Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Short Lit Bits Dec 2 - eBooks and Audio

New website Spoken Ink is a great addition to the short story audio download sites. Short stories read by professional actors - including stories by Short Review authors Vanessa Gebbie, Kevin Barry, Hassan Blasim (review coming soon), James Salter and Oscar Wilde, as well as many more contemporary and classic authors.

Short Review author Adam Maxwell has a free eBook of comic "festive tales", The Night Before The Christmas Before I Was Married, which sounds like just what is needed to perk us all up with all the seasonal chaos!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Short Lit Bits December 1

 ICongratulations to Short Review author David D. Levine, whose collection, Space Magic, has won the Endeavour award, open to both story collections and novels.

"In short, the story is growing on us again" proclaims Margaret Drabble, one of the judges of the BBC National Short Story Award in The Times today: "There are strong signs that the story is still alive and responding to encouragement." Hear, hear!

As the year draws to a close, it is "Best of..." season:

7 short story collections are among the 25 books to make the LA Times Favourite Fiction of 2009: Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis (review coming soon), It’s Beginning to Hurt, by James Lasdun, Love in Infant Monkeys, by Lydia Millet, Once the Shore by Paul Yoon, The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

More best of....The AV Club lists its 10 Best Short Story Collections of the 00s, including Short Review authors Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners and Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things. What are your Top Ten?

And more... NPR's The Best Five Books to Share with Your Friends includes The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis.

And finally, Vulpes Libris' Favourite Books of 2009 include A C Tillyer's collection, An A-Z Of All Possible Worlds (review coming soon), SHORT Fiction 3, the third edition of the annual short fiction magazine from the University of Plymouth, as well as Short Review author Elizabeth Baines' new book, Too Many Magpies.

Route is offering Who’s The Daddy is a mini-collection themed around father/daughter relationships, as a free eBook. Read the three stories here.

The Atlantic magazine, which published short stories monthly until 2005, will sell short stories on the Kindle, reports the New York Times, which says the Atlantic will publish two stories a month this way.The first two stories are by Christopher Buckley and Edna O'Brien.

Short Review author Petina Gappah, whose collection, An Elegy for Easterly, recently won the Guardian's First Book Award, talks about her writing in The Guardian. 

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, an eight-part dramatic TV series about three young doctors, based on the short story collection of the same name, which won the 2006 Giller Prize, by Vincent Lam, will air on January 10th on the Movie Network, says

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Guest post: Amnesty International's Nicky Parker talks about why she chose short stories to celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Amnesty International's anthology, Freedom: Short Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, contains 36 stories by some of the best short story writers alive today, each inspired by an article from the Declaration. Find out how you can win yourself a copy on the Competitions page.

We are delighted to have Amnesty International's UK Publisher, Nicky Parker, who tells us why she chose fiction for this and two other books published by Amnesty for younger readers.

TSR: What made you decide that fiction was the way to commemorate the anniversary of the declaration of Human Rights and why?

Nicky Parker: We need to go back in time a few years! At one time at Amnesty UK we published only our classic human rights reports and also human rights education books for schools – all of it very useful. But personally I’ve always tended to find fiction more inspiring than non-fiction and was convinced that it could have a role to play in Amnesty’s publishing. There’s something about fiction that – when it really works, when it captures the reader’s imagination absolutely and hooks you in – enables you to get under the skin of someone else, no matter who they are, what their gender, race, age, culture or even the time in which they live. And empathizing with imaginary characters, bizarre though it seems, means that we start to understand them as whole human beings. We lose some of the prejudices that all of us carry with us on one level or another. Literature has a phenomenal power to undercut bigotry and encourage mutual understanding.

Initially we tested the relatively ‘soft’ area of children’s books, partly because when I started in Amnesty’s publishing team I had three young children and was reading to them every day. Also, I love children’s fiction. My oldest daughter was about 9 or 10 years old and very much into Harry Potter. Then, on a whim, I read her To Kill a Mockingbird, even though I knew that she was a little young for it. I did all the voices, of course, and reading aloud is always such a comfortable experience. I still remember getting to the end of the book and asking her what she thought of it. Her response was a deeply appreciative sigh: “Whew! It’s even better than Harry Potter!”.

So, with that partly at the back of my mind, we at Amnesty started to work with children’s publishers, trying to identify young children’s fiction that in some way encouraged an awareness of human rights. Initially we simply recommended and sold these books on to our supporters, but their eagerness to buy was so clear – and sales were so good – that it encouraged us to explore working at a co-publishing level with those publishers. And so the first of our UDHR trilogy was born when the children’s publisher Frances Lincoln suggested that we co-publish a picture book for young children, each right to be interpreted by a different illustrator. I thought it could work well, but never anticipated such a phenomenal response. It seems that the concept of explaining human rights to children in such a simple and beautiful way struck some kind of chord around the world – in the first six months the book We Are All Born Free sold nearly 200,000 copies in 32 languages.

And that reflects another great thing about fiction: readers don’t usually feel threatened by it in the way that they may do by non-fiction - especially non-fiction on human rights themes, which many people regard as ‘political’ and will not touch. Yes, human rights are political, of course, but only in the sense that their upholding and violation both touch and are integral to all human society. Human rights don’t take sides. And fiction undercuts this perception of ‘politics’ very subtly and very successfully.

From We Are All Born Free, it was a simple progression to Freedom and also FREE?, for both of which we asked authors to write short stories inspired by different human rights. We tried to cover all age ranges, so that We Are All Born Free is for ages 6 plus, FREE? is for age 11 to 15 and Freedom is for adults.

TSR: What do you feel that short stories can do for a reader that other forms can't? (Hard question, I know!) And, more specifically, what can short stories do when talking about the issues that Amnesty deals with?

NP: I have to say that the initial idea of commissioning an anthology of short stories was entirely a pragmatic response to the question of how to write about all 30 rights in the UDHR! But of course there is more to it than that. The best short stories are like jewels: they cut to the quick and do away with all extraneous words and ideas. And they can deal perfectly with the abstract themes of human rights. They can take the abstract legal terminology of the human right, as expressed in the full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and communicate a human experience that expresses that right or its violation both succinctly and movingly.

Then of course there is the fact that Amnesty is a movement that is founded on stories. The reason that we have supporters all over the world – over two million of them – who are willing to write letters and send emails, is because they are moved to action by the personal stories of hundreds and thousands of inviduals whose human rights are under threat. At Amnesty we are dealing with these true-life stories day in and day out – they form the basis of all of our campaigns - so it makes sense to use the short story form to engage with the ethos of what we are about.

And all over the world people tell stories – we have probably done so since humans evolved. So a collection of stories can resonate anywhere with perfect sense. Short stories can be bleak (the best ones often are) but there is an immense satisfaction in hearing or reading a good story, and I think that’s common everywhere.

An anthology of stories means that the reader can dip in and out. You can’t possibly read the whole thing at once – the power and richness of all the stories would be far too much to absorb. But in returning to the anthology, again and again, you can be struck by how differently each writer has approached the interpretation of one of our fundamental human rights. This helps to build on our understanding of the multi-faceted nature of human rights, the many areas of human life that are too often violated around the world, but also on the great generosity of spirit and foresight that led to the creation of this legal framework.

