Saturday 24 November 2018

The state of the UK/Eire short story

Suppose you were asked about the state of sport rather than short stories - what would be a reliable indicator? How many gold medals were won in the Olympics? How many people jog? How many people watch football? How many pages of media are devoted to sport?

Judged by these sorts of criteria, stories aren't doing well. When did you last read one? When did you last buy a story book? Can you name any living story writers?

Every so often there are articles about the revival of the short story. They're soon followed by articles about false dawns. Alice Munro's Nobel win didn't turn things round. Nor did Tom Hanks' book.

Why are there so few outlets? I asked a publisher about this and he said that short-stories are like poems - only people who write them read or buy them. His magazine's guidelines say "Our preference is for literary fiction". Ambit Magazine says "We’re not afraid of genre fiction, but it should probably have an interesting relationship to the genre at hand – a straight-ahead detective or horror story probably won’t appear." Maybe it’s only literary short stories that are suffering. When demand for them slackens, so does supply. Why write stories if nobody reads them?

All is not lost. The BBC is trying to generate interest with the £15,000 National Short Story Award and the Young Writers' Award. Hensher in the introduction to his latest anthology suggested that competitions would be ok if the rest of the story eco-system were healthy. A few more story collections are being reviewed - see Fen by Daisy Johnson (Vintage, 2017). More small presses are dipping their toes into story collections. And Flash is a growth sector, though surely one can't really compare a 250-word piece with an Alice Munro story. It's like comparing Twenty20 cricket with test matches.

But is England the best place to be? Dublin has "The Irish Writing Centre" at 19 Parnell Square with a shop and many events. Edinburgh's Scottish Storytelling Centre is along the Golden Mile. England's catching up - the National Writing Centre has recently started in Norwich - see Its NCW Podcast is worth subscribing to.

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