I wrote a bit on twelve short stories that have stayed with me in A Personal Anthology, run by Jonathan Gibbs. It’s a great project: a weekly newsletter of 12 short stories selected by a different literary person everytime. You can (and should) sign up to the newsletter itself, or browse the site by writer/contributor.
I’ve tried to make my contribution varied enough, and most stories are available to read online, so go have a look!
Folks, I am obviously terrible at this being up-to-date thing, but I thought I’d still say a few words on here about the Cork International Short Story Festival that took place in September, between the 12th and the 15th.
I was lucky enough to be invited to read from The Proverb Zoo. The event was in Cork’s central library, which meant a lot to me, in that the place is a little the ground zero of my writing career*. I used to live across the river from the library, and I spent a good few hours in its warm, well-lit interior. And it’s at the festival that I first heard people talk about writing, and in particular about short stories. I attended it a good few years, volunteered for it once. So, yeah, it meant a lot to participate as a writer.
There were loads of great short story writers. Highlights for me were Welsh writer Carys Davies (who writes some pretty striking historical stories), and Ben Marcus (US). I read his The Age of Wire and String a few years ago, a crazy little collection that reads like an encyclopedia of a world both familiar and a little (a lot) off. At the festival he read a brilliant story from his brand-new book Notes from the fog.
Events I regret missing were Irish writer Mia Gallagher and Helen Oyeyemi (UK), whose works are well worth checking out.
All in all, a brilliant festival to attend for short story lovers who are not to far from Cork, or can make their way there somehow.
Abruptly she put the iron on its heel and swooped down on him, scooped him up and buried her nose in his neck with throaty growling noises. He huffed and shouted and laughed as they sank down to the lino laughing and shouting, then he rubbed his barely-there velvet nose against hers like an Eskimo, his eyes close and dark and merry, inches from hers, gazing in without shame or constraint.
It was going to be a long series of leave-takings from now on, she thought; goodbye and goodbye and goodbye; that had been the case with the others, and now this boy was three and a half. Unless she had another. But then Max would leave.Or so he said. This treacherous brainless greed for more of the same, it would finish her off if she wasn’t careful. If she wasn’t already.
Hey Yeah Right Get a Life – Helen Simpson
There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls. I went to see them in the aquarium at the Jardin des Plantes and stayed for hours watching them, observing their immobility, their faint movements. Now I am an axolotl.
– Axolotl, by Julio Cortázar (from Las Armas Secretas / The Secret Weapons)
Cortázar’s stories are just the stuff you need if you want your brain flipped sideways. The story “Axolotl” (you can read it here) is from the 1956 Spanish-language collection called Final del Juego. I read it in French in a book called Les Armes Secrètes, which collects 11 stories instead of the 5 in the original Las Armas Secretas. In English, it seems to be included in the collection Blow-Up and Other Stories, which gather yet a different selection. Jesus, foreign publishers, why mess with a good thing? Go figure. Anyway, pick up any of Cortázar’s books of stories, and teach your cortex the old back-flip.
I have a piece up at Threshold (a great resource for short story writers / lovers, by the way).
It’s a cross-reading of Kevin Barry’s ‘A Cruelty’ and Guy de Maupassant’s ‘Le Crime au Père Boniface’, two short stories that have stayed with me long after I read them, and that have plenty in common. Both feature men whose innocence make them ill-adapted to the world around them, and who’ll fall prey to their fellow men’s cruelty.
There’s some personal (hopefully) relevant anecdotes peppering the piece as well, so this really is a hybrid bit of writing. Hope you like it.
This article by Chris Power in the Guardian looks at the so-called “renaissance of the short story” that article after article (often in the Guardian itself, ironically I would say if irony wasn’t such a quaint concept):
In 2017, almost 50% more short story collections were sold than in the previous year. It was the best year for short stories since 2010. Booksellers are reporting a surge in popularity for the form, commentators note publishers are buying more collections and issuing them with greater care and enthusiasm; in December the newcomer Kristen Roupenian cut five- and seven-figure deals in the UK and US after her New Yorker story “Cat Person” went viral.
Alright, sounds great, but Power takes a closer look:
if we aren’t living through a renaissance of the short story, how to explain those booming sales figures? Let’s break them down. Collections by Tom Hanks, one of the world’s biggest film stars, and Jojo Moyes, one of its bestselling authors, represent 22% of that total: £1.3m in sales.
Have a good day.
“Daddy?” He feels his elbow being picked at. “Daddy!” His daughter is holding her clarinet as if she is about to hit him with it. Behind her brown-rimmed glasses her eyes are fierce. She looks like a twelve-year-old district attorney with a good case and witnesses. “I was going to practice,” she says.
from “Prowlers”, in A Relative Stranger, by Charles Baxter
I love Charles Baxter. I love Charles Baxter. He’s a master; his short stories are intense little nuclei of goodness. Not all like this previous sentence of mine. He’s good. He’s good – his stories radiate kindness. I can pick up pretty much any of his stories and within a couple of pages I’ll have stopped three or four times to ponder some brilliant, sneaky line.