Personally I was very lucky in my Irish grandmother, who was one of those wonderful people who tell stories all the time and I used to go round to her house just to listen. She claimed they were all true – of course! – and although I noticed that they did tend to change between retellings, I believed them implicitly. They offered a sanctuary from my very strict home and school life. This is something that fiction does so well – it can be a great comfort in that it can lift us imaginatively out of our own stresses, but a great teacher in allowing us figuratively to enter into the lives of others.

TSR: How did you approach writers to be involved in the project? What was their reaction to the commission?

NP: Amnesty is such a well-known organization and so highly respected that it opens doors, which is a great starting point. On top of this, our work is relevant to writers and they know this. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights deals explicitly with the right to freedom of expression, without which writers are scuppered. It is possible to look at practically any country governed by a brutal regime and see writers who have been imprisoned or otherwise censored to prevent them from expressing their views. Often they are the first people to be threatened, because governments are frightened of their power to move people to action through the written word.

So the writers whom we approached recognised their affinity with Amnesty’s work and I think that made them more willing to give of their time and talent. Beyond that, some of them expressed concern about what was quite an abstract commission – to write about a human right – but others positively jumped at the chance. I would assume that commissions on a theme could be extremely difficult, but human rights have the virtue both of being abstract and of applying to all of us, so this made it a little easier to ask for a story without being prescriptive – saying ‘ please can you write about the right not to be tortured’ is possibly a little easier than asking an author to write about torture. The writer can approach it from so many different angles – the bleakness and horror of violation of the right, for example, or the joy of when it’s upheld.

There was some discussion here about giving authors details of actual cases of individuals at risk, both to inspire their stories and to provide them with information about how human rights violations affect individuals. On the whole, though, we were uncomfortable with this. It carries with it the horrible possibility of exploiting someone whose life has already been hugely damaged – to take advantage of that damage, without asking the individual, seemed wrong. In the end, a couple of writers were sent case studies and did use them for their stories. We then had to check with people who had worked with the individuals concerned whether it would be alright to publish these stories or not – or whether it might jeopardise their safety or further humiliate them. It was a difficult experience and I’m glad that in most cases we avoided this situation.

The other aspect of the commission was, of course, whom to approach. It’s true to say that we did ask some authors – superb writers – who are probably bombarded with requests of this nature and who declined. Others proved remarkably willing. Some of them are big names in the west, others less so – but we were really keen to include writing from as many countries as possible. One thing we found is how hard it is to identify good writers if their work hasn’t yet been translated into English (or if it’s not available in the west), and then how difficult to track them down! I spent many months in search of elusive people. One whom I still regret not being able to pin down is the wonderful Indian writer Vishwapriya Iyengar, whose extraordinary story The Library Girl made me spend months trying to trace her to see if she would write one for us.

TSR: There are stories that are "inspired" by the same clause in the declaration but that come at the subject very differently. Was this part of the aim of the book?

NP: This was difficult for us. The original idea was to have one story per human right, but the reality was that a couple of writers offered us stories on rights that had already been picked by other authors. Nadine Gordimer, for example. And it became a very tricky decision whether or not to use stories that were on the face of it covering duplicate subject matter, but of course as soon as you read them they treated their subject so differently. And the other aspect of this is that it was important to us to include writing from all over the world. We wanted the book to be truly international and to reflect different experiences and cultures. I was really glad that Mohammed Naseehu Ali agreed to write for us – but he wanted to write on the theme of slavery, which Marina Lewycka had already taken. It was clear that he already had an idea. Ultimately it seemed more important to incorporate any ‘duplicate’ stories, than to pigeonhole writers into themes that weren’t their first choice. And if you look at those two stories they are worlds apart and reflect two equally realistic aspects of modern slavery. In a way it seemed more honest to us to show these different experiences than to restrict the telling to one interpretation only.

TSR:. There are a number of stories in the book that weren't commissioned especially for this, how did you find those?

These are the stories by Liana Badr, Hector Aguilar Camin, Alan Garner, Nadine Gordimer, Juan Goytisolo, Patricia Grace, Rohinton Mistry and Joyce Carol Oates. There’s a different rationale behind the choice of each of these. In part, of course, they came about because we had asked each of these authors if they’d be willing to write something for the anthology. They were willing but did not have the time, so offered us these stories, most of which had already been published. To some extent our reasoning for including them was their quality: Nadine Gordimer’s story, for example, is a superb example of the genre that also deals very pertinently with human rights.

But there were other reasons too, partly determined by the authors’ countries of origin. We were extremely keen to have a story from the middle-east, and although Palestinian Liana Badr’s had been published in Arabic, it had not been translated – which we thought was a good reason for including it. Similarly with Hector Aguilar Camin from Mexico, whose work has hardly been translated into English at all, and yet is highly regarded in his native country. The Maori writer Patricia Grace is hardly known in the UK, but her stories are superb and I was extremely keen to include one if at all possible. Alan Garner is a personal hero of mine and although our initial approach had been to ask if he could write around the right to a country (because his novels and stories are extraordinarily rooted in landscape), in fact he offered us his retelling of a Russian folk tale. We could see the validity of including something that was totally different to all the other stories in the book – and, of course, what the folk tale does, very subtly, is remind us of cultural heritage, which is so often crushed or forgotten. Also, folk tales are universal and probably the roots of story-telling.

We have similar reasons for including the stories by Oates, Mistry and Goytisolo – with Oates, she’d written it originally for a university magazine with a tiny circulation; Mistry’s was too relevant and well-written to exclude; and Goytisolo’s is actually extracts from his forthcoming novel, which his translator brilliantly tied together into a convincing story for us.

TSR: One last question: what has the response to the book been so far, as a collection of fiction and as a commemoration of the UDHR?

There has been a terrific response with regards to Amnesty's whole trilogy of UDHR books - Freedom and the two books for children. People appreciate the fact that through literature we have made these fundamental human rights imaginatively accessible to all ages, from very tiny upwards. Reviews for all three have been very good and sales, again for each of them, have wildly exceeded any of Amnesty's non-fiction. Freedom has sold over 12,000 copies in the UK since its launch at the end of August, which is presumably a good achievement by any standards for an anthology of short stories. Various national magazines have serialised some of the stories from the collection, perceiving that they are of genuine interest to their readers. And Mainstream's Foreign Rights department have had great success in selling rights to publish the collection, so that - despite the difficulties inherent in translating this many short stories, with all their linguistic power and idiosyncracies - it will also (to date) be published in Turkey, Poland, the US, Canada, Portugal, Serbia and Montenegro, Italy and Australia.

Thank you so much, Nicky, and we wish the Freedom anthology and the other two books much continued success. read the review of Freedom: Short Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - and you can win yourself a copy. Visit the Competitions page to find out how.

Petina Gappah wins the 2009 Guardian First Book Award!

Huge congratulations to Short Review author Petina Gappah, whose collection, An Elegy for Easterly, has won the 2009 Guardian First Book Award, "the second short story writer to win the award in its 10-year history, " says The Guardian today, "the first being Yiyun Li in 2006. Gappah's collection of 13 stories, An Elegy for Easterly, tells of the lives of people, rich and poor, caught up in events over which they have little control."

Continues The Guardian: "The Guardian's literary editor, Claire Armistead, who chaired the judging panel, said she was thrilled to name Gappah as winner, particularly since 2009 is the year of the short story. There had been some wonderful first books, she said, and 'Petina Gappah's humane and disarmingly funny mosaic of life in Zimbabwe is undoubtedly one of the very best.'"

Congratulations, Petina! Read our review of An Elegy for Easterly, an interview with Petina about the collection, and the rest of the Guardian article.

