Short Story Collections – Under-rated

interior of a bookshop

Browsing in a very large bookstore recently, I searched for the short story section. There wasn’t one. I had just read a collection of short stories, “Fabulous”, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett. I loved this clever collection where well-known the author has retold the stories of mythical characters but in a modern garb. I was ready for another such collection and to find a new author. Despite countless shelves of fiction, I could find only seven different titles for short story collections. There were more titles for knitting.

On Amazon, both .co.uk and .com, a search for literary short stories brings up over 50,000 titles, but these include many for foreign language learners. Local libraries rarely have a separate section for short stories, and there are few listed in their catalogues. You might expect a greater appetite for short stories than for poetry, but you can usually find a shelf-full of poems. It seems logical that short fiction would sell better than long when our tastes are for the quick bite: we text in condensed format, tweet in 140 characters, TV dramas change character and scene rapidly to retain audience attention. But there’s little evidence of eagerness for short stories. Most magazines dropped their short story features long ago and big fat Harry Potter novels are the best sellers. How few Amazon reviews there are for even the most respected short story writers in comparison with minor and short-lived genre fiction titles.

Even so, there are numerous competitions for short stories. If at least the top ten entries are publishable, that should mean hundreds of stories printed every year, but no. Perhaps it’s because there are so many sites where short stories can be read free? Typically, winning stories are available online. Leaving aside those sites where new writers are trying out their stories for online criticism and encouragement, such as Inkitt and Wattpad, free reads of past works are offered by Project Gutenberg.

The covers of short story collections are often bland and devoid of visual information. It’s unlikely they’ll catch the eye and win a serenditipous sale. Yet, such collections have likely some sort of theme. If none is suggested by the author, such as revenge or love or conflict, there is always the culture, time or place of the story settings. Isn’t it worth the designer encapsulating some relevant image to attract book browsers? 

Here’s a sample of fairly recent short stories well worth sampling. The Best American Short Stories 2023 ed Min Jin Lee (brilliant author herself); Christmas is Murder: A chilling collection Val McDermid; Old Babes in the Wood, Margaret Attwood (for which volume I enjoyed attending her promo in Bath). The Best Short Stories 2023, Ed. Lauren Goff;

And of course, I hope you would consider reading my own paired collection: Me-Time Tales and Curious Men.


AND NOW THE MEN HAVE THEIR SAY…

…Or do they? The companion collection to Me-Time Tales is devoted to men curious by nature or life-style, but it’s invaded by certain women…

Something different! Short stories that surprise, pique and intrigue.

Curious Men. These short stories delve into the minds of a variety of curious men: hooked on meteorites, tractor parts, foreign parts, own parts— “stories that may be sober, bizarre or cunningly funny…Highly recommended.” San Francisco Review of Books. Kobo? Other Ebook?

Many people have curious habits, weaknesses, features, beliefs—even feelings. One or two stories are bleak, some bizarre, one even uplifting, and you’re sure to chuckle (if guiltily) at others.

Satirical short story collection

 Me-Time Tales: tea breaks for mature women and curious men, 2nd edition

 Katie Fforde said: “Quirky and Intriguing”.

This short story collection is certainly not erotica; hardly a glimpse of bare flesh– but a subtly dark edge instead. Most, at first, seem light-hearted; then there’s the twist. After finishing the book, readers have second thoughts about the characters.

Ideal holiday reading – you’ll lie back enjoying the lives of women you think you know and feel elated that you’re away from it all. Kobo? Kindle?

Just right for the daily commute. Read one story before you reach your station and hurry off to work. Apple, Barnes and Noble or other ebook?

The paper-back — neat enough to slip into a handbag or breast pocket — is available in bookshops and on Amazon. It makes a good present for a friend, mother-in-law or male colleague. It can be a silent comment: you’ll know a woman in here! Some use it to make a point about the recipient…

A top 100 Amazon reviewer said of the short stories “…their hallmark of wry humour reminds me of a female, modern-day Saki.”

 In the collection, you’ll encounter obsessive women, an array of fish, a pile of hot money, a loving mattress, a mangy dog, a range of bras and a prosthesis. I hope each story will perk up your commute or dispel your night-time preoccupations, and send you to work or to sleep with an uneasy smile of recognition on your face. Do enjoy, do write a review.

