Friday, July 29, 2011

Celebrating the short story - The Short Review

Don't forget to sign the petition against Radio 4's planned cuts to short story broadcasts if you haven't already! Over 5700 signatures so far...

Today's short story celebration brings you the new issue of The Short Review -ten reviews of short story collections (this month all single-author, which is a first)

and a bumper NINE author interviews with a fantastic slew of writers: Anthony Doerr, Helen Oyeyemi, Gay Degani, Edith Pearlman, Courttia Newland, Emma Newman, Polly Frost, Carol Novack and Adam Golaski!  Read it all here: The Short Review

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Short Stories that Help

Two points about short stories today. I wanted to draw your attention to an excellent comment on the previous post by Hayley who mentioned that when depression left her unable to focus for long enough to read novels, short stories were recommended to her by a counsellor (Alice Munro was the first) and she has read them ever since. Has anyone else had this experience?

The second is how short stories can help in another way - the wonderful Metazen online lit 'zine is having a short story & poetry contest which is raising money for Somalian Drought Relief Effort (via East Africa Drought Relief Fund).Here are the details:

We will accept submissions with an accompanying fee throughout the month of August. All submissions will be considered and a winner and 3 runners up will be selected by our judges. Winners and runners up will get prizes. Yes.
So…you get to write, you get to win stuff and you also get to help support a cause. There is really no downside. Even if you lose, your karma will increase.
Please submit either one piece of fiction (limit 2500 words) or poetry (limit 2 poems).
There is no theme, we’re looking for something you’re proud of. Nothing filthy, nothing milfy, nothing too pithy. A little pith is okay. Not too much. Pith-ish.
Timeline: All submissions sent between July 24th and August 31st with corresponding paypal entry fee will be considered.
And here's what you can win:
First Place:
Publication on with accompanying commentary on your piece
10% of entry fees from contest
1 Copy of Frank Hinton’s “I Don’t Respect Female Expression” print and digital
1 DVD “MDMA” by MDMA Films
Runner Up (3 winners):
Publication on
(1) of the following:
- Fog Gorgeous Stag by Sean Lovelace
- Grease Stains, Kistmet, And Maternal Wisdom by Mel Bosworth
- Download Helvetica For Free . Com by Steve Roggenbuck
Get to it! Full instructions here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Celebrating the short story - part 4

Very brief short story love today, because my laptop battery's running out and the power cord is downstairs (lazy, lazy) - just to say that I am loving the comments left on the Save Short Stories on Radio 4 petition, which has now been signed by Deborah Treisman, Fiction Editor of the New Yorker! This demonstrates that the reduction of short story broadcasts on radio 4 is an international issue, affecting writers worldwide.

I think all the comments should be compiled into something... something to be sent around to mainstream publishers who are convinced there's no market for short stories, perhaps? Staying positive here, it's just heart-warming, reading all the responses. Apparently, Radio 4's Feedback programme will be dealing with the issue next Friday, July 29th, so do tune in. Have a great weekend - happy reading!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Celebrating the short story - Part 3

One lovely thing that has emerged from the fight to stop BBC Radio 4 cutting its once-daily Afternoon Reading short story program to once-weekly is the wealth of wonderful messages left by those signing the petition to protest the cuts. Here are a few:
"Short stories are gems that light up our lives. Please retain them on Radio 4. Readers, writers and listeners all have our lives enriched by short fiction. I urge you to reconsider and then reverse this extraordinary decision."
"My father went blind in his later years and relied on audio recordings. Yes, there are audio books but the whole point to the radio is to have an opportunity to taste the unexpected."
"I've been learning English by reading AND listening to short stories. Reducing the short story output on Radio damages not only the pleasure of the listeners but culture/education/learning also."
Radio 4 has always been a beacon of light in the world of the short story - why turn off that light when it costs so little and achieves so much?  
My husband doesn't really enjoy reading, but will happily listen to short stories on Radio 4 and will thoroughly enjoy them. If we're listening in the car we have stay there until the story is finished, even if we've reached our destination! Far too important to cut back.
"I LOVE the short story slot. I switch on my radio at 3.30pm purely for that and nothing else...I even listen to the end of Money Box Live so I don't miss the beginning of the story. It is the one moment in my day where I can switch off from everything else and enter another world. We all need stories: they make us understand the world in which we live. They persuade us to empathise, to see another perspective, to understand other cultures, to imagine ourselves in someone else's shoes. Stories are what make us human and interactive. Don't take them away."
Click here to read more comments... and don't forget to sign!

Some more story positivity - Vanessa's comment on my last blog post needed a bit more exposure:
...Philip Pullman, speaking last night in support of the Save Our Six Libraries initiative, came out strongly in support of story. And spoken story. And the importance of hearing fiction read, (he talked about children, but in context, in a celebration of language - and his remarks can equally be applied to radio, and adults...)
Yippee! Save the libraries too...

And finally, a great way to celebrate the short story is to send your own stories out into the world, so here are a few upcoming deadlines for you:

July 31st: Sean O'Faolain Short Story Prize: Judged this year by Ian Wild. Entry fee €15, US $20 or £15, up to 3000 words. Prize is €1,500 for the overall winner, €500 for 2nd prize and €120 for four shortlisted stories. Online or postal entry.