PS I didn't know 2009 was The Year of the Short Story! Oops, it's nearly over. Let's do it again next year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Congratulations, Regi!

Regi Claire, whose short story collection, Fighting It, we just reviewed in The Short Review and who is published by Two Ravens Press, is shortlisted for the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award, Scotland's major literary awards, alongside AL Kennedy, whose short story collection What Becomes is on my review pile,  and Janice Galloway, whose Collected Stories is also waiting for me. Congratulations, Regi, and Two Ravens Press, and more power to the short story!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Short Lit Bits November

Electric Literature will begin a new venture in microserialization by tweeting Rick Moody's new story, Some Contemporary Characters, from Monday, November 30th to Wednesday, December 2nd. Follow at @ElectricLit.

Ray Bradbury has signed on with White Oak Films with the idea of creating a miniseries of six 1-hour episodes, all based on different short stories of Bradbury’s, says Screenrant.

Bonnie Jo Campbell was a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction for her short story collection, American Salvage but sadly didn't win. More on

The Wall Street Journal tells us that brevity can be a virtue: " From Alice Munro to Lydia Davis, short-story writers get fresh attention". Read more.

Simon Van Booy's short story collection Love Begins in Winter, winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, has been shortlisted for the 17th Bad Sex award, says the Guardian.

Los Angeles-based Wordtheatre, which lines up actors to read short stories, "a pairing that shows both in a flattering light," is opening in London, according to the LA Times Jacket Copy blog.

Granta Books has acquired UK & Commonwealth rights to a new novel and collection of short stories by Chris Adrian, author of Gob's Grief and The Children's Hospital, says

John Grisham releases his first short story collection, Ford County. Read more in the Madison County Journal.

The Creative Writing Corner blog talks about short stories vs novels: ""I'm more likely to read a short story from end-to-end rather than a trashy novel precisely because it's a significant waste of time, whereas the short fiction is a minor waste of time.""...

Read or listen to an interview with a master of short stories, William Trevor, on BBC Radio 3: "I really am a short story writer who also writes the occasional novel, not the other way round."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Guest post: Rose Metal Press interviews itself on short short stories and hand-stitched chapbooks

We are delighted to have the wonderful Rose Metal Press, independent publishers of "hybrid genres specializing in the publication of short shorts, flash and microfiction; prose poetry; novels-in-verse or book-length narrative poems and other literary works that move beyond the traditional genres of poetry, fiction and essay to find new forms of expression".

They have just opened their Fourth Annual Short Short Chapbook contest to submissions, deadline Dec 1st: "25-40 pages of short short stories under 1000 words", and if you want a reason to submit - or to make sure you buy the winner - we have reviewed the winners of the first three contests: Claudia Smith's The Sky is a Well, Geoffrey Forsyth's In the Land of the Free, and, most recently, Sean Lovelace's How Some People Like Their Eggs.

Rose Metal Press is a wonderful example of two people publishing the writing they love, not for any financial gain, but just because it should be a beautiful book. They have even published The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, if you need some pointers.

Here, RMP co-founders Kathleen Rooney and Abby Beckel interview each other about what they do.

Kathleen Rooney: Hey, Abby Beckel, co-founder of Rose Metal Press, did you know that E. M. Forster says that “The work of art assumes the existence of the perfect spectator, and is indifferent to the fact that no such person exists?” Does Rose Metal Press assume the existence of such a spectator? If so how?

Abby Beckel: Well, Kathleen Rooney, co-founder of Rose Metal Press, I don’t know about the perfect spectator, but we do assume the existence of the perfect reader. More accurately, we publish our books with a sense of hopefulness about the existence of the kind of reader who likes to be challenged and take chances and have their ideas about genre stretched in unexpected ways. The good news is that it’s not just an assumption and a hope—those readers do exist! We get so much great feedback from readers and reviewers, letting us know that they are happy that Rose Metal provides an outlet for innovative hybrid genre writing.

Abby Beckel: Since you referred to what we do as creating works of art, can you elaborate on the ways Rose Metal Press views books themselves as art forms, literature as art, and what’s possible as far as combining books and literature with other arts?

Kathleen Rooney: Sure. We publish all kinds of books—novels-in-verse, anthologies, prose poetry collections, and chapbooks of short shorts—but the thing they all have in common besides being in hybrid genres is that they are all subject to the utmost in rigorous quality control. And by that, we mean not just that the contents of the books are well edited and proofread, but that the books themselves are held to exacting standards as objects. Back when we started out in 2006, you and I decided that even though we suspected we’d want to publish many more, we would limit ourselves to publishing just three books a year. Partly we stick to that limit to allow the press to stay in the black, and partly we stick to it to preserve our ability to focus on both the press and our day jobs, but we also chose that limit because we estimated that that was the amount of time we’d need—at least four solid months per book, and usually more—to not merely edit the writing and plan the promotion, but also to put together each book as an art object, kinda. And in retrospect, this limit has helped us to make our design, layout, paper, and cover art the best they can be. Way to go, past selves.

Kathleen Rooney: Speaking of books as beautiful delivery devices for literature, why does Rose Metal Press love short shorts, and why run a limited edition chapbook contest just for them each year?

Abby Beckel: When you and I were starting the press and trying to decide how best to manifest our idea to publish and promote innovative writing in the form of hybrid genres, short shorts jumped out at us as a genre ripe with potential as something of a flagship genre for us: they were and are increasing popular both for readers and writers; they appeal to audiences beyond the literary community; they provide lots of options for interesting design choices; and most importantly, despite all those things, they have very few publishing homes. Rose Metal’s first book was an anthology of short shorts by Emerson College alums titled Brevity & Echo that was the brainstorm of fiction writer and Rose Metal Press board member Pamela Painter. (Emerson College was one of the first writing programs to offer dedicated courses on writing short shorts.) That book continues to be a crowd pleaser and has been used in classes at a number of colleges and universities.

That was the beginning of our tango with flash fiction. It’s been a committed relationship ever since. By starting an annual chapbook contest for short shorts, we saw an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of not only genres, but publication form. Chapbooks have traditionally been the realm of poetry, but the brevity of short shorts makes a manuscript of them work well as a chapbook. We get lots of amazing and inventive and affecting collections each time we do the contest. The short short is growing and changing and every year we see innovations in the forms and styles and subjects that flash writers tackle.

The chapbook form also allows us to really focus on creating a literary object of beauty. Each year we letterpress the chapbook covers by hand at the Museum of Printing [link:] in North Andover, Mass., on an old Vandercook press. We choose specialty endpapers and have the book hand-bound, sometimes hand-sewn. Two of our chapbooks have won spots in the New England Book Show for design. It’s really gratifying work creating a chapbook package that projects the heart and talent of winning authors’ stories.

Abby Beckel: The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction represents Rose Metal’s first foray into books about a genre rather than original work in hybrid genres. How do the Field Guides fit with the vision of the press and are there more plans for academic exploration of genres in the future of the press?

Kathleen Rooney: As you know because you were there, we didn’t set out to necessarily publish work for academic use, but we were open to that as a possibility, as long as the academic explorations were themselves in some way hybrid. As you also know, the Field Guides weren’t our idea, and they weren’t even ideas hatched by the same set of people. But when Tara L. Masih approached us about the flash fiction guide, and then shortly thereafter, F. Daniel Rzicznek and Gary McDowell pitched us the prose poetry one, we were impressed on both fronts by how these editors were interested in making texts that would be suitable for classroom use, but that would not have to be used in a classroom—they’re books that don’t try to define or pin down the respective genres, but just to examine and illustrate and discuss them in a creative, personal, and wide-ranging style.