Writing: in his shoes

Waiting to act

Could you put yourself in his shoes?

I wrote about this short story in a previous post Unlikeable character – makes you read on. I’ve just updated the e-book and reminded myself (slight shock) that I’d written horror rather than just crime.

Which writer was it who said we only know what our novel is about once it’s finished? A long time, and many thousands of words later, I remembered this because I’d had that flash of recognition: potential…how it can work both ways.

I’ve written non-fiction, historical fiction and short stories, often humorous, but I never expected to write horror. Sometimes your story runs away with you and you find it lands in a different place from the one you expected. To do this justice means writing in his shoes, that boy you come to fear.

Writing Process

It was seeing each news flash of school shootings and the consequent analysis of the boy responsible that started me on this path. I’d been painfully aware of the several times in my work as a psychologist I’d been asked to assess strangely difficult kids and/or school refusers and witnessed the same anomie and alienation that these perpetrators showed.

I created a character of a different age, imagining a potential perpetrator younger, more accessible, adding something positive – a potential event for saving the boy from causing disaster. But it worked the other way.

In attempting to walk in Jake’s shoes, I’d almost unwittingly written a story of horror. Although I’ve had very positive reviews, including a long-listing from Fish and a winner’s accolade from Bloomsbury, I had every sympathy with a 1-star reviewer on Amazon who said it was the nastiest thing he’d ever read.

It seems likely that many writers find they’ve ended up with a story they hadn’t predicted.

Here’s the beginning of mine: ‘I think I once killed a man and I don’t know why. The bloke lay at my feet, dead. I don’t think I knew him but I couldn’t look at his dead face and they didn’t make me. I’d never seen a dead person and I didn’t want to.’ The word ‘dead’ obsesses Jake when he’s ten.

If you’d like to read more about Jake and walk in his shoes, there are some free copies for the next readers who join my Readers List.

Writing at the speed of light

carbonaceous chrondite
meteorite

 

SPEED OF LIGHT was the theme for September’s Story Friday evening, held at the cave-like theatre at Burdell’s Yard – in conjunction with A Word in Your Ear

Story Fridays are held every second month in Bath, UK. Six or seven writer-performers read freshly-minted stories inspired by a theme, this time Speed of Light. The packed audience heard stories intriguing, exciting, sad, straight and downright hilarious.

I was very happy that another of my short stories was one of these: The Find.  It was not written at the speed of light, however. If you write about meteorites you have to find out about them. This certainly took time, especially as I have no geology in my background. This tale was about the finder who became a – wait for it – meteoriticist, (takes practise to say!) It’s the story of how a young man turns tragedy into obsession and how that obsession separated him from “a peopled life”.

It was read by talented actor, Kirsty Cox. You can judge here how brilliantly Kirsty performed my tale.

Mine was only one of the stories read, the packed audience enjoying a wide range of content that evening from talented writers using sci-fi, romance, humour  to interpret SPEED OF LIGHT in their own ways.

(Story Fridays, A Word in your Ear in conjunction with Kilter Theatre, are the creation of the talented playwright and short story writer, Clare Reddaway.)

I didn’t ask the other authors how long they took to write their stories, but this is relevant because there’s currently a great deal of interest in writing a great many books in a short time to ensure (attempt) a very good income (Anderle). That has sparked a great writers’ debate around quality versus quantity and, in effect, whether everyone can write at the speed of light, or what may seem like it to those who need a couple of years or more to complete one novel.

Writing a huge number of books in a short space of time? Well, it’s been done, it’s being done. Usually there are characters who appear in different adventures/situations in each book, with the genre being closely defined – e.g. urban fantasy. There may be a close similarity of structure, characterization and plot within the books in the series. It fits with a life-style that demands instantaneous gratification.

This writing is at the opposite end of the scale to writing Flash Fiction which may be read in a flash but can take many attempts to whittle away the word count. This means heavy investment in word choice and serious consideration of meaning.

Short stories – that is stories of 1,000 words upwards – are different in many ways and different to write. There’s more to discuss as shown on sites such as Shortstops, Tania Herschmann’s website. How long does it take to write a satisfying story, beginning, middle, end? Something credible, because it has been properly researched. Something memorable? It’s worth asking different short story authors for the answer, which in itself depends on how the germ of the idea came to the author’s mind. More of this in another blog post.