Monday, September 6, 2010

UK National Short Story Week - what's it about?

The UK is to have a National Short Story Week for the first time this year, and  TSR asked its founder and director, Ian Skillicorn, what it's all about and what his wildest dreams for NSSW look like!

The Short Review: Tell us a bit about yourself and your team.

Ian Skillicorn: I have been involved in writing and producing for most of my working life, having started my career in Italy in the early 90s. In 2006 I set up Short Story Radio to promote the short story form and short story writers. We broadcast audio short stories via the website and our podcast and we have tens of thousands of listeners from around the world. I also produce marketing podcasts for authors and give talks on writing for audio.

When I had the idea for National Short Story Week I approached a number of people to form a steering group for the week. The role of the steering group is to provide advice and support, and to help promote National Short Story Week. The members of the steering group are all people I have worked with. They are professionals whose talents and opinions I respect, and I know that each of them is passionate about the short story form. Lisa Armytage is an actor with over 30 years experience in film, TV, radio and theatre. She has narrated short stories for radio, and also writes short stories. Jane Bidder writes novels and short stories under the pen name Sophie King and also teaches creative writing. Robert Kirkwood is the producer/presenter of the Talking Books programme on Insight Radio (RNIB). Sue Moorcroft is a writer of novels and short stories as well as non-fiction. Pat Richardson was Fiction Editor at Best magazine for over 16 years and now runs her own writing and editing consultancy. Bogdan Tiganov is a talented young writer who is in the process of setting up an independent publishing venture.

TSR: Where did the idea for NSSW come from? Is it inspired by something else happening around the world?

IS: During the time that I have been producing audio short stories I have met and worked with hundreds of writers from around the UK and overseas. The short story form is very popular among writers, especially within writers' groups, but time and again I have heard from writers about how few opportunities there are to find a commercial outlet for short fiction. However, I believe there is a market for short stories - my own experience of Short Story Radio has taught me that. A national awareness week seemed like the ideal way to connect short story writers with potential readers and listeners. I'm not aware of a similar short story event anywhere else, but of course there are already high profile and successful literary events in the UK such as World Book Day, National Poetry Day and National Storytelling Week. I think a week is the ideal length for an awareness campaign of this nature, as it gives organisers the chance to reach participants over a number of days, and participants the opportunity to attend more than one event.

TSR: What is the essence of NSSW? What will be happening?

IS: From the outset the intention was for National Short Story Week to be a grass roots initiative. My role, and that of the steering group, is to promote the existence of National Short Story Week to the public and interested parties. People and groups around the country are then free to organise an event that best suits them. I've recently heard from a number of people who have already organised events. These events include a short story display in a city library; a talk to a writing group by an award winning short story writer; a reading group which, in November, will choose and discuss a short story anthology instead of a novel; an open mic short story event and two short story collections especially commissioned to celebrate National Short Story Week.

On the website we have lots of ideas for how National Short Story Week can be celebrated - depending on whether you are a writer, reader/listener, publisher, library or bookshop. See the ideas here.

TSR: What would the best NSSW look like in your wildest dreams?

IS: My hope is that National Short Story Week will meet its aims, which are to get more people writing, reading and listening to short stories, and to create creative and commercial opportunities for people and organisations involved in the short story form. I don't want to think in terms of wildest dreams as that sounds to me like something that is unlikely to happen, and I believe that the aims of the week are achievable. This will be the UK's first National Short Story Week, so all those aims may not be reached in 2010, but we will have started the ball rolling!

I hope that people all over the UK, of all ages and backgrounds, will get involved in the week - readers and listeners will discover writers and writing that they otherwise wouldn't have known about; writers will find new outlets and enthusiasm for their work (which in turn will be fulfilling, motivating and perhaps even make them some money!) and more people will consider reading or listening to short stories on a regular basis.

Reaction to the idea of a National Short Story Week has certainly been extremely positive and I really think this could become an enjoyable and beneficial event in the literary calendar. It's great to see that people have already started to organise events, even though the week is not for another three months. But now is the time to get organising and promoting events - and the National Short Story Week online calendar can help with that.

TSR: What's the best way for short story lovers to get their non-short-story-loving friends intitated into the joys of short fiction?

There are lots of ways to introduce your friends to the joys of the short story. If you are considering buying a novel as a gift why not choose a short story anthology or collection instead? You can find information about the latest short story publications on the National Short Story Week website (and of course on The Short Review!). We also have a recommended reading list and some best-selling writers have contributed to the website by telling us what their favourite short story is.

Suggest to friends that they listen to a short story on Radio 4 (you can also listen via the iPlayer), or on the websites of Australia's ABC or America's NPR. Get them to download an audio short story to listen to on the way to work or during a long journey (search iTunes for free podcasts). Listening to a short story on the train could be a pleasant change from listening to music. If there is an open mic short story night near you, drag a friend along. They are often held in a pub so your friend may not need too much convincing...

TSR: What are 3 of your favourite short story collections or individual stories?

IS: My all time favourite writers of short stories are Katherine Mansfield, Truman Capote and Jean Rhys. All three were able to communicate so much in so few words, and their stories and characters stay with you long after you have finished reading - the essence of the perfect short story!

Over the past few years I have worked with a large number of talented short story writers, members of the Verulam Writers Circle spring to mind. I must also mention the work of members of our steering group - I've recorded short stories by Sue Moorcroft which have been enjoyed by listeners to radio stations all over the country, and I often buy books by Sophie King as presents for family - I have recorded some of her work too. I think Bodgan Tiganov's work deserves a larger readership and I am sure he will find it. I currently have The Ice and Other Stories by Kenneth Steven on my bedside table.