To answer the second part of the question, it’s hard to say how precisely they’ll fit with what the press publishes in the future—we may publish additional academically inclined books if the right ones come our way, but then again we might not. The next couple of books we put out, including the fantastic and weird Color Plates by Adam Golaski, are going to be single-author projects, but if somebody approaches us with another anthology idea we can’t refuse, we won’t refuse it. That’s one of the many kickass things about running a very small press: nobody gets to tell us what we can or can’t do. And I can’t wait to see what else we publish next.

Neither can we! Thank you Kathleen and Abby. Find out more about Rose Metal Press and the Fourth Annual Short Short Chapbook contest and you could be clutching a beautiful, hand-bound book of your own.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

An Elegy For Easterly the only short story collection shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award

Huge congratulations to Petina Gappah, whose short story collection, An Elegy for Easterly, is shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award - the only story collection on the list. Find out what all the fuss is about - our review is here and an interview with Petina is here. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A week of short story collection events in the UK

What a wonderful week for short story events, featuring authors whose collections we have reviewed or are about to. If you are in the UK, what riches there are!

Oct 21st

Alison MacLeod (15 Modern Tales of Attraction) and Panos Karnezis (Little Infamies) chat about short stories at the Lancaster Lit Fest, chaired by Carys Davies (Some New Ambush)

Also: the launch of Matter Magazine Issue 9 in Sheffield, also featuring Alison MacLeod (15 Modern Tales of Attraction) and Adam Marek (Instruction Manual for Swallowing)

 Oct 23rd

The launch of Hassan Blasim's collection, The Madman of Freedom Square (our review coming soon), at the Calder Bookshop, 51 The Cut, London. More about this on the Comma Press website.

Oct 24th - a whole day celebrating short stories as part of the The Short Weekend at the Manchester Lit Fest:

The Launch of When It Changed - Science Into Fiction anthology
Geoff Ryman, Patricia Dunker, Liz Williams, Dr Tim O'Brien; Prof Steve Furber and Adam Marek (Instruction Manual for Swallowing)
Friends Meeting House, Manchester.

Bernard MacLaverty & Atef Abu Saif

Hassan Blasim (The Madman of Freedom Square) & David Constantine (The Sheiling (our review coming soon))

Chris Beckett (The Turing Test) ; James Lasdun (winner of the First National Short Story Award)

Paint a Vulgar Picture event

Find out more about The Short Weekend at the Manchester Lit Fest. I'm sure there's more going on that I missed, do let us know. Have a great week!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Guest post: Chris Fowler, author of 11 Short Story Collections, Talks Stories

The Short Review is delighted to welcome Christopher Fowler - whose tenth short story collection, Old Devil Moon, won the Edge Hill 2nd Prize 2008 and had seven other nominations, and his eleventh, The Horrors, features 14 new stories and is scheduled for summer 2010. Christopher talks about what a great short story is for him :
"Feelings, as Antonia Byatt recently noted, are ruining short stories. Detailed descriptions of emotional states don’t take the place of a good story well told.
 I don’t believe everyone can write – it’s not something you simply become passable at producing, like watercolours. A short story needs to surprise and entertain, but also needs an element that rings true; recognisable humanity. The opening of John Collier’s The Devil George And Rosie starts ‘There was a young man who was invariably spurned by the girls, not because he smelt at all bad but because he happened to be as ugly as a monkey.’ You want to read on.

My favourite short story volume is the anthology Black Water, edited by Alberto Manguel, a veritable encyclopedia of great tales. The book contains a famous story; David Garnett’s’ Lady Into Fox’, where the plot is actually embedded in the title.
 Tennessee Williams said ‘I don’t want realism. I want magic…I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth.’ I think tiny moments of magic can reveal great truths.

Short stories should be pleasurable to read. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp, a sailor buys a genii and has to sell him for less than he paid – which proves impossible. Stories are much more enjoyable when the main character is having a terrible time. Panic breeds action, and action adds pace – when I read tales in which a lonely woman stares out of a window at the rain, my heart sinks, because I know we are off to a slow start. It’s often the case that the reader is way ahead of the writer.

John Sladek wrote a story called Anxietal Register B which consists of a form to be filled in by the reader. Good ideas satisfy immensely. For this reason, I’m sure, Roald Dahl is often cited as the perfect short story writer, but in truth he’s part of a long historical line, from Poe to Saki, from E F Benson to Somerset Maughan. Dahl is easy to read; no crime, this – for some reason, certain writers go out of their way to be unreadable in short form. I’ve been guilty myself, once writing a story in futuristic phonetic teen slang.

A short story doesn’t need the kind of structure one would expect in a novel. It may even end before the main event. In J G Ballard’s The Watchtowers, ominous towers guard a frightened populace, and only begin to open and reveal their purpose in the last line of the story. The point of the plot is to highlight the effect that a police state has on ordinary people. In Shirley Jackson’s celebrated The Lottery, villagers stone a character to death, but there is no explanation provided that will allow us to comprehend their cruelty. The point of the story is that real cruelty is inexplicable. So the plot does not directly provide the reader with satisfaction. Rather, it is the author’s delivery method for the idea. In Daphne Du Murier’s The Birds, no explanation for the avian behaviour is given, and therein lies its power.

Of course, a plot is a skeleton; it is hidden under the skin. It needs characters and scenario to function. The perfect plot is one which emerges from the other two factors. "Don’t look now," says John to his wife, "but there are a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotise me." John and Laura have lost a child, and are in Venice. John has a secret ability he has failed to recognize. The two old girls will ignite a terrible tragedy. Daphne Du Murier’s brilliant short story Don’t Look Now’ combines the three elements to perfection because they rely on each other. If the couple had not gone to Venice, if John had not been so blind, everything would have been different – but how often in life do we ask ourselves what would have happened if we’d only behaved differently?

A plot can’t simply be imposed on its characters, because free will must be exercised – but of course people are willfully blind, or too optimistic, or cruel, and this affects outcome. Kenneth Tynan once said that you don’t need to know why two people fall in love, you just need to know that they do.

The unexpected is important. It’s the element in any story that makes you want to describe it to others. ‘You’ll never guess what happened today’ is a phrase which begs the other person to undermine any surprise. I’m not a fan of trick endings unless they come naturally – we never see the best ones coming. In Don’t Look Now, the elements of the ending are put in place early on, and still we fail to spot the climactic tragedy. Mystery writing, in particular, is about the fair withholding of information. I stress ‘fair’ because it would be a cheat to reveal at the end that the protagonist is a dog, unless you can read the story a second time and see that it’s obvious. Hiding is not the same as withholding.

In Du Murier’s Adieu Sagesse. This plot concerns a dull 60 year-old banker with three daughters and a wife obsessed with appearance and status. He owns an old boat that has never been sailed, and lovingly tends it. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that he’ll soon give his family the finger before taking off for the open sea. After all, the title can be translated as Goodbye Common Sense. But instead of a closing scene in which the old man sails into a calm and glorious sunset, Du Murier makes him sail off into stormy grey seas. The suggestion is that it won’t be plain sailing, but at least he’s got away. It’s more realistic.

