Friday, April 13, 2007

Short, sweet and poor relation?

The shortlist of five for the £15,000 National Short Story Prize was announced on the Today programme this morning and I was delighted to find Jonathon Falla and Jackie Kay on it - perhaps supporting the notion of the short story form being particularly alive and well in Scottish literature. I’ll look forward to hearing all the stories on Radio Four next week.

I’ll also keep hoping that initiatives like this will lead to greater confidence in the short story form amongst publishers, agents, booksellers, libraries and thus reflect in the awareness and interest of readers. There are so many cries of protest – ‘where do you put them in a bookshop?’; ‘they don’t sell well’; ‘but I want to know what happens next’; and the polite question directed at the persistent short story writer, ‘When are you going to write a novel?’ with the implication that you haven’t quite grown up until you have extended yourself into an entirely different form.

Simon Prosser Publishing Director of Hamish Hamilton has said, ‘The short story form is better suited to the demands of modern life than the novel’. Personally I feel this misses the fundamental joy of reading a good short story. We don’t love them for not taking up too much of our precious time, but for their sheer intensity, their ability to say so much and affect us so deeply in so few words. Reading a short story is perhaps more akin to reading a poem. Perhaps in the same way, we have to read it more than once, or set it aside before starting to read something else, as we let it do its work, resonating in our minds, and allowing us to imagine its continuing world.

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