Thursday, January 7, 2010

Short Circuit's Virtual Book Tour Lands Here!

We normally only talk about short story collections here at the Short Review, but we're making an exception in order to take part in the Virtual Book Tour for an excellent new book.  

Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story, edited by Short Review author and reviewer Vanessa Gebbie (Words from A Glass Bubble), and published by Salt Modern Fiction, is a collection of articles, essays and interviews on different aspects of the short story by working short story writers - including many Short Review authors and reviewers such as Clare Wigfall, Sarah Salway, Nuala Ni Chonchiur, Alison McLeod, Adam Marek, Elizabeth Baines, Elaine Chiew, Alex Keegan and David Gaffney (and myself - in the interests of full disclosure - TH).

Win yourself a free copy of the book - see the end of this post for more details.

While this is a book aimed at those writing short stories and we know that many of The Short Review's readers are also writers, I asked Vanessa the following question: Vanessa, this book is called A Guide to the Art of the Short Story, and since TSR is all about inspiring people to read more short stories, what do you think the book can do for readers? Can it help them get better acquainted with the short story and enhance the reading experience? If so, how?

VG: Excellent question! And as Short Circuit is, above all, honest, here’s the honest answer. Will non-writers rush out in their thousands to buy a book on how to write? I doubt it. A few may pick it up if their writer-partners wax lyrical about this wonderful new ‘how-to’ book. And I’d love to think that, because it is an engaging read, some readers will find in it the stuff of enjoyment anyway. 

I am told time and time again that Short Circuit is a ‘brave’ book. And I can’t help but shake my head. Why is it ‘brave’? It takes a straight look at the writing craft and the application processes of that craft for 24 different writers – all writing today, all being published today, all winning prizes today. It is not an academic treatise. I do not see how on earth creative writing is an academic pursuit – much as there are factions in the literary world who would like to make it so. It ain’t!

"If I write about ball-lightning that comes from between a woman's legs when she's aroused, will friends, privately, think I'm weird?" (From Alison MacLeod's essay, "Writing and Risk-Taking")

Having said that, I think we must be equally honest about the variety of processes in the act of reading – engaging with the products of creative writing. On one level, a reader looks for entertainment – to be taken out of themselves for a while, by following a complicated plot. The reader who actively seeks that experience, sustained for the length of time it takes to read a novel, who then switches to read a good short story, expecting it to deliver something similar, will be disappointed. 

How often have we heard the complaint, ‘but nothing much happens…’? I think the reader who may say this is missing the point. What ‘happens’ in a short story ‘happens’ to some extent in that space between the reader and the writer, the space reserved for the reader’s reactions, emotional responses, understanding, empathy. And it ‘happens’ too in the reader’s head. In their allowing themselves to be pulled right into the story and - as Graham Mort puts it so well in his essay - ‘completing’ it.

"I think people who enjoy short stories have a special gland, one that responds to the unexpected with little bursts of pleasure chemicals."(From Adam Marek's essay, "What My Gland Wants - Originality in the Short Story") 

There’s a film just out of Cormac McCarthy’s great novel, The Road.  Already tipped to be nominated as one of the films of 2010, The Road seems to polarise readers.  I’ve heard intelligent, searching readers complaining, “But nothing much happens…” while others say it is the best thing they’ve read, couldn’t put it down, life-changing. 

Maybe we’re coming close to understanding one of the issues here. I’ll let Carys Davies take up the thread. At the end of her contribution to Short Circuit, she says: "Cormac McCarthy’s The Road…possesses -  with its intense and beautifully rendered present set between  a cataclysmic past and a tentative, tantalising future – all the qualities of a brilliant short story," and I’d add the words, ‘IF it is read as intended, read with the active engagement demanded of any good short story.’

I think, if any reader picked up Short Circuit and flicked through the essays, they’d be blown sideways by the challenges faced by writers of successful short fiction. And they might just pick up some of the gems recommended by the contributors, to see what all the fuss is about...

Thanks so much, Vanessa! For a chance to win a free copy of Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story, visit the Competitions & Giveaways Page. For more information about the book and about the rest of the Virtual Book Tour, visit