I have no idea why it took me so long to read it, except at that point, I'd been used to devouring novels, tomes I lugged about everywhere and could lose myself in. Perhaps I was dubious that this feeling of wonder, transportation and emotional investment in characters that stayed with me long after the end wasn't possible with short fiction. Whatever the reason, when I finally picked up the slim, compact volume of Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, it blew my mind. These visceral, affecting and often hallucinatory pieces of connected shorts about a down on his luck unnamed drug addict remains one of my favourite short story collections along with ZZ Packer's stunning Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, Percival Everett's ingenious Damned If I Do and the skewed, wondrous tales from Miranda July's No One Belongs Here More Than You.

Exploring the short form makes for a varied writer, your arsenal of weapons will be that much stronger but the short form is also exposing. There's no room for endless flourishes with language or space to leave threads you can take time coming back to. Every sentence has to earn its place. With each page, you have less time to culminate the arc of your story. Short story collections aren't given the same status or value as novels. This is a shame. Great short story collections show writers of such skill, who astutely understand the tools and rules of the form, they not only expertly deploy them, sometimes they revolutionise them.

The short form changed the way I see fiction. I credit it for the more inventive aspects of my writing. Reading and writing short stories gave me the confidence to be daring in terms of form and subject matter. They're perfect for our increasingly frenetic times; accessible, digestible and there's none of the guilt that comes when you can't finish a novel. With a collection, if you don't like a particular piece, you just skip to something else whilst still getting your literary fix. I'm currently enjoying An Unreliable Guide to London, a sublime collection of twenty-three different stories about the lesser known parts of the city, published by Influx Press, edited by Kit Caless and Gary Budden.

This year, I'm a judge for Henley Literary Festival's Dragonfly Tea Short Story Competition alongside comedian Helen Lederer and Sandra Parsons, Literary Editor at the Daily Mail. The theme is Discovery. I'm excited to find new voices. The best short stories are like a magic trick. I read them thinking how the hell did they do that? That's what I'm looking for, slights of hand so artfully rendered; you barely see the wheels turning.

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ABOUT ME

I'm a writer and Arts Project Manager. My debut novel Butterfly Fish won a Betty Trask award and is nominated for the Edinburgh Book Festival First Book Award 2016. My short story collection Speak Gigantular will be published by Jacaranda Books in September 2016.

I'll also be hosting a Short Story Workshop at the 2016 Henley Literary Festival on Sunday 2 October - click here to join me.

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