Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Yawning Over Short Stories?

Not that much talk about the short story, though. Admittedly I'm in a hurry this morning, but one newspaper report on the National Short Story Competition result , announced yesterday, is all I can find.


Jan said...

I suppose that IS the general attitude to short stories; it's very unfortunate, very wrong one.. because in this hectic world of ours, one would think/hope that they had an ESPECIALLY welcome place..

Tania Hershman said...

Well, over in Ireland they were pretty excited http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7361.

But other than that....

Maybe free money given away with every short story would boost the market a little?

Elizabeth Baines said...

I do think that the Celts/Gaels have a very distinct affiliation with the short story (although of course I don't think it's exclusively Celtic/Gaelic). But, personally speaking, I'm pretty sure that my own obsession with the short story (both as a writer and a reader) comes from the fact that my father was Irish and my mother is Welsh!

Adrian Slatcher said...

Ah, but my interest in the short story comes from an obsession with Fitzgerald and Hemingway! It's not in my blood, it's in the work.

Jan said...

Which short story writers do you tend to read, Elizabeth?
In Alice Munro's brilliant collection "Hateship friendship courtship loveship marriage", I find something special each time I reread her...
She's funny, stylish, sensuous..and that stuff doesn't always hang well together, does it?

I think the Irish/Welsh thing is maybe because they INHERIT stories,they imbibe them, they pass them on through their talk and speech, they use language in their own distinct way...They're ( often) genuine story TELLERS who also make wonderful writers.. .

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, I like Alice Munro, but I have to say the best short stories for me are the short ones. I like Chekhov of course and Fitzgerald and Joyce... I could go on... but of contemporary short stories I like those which kick against those traditions and quite often appear tucked away in lit mags and not in collections... My tastes a v eclectic, though, as a look at Metropolitan will show:


Elizabeth Baines said...

And of the collected contemp authors:
AL Kennedy, Ali Smith and Anne Enright (who happen to be Scots & Irish!)

Julian Gough said...

Well, I hate to reinforce a stereotype, but at night in Ireland we do sit around over a pint in pubs and tell stories. And if we don't go to pubs, then at home, after dinner, we sit around with a glass of whiskey and tell stories. And if we don't drink, or have people over for dinner, we sit around after lunch with friends or workmates, have a cup of tea, and tell stories. And if we don't have friends, or work, or the money for lunch, we go mad and wander the streets and have kung-fu fights with people who aren't there, and once we've gained a few pigeons for an audience, we tell stories.

So that length of story, the type you can tell in a single sitting without boring the arse off your audience, is quite natural to us. It's why Irish writers often build their novels out of a heap of what look suspiciously like short stories.

In fact, straight after I won, The Guardian asked me to write a bit about the short story, and the National Short Story Prize, for the Commentary section on page 3 of the Saturday Review, and I wrote a bit about all that, Ireland's three-in-a-bed romp with the short story and the novel, and how it's hard to tell what leg belongs to who.

But they spiked it, so it won't be in on Saturday. I gather they didn't like the tone, they found it too light, too funny, too like my blog. They wanted something more dense and serious, like the article on the comic novel that I have in this month's copy of Prospect.

Of course, the article in Prospect is good, if it's good, because I spent three years thinking about it and taking notes, and three solid weeks writing and rewriting it. And the Guardian ring you and say they want something just like that, for tomorrow morning, as thought you could somehow do that, as though you were a journalist, rather than a real writer. It's very amusing.

Elizabeth, would you like it as an exclusive for your blog? I think it's quite a nice piece, it has the chaotic energy of the day that I won the prize, and some thoughts on the short story and the novel that may be of interest to your readers. You can have it for nothing. Lots more people read your blog than mine, and I'd like it to be read. If you want it, I'll give it to you first, and I'll hold off putting it up on mine.

And I don't think you would object to the fact that its tone resembles that of a blog!

I'm extremely amused that the Guardian, after asking me to write for them, refused to print it because it was funny, not serious, light, not heavy, in the language of the blogs rather than the language of the broadsheets. I thought that was what I won the prize for...

Well, it was nice being on the inside for a day.

In their defence, I'm sure the Guardian just thought my piece was crap. But I suspect they thought it was crap because they have certain unexamined assumptions about how we must address art.

As I said in the piece they wouldn't print,

"Whatever you want to write, write it the way you want to write it, write it whatever length it wants to be, and stick it up on the internet if nobody will publish it. Don’t kill it to fit it into an industrial box. Artistically, we live in a golden age of freedom, and that’s terrifying. Commercially, we live with market censorship of certain forms. It’s a pain, but it’s survivable."

Thanks again for the kind words, Elizabeth,

Love to all,


Elizabeth Baines said...

Julian, I would love to put your piece up here!!! But I think you may be mistaken about so many more people reading my blog than yours!!! Do you want to think about it?? If you decide yes, then email it me and I'll put it up (I can't find an email for you on your blog, so I'm saying this here.)

What a pity it's not in the Guardian. I was fully expecting to be able to comment this weekend on a piece there either by or about you!

Charles Lambert said...

I'd love to read Julian's piece. I'd also like to read your blog, Julian, but I can't get access. What do I have to do...?

Elizabeth Baines said...

Charles, Julian's website is
Click on 'journal' in the navigation section of the sidebar, where the last thing he says is that he's really busy so I guess this is why we haven't heard from him since the above!!

Steerforth said...

This is a typical exchange between a bookseller and a publisher's sales representative as they go through through a folder of new titles:

Rep - 'This is the first book by XXX in three years'

Bookseller - 'Ah!'

Rep - 'But it's short stories'

Bookseller - 'Oh.'

I've yet to meet a publisher's rep who has enthused over a short story. If the author is unknown, they virtually tell us not to bother. If the author is well known, the subtext is always 'Well, we have to publish this, but we wish they'd just write a novel.'

Elizabeth Baines said...