In my last collection I wrote a story called Cupped Hands after reading a newspaper report about African towns with no natural water supply. How do they survive? They have the water delivered in tankers. What if someone stole the truck? Why would they do that? Well, suppose they needed to leave town fast and there was no other vehicle? Suddenly I knew the story was there, because a moral problem had been created. The guy can save himself by stealing the truck, but will doom the stricken town.

So far I’ve had over 150 short stories published in ten collections. I’ve yet to write the perfect short story."

There are some who would beg to disagree, Chris! Read our review of Old Devil Moon and check out Christopher's website for more about his writing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Simon Van Booy Wins 2009 Frank O'Connor award and Chris Beckett gets a two-novel deal

Congratulations to Simon Van Booy who is this year's winner of the 35,000 Euro Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award for his collection, Love Begins in Winter! We will be reviewing the collection in the October issue, so hold your horses... In the meantime, for more about the winner read this article in today's Irish Examiner.
"I was very nervous coming to Cork for the Frank O’Connor Festival," said [Simon]. "But I stopped being nervous when I read the other short-listed books. I was shocked by the quality of the work, and I knew I had no hope of winning."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Short story news roundup

Some exciting news from Short Story World. First, Electric Literature, the new lit zine that is available in print, as an eBook, or for your Kindle of iPhone, and pays its contributors a wonderful $1000 per story (!) has taken an exciting step into the world of animation and asked animators to create a very short film based on one line from each of the pieces they published in Issue 1. Here, for example, is Luca Dipierro's take on a sentence from Lydia Millet's Sir Henry:


There is one more animation on the Electric Literature YouTube page as well as a trailer for Jim Shepherd's Your Fate Hurtles Down at You. I love the idea of animating short stories... see what you think.

Another very welcome newcomer is Madras press, based in the US. This is what they are all about - and they are publishing the wondrous Aimee Bender as one of their first authors, which is always a great thing!
"Madras Press publishes individually bound short stories and novellas and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of charitable organizations chosen by our authors.

The format of our books provides readers with the opportunity to experience a story on its own, with no advertisements or unrelated articles surrounding it; it also provides a home for stories that are often arbitrarily ignored by commercial publishing outfits, whether because they’re too long for magazines but not trade-book length, or because they don’t resemble certain other stories. These are clumsy, ill-fitting stories made perfect when read in the simplest possible way.

Published in regular series of four, our books also serve as fundraising efforts for a number of charitable causes and organizations. Each of our authors has selected a beneficiary to which all net proceeds generated from the sales of his or her book will be donated; these include organizations dedicated to environmental protection, community development, human services, and much more.

On October 1, our online bookstore will open, at which time you'll be able to order from our first series of titles:The Third Elevator, by Aimee Bender
Proceeds to benefit InsideOUT Writers

Bobcat, by Rebecca Lee
Proceeds to benefit Riverkeeper

Sweet Tomb, by Trinie Dalton
Proceeds to benefit the Theodore Payne Foundation

A Mere Pittance, by Sumanth Prabhaker
Proceeds to benefit Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled

Each book will cost about as much as a greeting card, and will come with your name (or a name of your choice) transcribed in an ex-libris panel on the inside front cover."

A lovely idea, not only boosting the short story, but raising money for worthy causes at the same time. Founding editor Sumanth Prabhaker told me they will be accepting submissions from oct 1st and "We operate on a purely volunteer basis, so that the only cost subtracted from the sticker price of online purchases is for manufacturing. Acquisitions, editing, design, production, and marketing are all done at no cost. Taking inspiration from the Concord Free Press, we are foregoing commercial distribution and working directly with bookstores and consumers." Good luck to them!

Thirdly, going head to head with the BBC National Short Story Award, but with a bigger cheque, the brand new Sunday Times Short Story Prize will award £25,000 (no, you haven't read that wrong) "for a single short story in Britain and Ireland. " Says the announcement:

"The prize, backed by EFG Private Bank, is the latest sign that the genre is once again thriving after many years of falling popularity. The contest is open to authors who have already had work published in Britain and Ireland, and is intended to attract well-established writers as well as relative unknowns."

Now, this is welcome news indeed, as is anything that intends to get more people reading short stories (falling popularity? You're just looking in the wrong places).

However, as with the BBC award, this is not judged anonymously, which bothers me. It always bothers me. Is it about the writing or about the name above the writing? An interesting discussion on Facebook ensued, with Nicola making the excellent point that since this is open to published stories, it can't be anonymous since some of the (six) judges may have read some of the stories submitted and know who they were written by. Very good point. So: just accept unpublished stories. That solves that one.

What do you think? We all know that it is hard enough to read something without simultaneously looking up the author's bio, let alone reading something by a "big name". You just can't really read it in a vacuum. But you can at least attempt that. If it is going to be "award for best previously-published story" then that is something else.

I'm not complaining, not really. Just thinking out loud. £25,000 will mean an enormous amount to any writer unless they are Dan Brown, I highly doubt any writer of literary fiction (if this is what the prize is aiming at) makes that from their books. Yes, the best short story should win. But I say that anything that might stand in the way of that goal should, if at all possible, be removed.


Friday, September 4, 2009

The Sept issue is here

This month's Short Review is up. What's in it, you ask??

We bring you false relations, damaged goods, repetition patterns, quick repair, stories like donut holes, stories named for rivers, things that are cold to the touch, people who always want something, the collected stories of the Armitage family, and our first review of an ebook which leaves the reader, Radiohead-style, to decide what they'd like to pay. And, as ever, author interviews with almost everyone we review.

Controversially, perhaps, we've added the Literary Fiction category to the Find Something to Read By Category page. Difficult one, this. Might cause trouble. Who is to say what is Lit Fic and what isn't? Hmm. What do you think?? Leave a comment.

Also: Surprise yourself! Check out our non-complete list of short story collections published in 2008 and so far this year (almost). More than you thought, eh?

Pop in and have a read.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Short story collection shortlisted for Guardian First Book Award

Huge congratulations to Petina Gappah whose story collection, Elegy for Easterly, has been shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the only short story collection on the list! Said our reviewer (yes, it was me):
There are those who write fiction in order to educate, to say "This is how things are done, this is what you must know, read and learn". But in my opinion, education is not the primary aim of fiction. Fiction must, above all, bring the reader a gripping story, characters that we want to follow, to see what happens to them. This is where Petina Gappah excels: first and foremost, she tells great stories, and, almost incidentally, we learn as we read. We learn about Zimbabwe, the rhythms of its language, the corruption of its politics, the AIDS epidemic, the relations between neighbours and friends, between rich and poor, between Africa and the rest of the world, between parents and their children. These stories are full of atmosphere, of cultural detail, and we drink it in, because we are so taken with the story and the characters. Gappah has hooked us.
Read the rest of the review of the book and an interview with Petina:
I did not have a collection in mind at all, especially because very early on in my writing career, someone pretty high up in publishing had told me that there was no interest in story collections. So I wrote stories as a way of flexing my writing muscle, and to find my "voice", with no thought of collecting them in a single volume, until my agent Claire Paterson, at the time we were looking for publishers for my novel, suggested putting them together in a single manuscript. I was stunned when Faber offered to publish them. This went against all that I had heard about publishers' loathing of short stories.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Edge Hill Prize Winner Chris Beckett talks about his 20-year relationship with Interzone magazine.

