On Sundays, I normally recommend a short story for others to read using the Twitter hashtag #shortstorysunday. It is heartwarming to see others involved in promoting new and exciting work in short fiction. It also gives writers an excuse to do what they love most – avoid writing.
This Sunday I’m compiling a megalist. Think about what you would like to get out of a story. Read on and make your choice.
Learn from the masters – Anton Chekhov, The Schoolmistress
I remember the first time I read this, feeling tricked. I was so affected, but nothing happens, I thought. I felt like a penny had dropped, but that I didn’t know where. That’s the power of Chekhov and the other Russian greats; they examination beauty, class and society against a harsh backdrop of snow and liquor. If you enjoy the story, try this compilation of other Russian short classics (free).
Visit Other Worlds – China Mieville, The Dowager of Bees
Writing speculative short stories can be difficult. The author must place the reader in a new world with new rules and tell a story in just a few thousand words. Mieville somehow achieves this through a mixture of familiar places and impossible feats. In this story, from his Three Moments of an Explosion collection, a card shark learns a new game which takes him all over the world to compete.
Here are a few other speculative options if you want a good quick read.
Live in Someone Else’s Suburban Misery – Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From
Are you sitting too comfortably? Try reading Carver. His tales of flawed relationships, characters who don’t fit into their middle-class surroundings, and empty liquor bottles are charged with energy. Pro tip: you can try out the first story in collections by downloading a free sample of the ebook.
If you enjoy Carver, and his 70s reinvigoration of the great American short story, check out the magazine dedicated to him. The competition it runs has several great examples of minimalist and emotionally raw stories.
Travel the World – Comma Press Anthologies
If fiction is about understanding and empathy, then we should read about struggles different to our own. There are many great organisations and publications trying to bring fiction from non-English speaking countries to the fore. Comma Press (run out of Manchester) is one of them. They publish city-specific anthologies to show readers different perspectives from different places. Great idea right?
Wait for the Twist – Parson’s Pleasure – Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl was not only a children’s writer. He used his unique gift for vivid character description and making unbelievable plots believable, to craft hundreds of short stories. This particular one is a joy to read, from the unholy intentions of the irksome Parson to the descriptions of his Morris Minor rolling through the countryside. Needless to say, his pleasure is short-lived.
Another plot based master is Henry Munro, a.k.a. Saki. He wrote far too many entertaining, well-crafted and surprising pieces to discuss here. You can find some of his work here. And of course, how could I leave out the twist to end all twists in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery?
Understand a Moment in Time – Anything by Flannery O’Connor
Sorry for not being very specific, but if you want to know about racism and religion in the Deep South then O’Connor gets straight to the (often rather gory) point. She draws believable characters, drops you straight into the scene, and sprinkles in her famous touch of the macabre. I don’t know of many other writers who tell tales of such a variety with working-class, black or minority character in such a brilliant way. This article has a few recommendations.
Discover the next big thing – Head Land, Edge Hill Press
Every competition has its biases. There are hundreds of great short fiction prizes which release Anthologies of shortlisted entries. Most of them begin with B – Bristol, Bath, Brighton, Bridport, Bare Fiction. The Edge Hil Prize awards its sizeable prize fund to the best collection of the year. It really is the pinnacle of achievement for short-form writers in the UK. The Lancashire university released a retrospective of its ten-year history, with winners’ and other favourite stories making the cut. The book is a great way to discover contemporary titans of the short form.
Delve into the vernacular – Chris McQueer, Whelks.
A while ago, I submitted something to UK Indie publisher 404 Ink. Just a few months later, Twitter was blowing up with reactions to a debut collection from the publisher, by the ‘new Irvine Welsh’, Chris McQueer. His collection of uniquely sad, run-down swear-infused laugh-out-loud Glasgow tales is written mostly in Scots dialect. It’s refreshing to read a collection tied together with such a thread, yet which contains great variety. And you don’t have to be Scottish to get it. Whelks, a story from his first collection Hings, tells of a touching moment between father and son, which is soon ruined by vomit, diarrhoea and death. I include this collection simply to point how, occasionally, when a writer really drills down into one place, readers really connect with it, and they end up with a surprise smash hit.