Chris Beckett beat the big names to scoop this year's Edge Hill Short Story Prize for his imaginative, rich and compelling short story collection, The Turing Test, (read the review here). Almost all the stories were published in UK science fiction magazine Interzone over the past 20 years, and I was intrigued by Chris' comment in the book about how the magazine editors' "constructive rejections" of his first stories spurred him on. So, in addition to our regular author interview, I asked Chris a little more about this:

LinkThe Short Review: The science fiction magazine Interzone and its editors have played a major role in your writing career. Can you tell me how this began?

Chris Beckett: I've always written science fiction stories since I was a teenager, but I didn't see myself as specifically a science fiction writer. In the late 80s I started writing more science fiction and looking around for outlets. I discovered Interzone which was then, as it is now, the main SF magazine in the UK. I think I must have submitted 3 or 4 stories to them before they accepted one, but they used to write really thoughtful, constructive rejection letters with helpful feedback ('they' being the then Interzone editor David Pringle and his associates). It was the constructive feedback that kept me going and it was very possibly that which cemented my commitment to science fiction as a writer.

My first story to be accepted (there or anywhere else) was called A Matter of Survival and it imagined a world in which men and women lived in seperate states and were effectively at war (where did that come from!) Its strongest advocate on the Interzone editorial board was Lee Montgomerie, then a deputy editor, who really liked it. I discovered later that Lee assumed it had been written by a woman (you can't tell from 'Chris'). For my part I assumed incorrectly that Lee was a man. Curious that this confusion should have occurred around a story that was all about gender.

From then on I continued to submit stories to Interzone regularly. I can't overemphasise how helpful Interzone has been to me, and continues to be to me, as a writer. A writer needs a community within which his/her stuff will be read, commented on, evaluated, compared to the work of others, reacted to. Interzone and its readers provided this. It was thanks to Interzone that I kept at my science fiction writing and began to develp my own individual way of using science fiction conventions to say the things I want to say. I honestly do not know what path my writing would have taken without it.

Interzone, now under the editorship of Andy Cox, continues to provide a platform for new writers as it did in the eighties. I don't think it makes much money. I don't think its readership is huge. But it is performing a great service. I publish stories too in the US magazine Asimov's these days, but I continue to send stories regularly to Interzone (my next to appear there is called Johnny's New Job: it is a satirical look at the way that social workers are demonised following a child death), and it still provides me with an audience that will not only comment on my stories (not always favourably of course) but, more than that, will be aware of my other stories and of the kind of writer I am. It's invaluable.

I should add that Roy Gray, one of the members of Interzone's current editorial team, is an absolutely tireless publicist and networker on behalf of Interzone and its authors. It was him that first encouraged me to attend science fiction conventions (I only went to my first about five or six years ago), through which I have built up a network of friends and contacts, including, for instance, Andrew Hook of Elastic Press who published The Turing Test and John Jarrold my agent. What I have learned (slowly - I am a slow learner) is that writing itself may be a solitary activity, but you can really only grow and unfold as a writer if you are part of a community.

TSR: You say the editors gave thoughtful, constructive rejection letters. Any writer longs for a constructive rejection letter rather than a simply impersonal "Thank you for your... it's not for us..." Could you tell us a little but about what made the rejections constructive, what they suggested etc...? And how did this cement your commitment to SF?

CB: Well the letters weren't always very long, but they always said at least one thing that I could do differently. A couple of them went into some detail and made several suggestions. To be honest I can no longer remember their suggestions now, but I do know that they gave me something to work on, so that I felt that I was progressing, and also gave me some sense that Interzone would eventually publish something of mine. If you just get a standard polite rejection you can't tell if you were even close to being published, and you can't tell whether they just thought your story was rubbish, or just not quite what they were looking for. (They weren't rubbish, those very early stories, I don't think, but they certainly weren't up to publication standard. The Interzone editors were quite right about that.)

How it cemented my commitment to SF? Well it kept me at it, and gave me a reason for keeping at it until in due course I found a way of writing SF that allowed me to write about what I want to write about. SF suits me and nowadays it just feels to me that its the way I tell stories. But I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had received equally encouraging and constructive feedback from (say) a magazine publishing mainstream fiction (I don't like the word 'mainstream' but can't think of another for the moment!). Would I have developed in a different way and found another way of writing? I really don't know.

Having said that, though, I do sometimes try and write non-SF stories but I always come back to SF, so maybe I was always meant to be an SF writer really.

TSR: Finally, the old chestnut: What does winning the Edge Hill prize mean to you? You have been writing for a long time, you are far from a beginner, with several books under your belt. Is there something that a prize like this can do for someone who isn't a novice, who is firmly committed to their writing. apart from the nice cheque?!

CB: It is a huge thing for me, Tania..

Almost no one outside the SF world will have come across my fiction, and even within the SF world I am not exactly famous. I have always believed that my stories were good stories (good stories full stop as well as good SF stories) but that was largely a matter of faith. Here was some external validation for me: three judges, none of whom is an SF fan, chose my book over a Booker prizewinner and over four other writers of literary fiction, all published by major publishers, all of whom have won prizes and accolades for their work. I just can't tell you how great it feels to have ones own sometimes shaky self-belief validated in that way. It is a huge thing.

I have been writing for a long time and I have published a good many short stories and three books (with a fourth to come out next year), but they have all been with small presses and for a small audience, sometimes very small. Now I have a wider audience, both inside and outside of the SF world and a more prominent platform on which to build for the future.

Commercial publishers are very cautious about taking on books which seem risky, and that is particularly hard for writers like me whose work is a bit out of the mainstream (not only in the sense that it is SF: even within the SF field it is a bit out of the mainstream, and not the kind of thing that publishers have been going for recently). I am hoping that perhaps writing will now generate a significant income for me which will allow me to spend more time on it that I have been able to do up to now?

We want our stuff to be read and to be recognised and to be liked. It is partly vanity of course, and I'm certainly as vain as the next person, but as I said before, it's not just that. We write because we feel a need to communicate. We want someone to hear and to understand, just as is the case when we talk about things that really matter to us.

Thanks so much to Chris for talking to us, congratulations to him for his win, and may we all be fortunate enough to find an editor whose "constructive rejections" spur us on! Roy Gray of Interzone explains that his is not an isolated case: "As I said in the Dominic Green special 'For me Interzone discovers authors in generations; so the eighties IZ brought us from Baxter to Stross via, Brown, Brooke, Egan, Ryman etc. In the nineties we went from Ballantyne to Liz Williams via Beckett, Molly Brown and Reynolds,'" he told The Short Review. "So Chris's contemporaries are Alastair Reynolds, The Guardian's £1 Million SF author, Tony Ballantyne and Liz Williams. Only Alastair is a full time professional. The others still have 'day jobs'."

Read the review of The Turing Test here, and Chris answers our standard author questionnaire here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Wake Up Booker! The Indy Praises Short Story Collections

In today's Independent newspaper, in an article entitled "Short-haul fiction, long-term benefits", Boyd Tonkin says:
Here's a star-spangled shortlist of leading writers who have published, or soon will publish, works of fiction since the last Man Booker contest: Kazuo Ishiguro, AL Kennedy, Ali Smith, Will Self, Chimamanda Adichie, Alice Munro. None of them could have featured on this week's long-list. Of course, the final name gives the game away. Canada's doyenne of the story that packs an entire life, and world, into 20 pages might already have won the Man Booker International Prize for career achievement. But the annual competition still shuns volumes of short fiction. Which means as well that first-rank debut collections, such as (this year) Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, never stand a fighting chance. Should that rule now change?
Yes, Boyd, yes! He says:
In the Manchester-based Comma Press and Salt Publishing in Cambridgeshire, Britain has two high-performing specialist imprints with a robust commitment to the briefer forms.
These two publishers are the ones publishing many of the short story collections we have reviewed.

Oh, Boyd! Sending much love to the Indy today. I will leave you with his parting shot:
"The only rule is to write originally and well - whether the result takes two, five or twenty thousand words."
Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. Read the full article here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dzanc's Best of the Web 2009

Dzanc Books is one of those independent publishers that makes short story lovers cheer and jump up and down. Not only does Dzanc publish great books (read reviews of Roy Kesey's All Over and Yannick Murphy's In A Bear's Eye), they are literary activists, doing all they can to spread the word about great writing and help writers. Dzanc executive director and publisher Dan Wickett founded the Emerging Writers Network in 2000 and puts an enormous amount of energy into the EWN's blog, running a Short Story Month last month with so many posts talking about short stories that they are now publishing a selection of them as a book! Dzanc annually awards the Dzanc prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service, and is now offering Creative Writing Sessions through which writers are mentored by other writers. Yes, they are quite fabulous.If this weren't enough, their second annual Best of the Web anthology was published on July 1st, and we here at the Short Review are delighted to be hosting a guest blog by M. Thomas Gammarino, one of the featured authors, as part of the one-day virtual book tour.

First, a little about the book:

Guest-edited by Lee K. Abbott, this print anthology compiles the best fiction, poetry, and non-fiction that online literary journals have to offer in an eclectic collection in the manner of other broad-ranging anthologies such as Pushcart and Best American Non-Required Reading. This is the first substantial attempt at creating an annual print compilation of the best of material published online.

This year's contributor's include: Waqar Ahmed, Arlene Ang, Michael Baker, Marcelo Ballve, Marge Barrett, Carmelinda Blagg, Benjamin Buchholz, Blake Butler, Jimmy Chen, Amy L. Clark, Amber Cook, Bill Cook, Michael Czyzniejewski, Darlin’ Neal, Matthew Derby, Ryan Dilbert, Stephen Dixon, Alex Dumont, Claudia Emerson, D.A. Feinfeld, Marcela Fuentes, M. Thomas Gammarino, Cassandra Garbus, Molly Gaudry, Anne Germanacos, Matt Getty, Todd Hasak-Lowy, Karen Heuler, Ash Hibbert, Philip Holden, Roy Kesey, Hari Bhajan Khalsa, Tricia Louvar, Peter Markus, Michael Martone, Heather Killelea McEntarfer, Lindsay Merbaum, Corey Mesler, Laura Mullen, Joseph Olschner, Jeff Parker, Elise Paschen, Elizabeth Penrose, Kate Petersen, Glen Pourciau, Sam Rasnake, Jonathan Rice, Tom Sheehan, Claudia Smith, Lynn Strongin, Terese Svoboda, Jon Thompson, Davide Trame, Donna D. Vitucci, Helen Wickes, Kathrine Leone Wright, Jordan Zinovich.

Dzanc has a special promotion whereby you can get both Best of the Web anthologies... more about that later. Now, over to Thomas talking about the short story of his selected for the anthology, The Fridge, which originally appeared in the Adirondack Review:
I’ve heard a number of famous writers (most recently Steve Erickson in a Bookslut interview from 2007) talk about the phenomenon of the “free” book, the one that’s simply visited on them by the muses as a reward for all the years of toil they put into the rest of their books. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be gifted a free book—my not-terribly-long first novel, Big in Japan, took me five years or more—but I can vouch for the phenomenon of the free story insofar as The Fridge—the story I’m thrilled to have had selected for Best of the Web 2009—was one.

I wrote the first draft of the story longhand in one hour-long burst at a cafĂ© called ChocoCro (as in chocolate croissant) in Yokohama, Japan. I do this sort of Kerouackian exercise once in a while where I make my hand out-write my mind such that I end up making associative leaps I couldn’t possibly plan. More often than not the exercise yields a surrealistic mess, but once in a while, given enough discipline, I can turn out a viable story. In this case I knew only two things from the outset: 1) I would keep it more or less realistic, and 2) I would write, in good cubist fashion, from at least two points of view.

My story may not feel especially modernist—probably it feels more dirty-realistic insofar as it deals with blue-collar domesticity and adultery—but its germinal texts were in fact modernist landmarks like Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and the “Wandering Rocks” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses. I played up the impressionism by making the two accounts in the story—May’s and Bill’s—disagree on some of the details of chronology, their different senses of time being one of the story’s motifs. I considered adding a third section in which the reader would get the subjective account of Bill’s lover, Anna, but finally I decided that even as I complicated each character’s claims on history, I would at least impose enough form to make the story the portrait not of a hackneyed love triangle so much as a marriage—and it is a marriage aptly characterized by the title, I think. At the same time, the fridge is the one place where Bill and May continue to commune, the one place, however piddling, where they renew their vows each day, her by putting his lunch in there, him by being there to take it. It’s not much, but it’s something.

One last thing: anyone who has ever been in a writing workshop has heard the old chestnut “Show, don’t tell.” I teach it myself in beginners' writing classes. It’s not bad advice for young writers with a penchant for exposition, whose craft of storytelling has been honed primarily on the telephone, but the dirty secret is that the closer you look at that binary the more it begins to dissolve. So long as we’re working with words, it’s all telling of one sort or another (“diegesis,” the narratologist Gerard Genette would call it), and as Louis Menand notes in his review of Mark McGurl’s The Program Era in a recent New Yorker, that mantra has always been “effectively opposite” that other pedagogical imperative to “Find your voice.” I didn’t find my voice in The Fridge, but I like to think I found Bill’s and May’s. The Fridge is all “telling,” and that’s a curious thing if you overthink it because who are these people supposed to be talking to really? But then who are the intramural narratees of most literature? Ultimately the question proves beside the point. We accept it as a convention because literature is uniquely suited to capturing the human sensorium as channeled through a textual larynx. Suck the narratorial inflections out of it, the quirks and mannerisms, lilts and cadences, and we might as well all stick to screenplays.
Thanks, Thomas, for that insight into your story. Dzanc are running a time-limited promotion: buy both Best of the Web anthologies for $30 instead of $36 - and you'll get a 15% discount coupon off any book published by Dzanc or their imprints. So much great reading.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Most Imaginative" Sci Fi Author Wins the Edge Hill Prize!

Shocker in the short story world - Chris Beckett, author of the Turing Test, published by Elastic Press, has beaten heavyweight writers of "literary fiction" Anne Enright, Ali Smith, Gerard Donovan and Shena Mackay to run off with the Edge Hill Prize for the short story!

"I suspect Chris Beckett winning the Edge Hill Prize will be seen as a surprise in the world of books,"
said James Walton, one of the judges.
"In fact, though, it was also a bit of surprise to the judges, none of whom knew they were science fiction fans beforehand. Yet, once the judging process started, it soon became clear that The Turing Test was the book that we'd all been impressed by, and enjoyed, the most — and one by one we admitted it."

Wonderful that finally "genre" transcends its boundaries to claim the prize. Says Walton:
"It was Beckett who seemed to us to have written the most imaginative and endlessly inventive stories, fizzing with ideas and complete with strong characters and big contemporary themes. We also appreciated the sheer zest of his story-telling and the obvious pleasure he had taken in creating his fiction."
Congratulations to Chris! Read Prize organiser Ailsa Cox's sneak peak behind the scenes before the winner was announced.

AND: I've just been informed that World Fantasy Award winner Graham Joyce just won the O Henry award, the US' most prestigious award for a single short story, judged this year by AS Byatt and Tim O'Brien. Genre triumphs again!

The story An Ordinary Soldier Of The Queen, describes the hallucinatory experiences of a British Soldier in the first Gulf conflict. Byatt says she was haunted by the rhythms of the story and the seamless mixing of genres in combining the daily and the strange. O’Brien, celebrated for his own war writing, calls An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen a “superb ghost story, a wonderful story about war”. O’Brien suggests that many war stories merge with the world of magic and ghosts, for the systematic butchery of war does not always feel “real” and that sometimes a realistic story can seem to demean the essential unrealistic reality of war.

Graham Joyce, a previous winner of the World Fantasy award, is known for his blending of realism and the hallucinatory. He is the author of a dozen novels and several short stories and says he wrote the story after seeing a statistic suggesting that three-quarters of homeless people on the streets of the UK are ex-service personnel.

If this inspires in you the immediate urge to read science fiction and fantasy, click on those links to see what we've reviewed that falls under those headings (I hate the "g" word.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Behind the Scenes of the Edge Hill Short Story Prize

We welcome Ailsa Cox, fiction writer, critic, tutor of creative writing, and one of the coordinators of the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story, giving us a quick peak behind the scenes of the Prize, whose winner will be announced on July 4th:

Just about to name the winner of the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story and as usual my lips are sealed. I’m giving nothing away – not even a clue. I don’t want anything to spoil that moment of surprise and delight at the award ceremony. This year’s shortlist includes two Irish writers, a science fiction writer, two Booker nominees and a Booker prizewinner - in other words, Chris Beckett, Gerard Donovan, Anne Enright, Shena Mackay and Ali Smith. Five really strong contenders. I’m glad the decision isn’t up to me.

The prize was started in 2007 after I ran the first of several short story conferences at Edge Hill University. Many people don’t know where Edge Hill is, which is one of the reasons why the university was keen to put us on the map with a prestigious prize. It is in fact in Ormskirk, Lancashire, somewhere between Liverpool and Southport. By giving £5000 to the author of a published short story collection we were doing something unique; we have the National Short Story Prize and the international Frank O’Connor Award Munster Literature Centre Home for any collection published in English but there is nothing for writers in the UK and Ireland which is anything like, for instance, The Rea Award for the Short Story in the US. We hoped the prize would help change attitudes in the literary world, and actively encourage publishers to accept and promote collections, in the knowledge that they might get some recognition for it.

Since then the university has upped its contribution, so there is now a second prize and a Readers’ Choice; and Blackwell Bookshops have sponsored a specially commissioned artwork to go to the winner. This is not your average bit of engraving gathering dust at the back of the mantelpiece! I’ve been watching Pete Clarke, a painter with a special interest in using text and imagery, create something really special for this year. This year’s judges were last year’s winner, Claire Keegan, Mark Flinn, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university and James Walton, the writer and critic. Waiting for their final decision was gruelling – I had no idea what would come out of their discussion and dreaded personality clashes or stalemate; and as the time ticked by I needn’t have worried. Though none of them really knew one another, they made a good team, open-minded and sensible and their decision was unanimous. The Readers’ Choice is decided by a combination of local groups from Get Into Reading The Reader - Outreach Programmes and students from our Creative Writing MA Creative Writing. Last year it was won by horror writer Christopher Fowler. What will happen this year? I told you, I’m not saying.

Five writers, three prizes (and theoretically the winner could also get the Readers’ Choice). Not to mention those writers who didn’t quite make the shortlist but have produced outstanding work. This, after all, is a prize for a collection, and sometimes the quality of an individual story isn’t sustained across the whole book. As a reader, I find this especially in small press publications. When a less well known writer does get onto the shortlist it’s so exciting, for them and for us. Last year Rob Shearman didn’t win anything; but even though Tiny Deaths went on to win a World Fantasy Award he says it all started for him with the Edge Hill Prize.

Thanks, Ailsa - we will announce the winner as soon as the news is made public! Good luck to all.

For more about the prize, visit the Edge Hill Short Story Prize page and Ailsa Cox's Edge Hill home page.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

2009 Frank O'Connor Award Shortlist Revealed

The Frank O'Connor Award shortlist has been revealed. At 35,000 euro, this is the biggest prize in the world for a short story collection, and previous winners include Haruki Murakami, Miranda July, Jhumpa Lahiri and Yiyun Li.

From this year's 57-strong longlist of collections, the three-judge panel picked the following six collections - passing over big names such as Ali Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro, Orange Prize winner Chimanda Ngozi Adiche, Mary Gaitskill and James Lasdun and Sana Krasikov.

An Elegy for Easterly
by Petina Gappah (Faber, UK)

Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer with law degrees from Cambridge, Graz University, and the University of Zimbabwe. Her short fiction and essays have been published in eight countries.

by Charlotte Grimshaw (Vintage, New Zealand)
Charlotte Grimshaw's first novel was described as ‘New Zealand noir'. Grimshaw has contributed short fiction to anthologies, was awarded the 2006 Bank of New Zealand Katherine Mansfield Award, and published her first short story collection in 2007. Titled Opportunity, this collection was also short-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

Ripples and other Stories
by Shih-Li Kow (Silverfish Books, Malaysia)
Shih-Li Kow was born in Kuala Lumpur. Her stories have been published in the anthologies, News from Home and Silverfish New Writing 7. Sh-li Kow holds a degree in chemical engineering.

The Pleasant Light of Day
by Philip O Ceallaigh (Penguin Ireland.)
Philip O Ceallaigh has lived and worked at a variety of jobs in Ireland, Spain, Russia, the United States, Kosovo and Georgia. He has lived mostly in Bucharest since 2000 where among other things he translates English subtitles for Romanian films. He has won the Glen Dimplex Award and the Rooney Prize for his first short story collection Notes from A Turkish Whorehouse which was also shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award in 2006.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
by Wells Tower (FSG New York and Granta UK)
Wells Tower’s short stories and journalism have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, The Washington Post Magazine, and elsewhere. He received two Pushcart Prizes and the Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review. He divides his time between Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.

Love Begins in Winter
by Simon Van Booy (Harper Perennial New York)
Simon Van Booy was born in London and grew up in rural Wales and Oxford. After playing football in Kentucky, he lived in Paris and Athens. In 2002 he was awarded an MFA and won the H.R. Hays Poetry Prize. Van Booy is the author of The Secret Lives of People in Love. He lives in New York City.

This is a varied bunch geographically and in terms of experienced writers (two previously shortlisted for this prize) versus debutantes, yet not so varied in terms of small presses versus mainstream publishers - it would have been nice for a small-press-published collection to make the shortlist. Before accusations fly, yes, I am a small-press-published author and my collection was on the longlist! But with my editor's hat on, I know that many excellent collections have been published by small presses in the past year, because I have reviewed a number of them. Next year, perhaps?

The winner will be announced in Cork on September 20th at the closing ceremony of the tenth Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival. Before that, we have the winner of the Edge Hill Prize - which features one small-press-published short story collection on its five-book shortlist - to look forward to on Saturday July 4th. Good luck to all!