August 12th: Manchester Fiction Prize: Judged by Heather Beck, John Burnside, Alison MacLeod and Nicholas Royle . Entry fee £15, up to 3000 words. Prize is £10,000 for the overall winner. Online or postal entry. All work submitted for consideration must be the entrant's own original writing, and should not have appeared in print or appear on a website (including blogs and social networking sites) or have been broadcast, or be submitted for publication or consideration elsewhere, for the duration of the Manchester Fiction Prize (which is deemed to begin on the date of entry and end on Friday 14th October 2011)

Sept 21st: Glasswoman Prize: a work of short fiction or creative non-fiction (prose) written by a woman. No entry fee, 50  to 5000 words. Prize is $500 for the overall winner, €100 for 2nd prize and €50 for runner-up. Online entry. Subject is open, but must be of significance to women

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More short story celebrating - Slightly Peculiar Love Stories!

In the spirit of "less complaining and more celebrating" (although I urge you to sign the petition against the planned Radio 4 short story cuts) I'm delighted to have 4 flash stories included in the wonderful Slightly Peculiar Love Stories e-anthology from New Zealand-based Rosa Mira Books! How gorgeous is that cover, by the way?

To find out more about the book and its authors, check out Rosa Mira Books' blog, where the tireless Penelope has been blowing our trumpets for quite a while now. And then click and - for the very small sum of $10 - buy the ebook which Penelope describes as:
... full of rich and diverse tales — the savvy, the sad, the sharp, the tender, the triumphant, the fearful, the wistful, the dark, the light, the cruel and the kind. Stories of love. All slightly peculiar. But then, so is love itself.
Too true! I am delighted to be in such venerable company as Alex Epstein (we recently reviewed his flash collection, Blue Has No South, on The Short Review), Craig Cliff (read the review of his collection, A Man Melting),and Tim Jones ((read the review of his collection, Transported) - and many other writers I am looking forward to reading for the first time. Buy the book here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Celebrating the short story

Sometimes the world seems to be even more insane than usual. Here in my small corner, the BBC's decision to cut its short story programming to once a week, beginning in November, which is NATIONAL SHORT STORY WEEK, smacks of complete lunacy. If you are a short story lover, please add your name to the petition to show them that there are many, many who care. More resources here on National Short Story Week and read the article in today's Independent, Susie McGuire's blog post, Jonathan Pinnock's post, and Clare Wigfall's post on Booktrust.

BUT - the best thing to do in the face of the decision by one of the world's largest commissioners of short stories is to CELEBRATE the short story even harder. And one of the best ways I can think of is to tell you how amazing ShortStoryVille was this past weekend in Bristol. Organized by the Bristol Short Story Prize, it was a half-day of panel discussions and readings at the Arnolfini arts centre, with so many fabulous writers: Sarah Salway, Alison MacLeod, Janice Galloway, Stuart Evers, Helen Oyeyemi, Gareth Powell, Emma Newman, Patricia Fergusion, Sarah Hilary, and Amy Mason - and other guests -  Bidisha, Scott Pack, David Hebblethwaite and Clare Hey - talking about short stories. Here are some pictures:

Bidisha talking to Sarah Salway, Alison MacLeod and Janice Galloway
Alison reading from one of her short stories from 15 Modern Tales of Attraction

Janice reading her short story, Where you Find It

 Sarah reading from her story The Woman Downstairs
 the panel I chaired on reading short stories, with Scott, David and Clare

Joe Spurgeon chatting to Stuart and Helen

 Sarah, Gareth, Amy and me reading.

Bristol Short Story Prize winner Emily Bullock!

I did promise to write about our Reading Short Stories panel discussion but having been part of it, I am finding it hard to recall exactly what we talked about so I have to rely on others! What I do remember is Scott Pack telling us he began his reading-a-short-story-per-day Me and My Stories project because he was trying to break his fixation on reading a whole book in one go...David Hebblethwaite likes to read anything and everything and gives a story at least a page to grab him before he abandons it, whereas Clare Hey of ShortFire Press gives a story only a few sentences. 

No-one, sadly, admitted to doing a little short story dance after reading an excellent story (no, I didn't really expect them too) and also there was no difference amongst the panel when reading stories online or in print. And in response to another, excellent, question, we all gave recommendations for further reading, including: Miranda July's No-One belongs Here More Than You (Clare), Nina Allen's A Thread of Truth (David), Ryan Boudinot's The Littlest Hitler (Scott) and Anthony Doerr's Memory wall(me).

For more, visit Vanessa Gebbie's blog to read her take on the day...And don't stop celebrating the short story, despite the apparent lunacy around us!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Help Save Short Stories on BBC Radio!

Following swiftly in the footsteps of the first short story festival in Bristol, UK, ShortStoryVille, which was hugely successful - comes the distressing news that BBC Radio 4, which until recently broadcast a short story in the Afternoon Reading programme 5 days a week, which was then reduced to 3 days a week - and now will be only once a week. This is the BBC - who only a few years ago was proud to announce the BBC National Short Story Award, and on their website say:
The BBC National Short Story Award, managed in partnership with Booktrust, continues to serve as a reminder of the power of the short story and to celebrate a literary form that is proving ever more versatile in the twenty first century, enjoyed not just on the page, on air and increasingly on every sort of screen, but also in flash fiction events, short story festivals and slams. The short story has moved beyond the revival of recent years and is now experiencing a golden age.

BBC Radio 4 is the world's leading broadcaster of short stories and a staunch and long-time supporter of the form. Short stories are broadcast every week, attracting over a million listeners.

BBC- you are a "staunch and long-time supporter", don't let us down now!

The Afternoon Reading has for many many years been a showcase not just for well-known writers but for new voices - on a personal note, it was my first "big break", the first time I felt I was taken seriously as a writer, coupled with the joy of hearing my story, The White Road, (later the title story of my first book) brought so wonderfully to life. Not only that, the payment the writer receives is no paltry sum and has formed a significant part of my writerly earnings in the years since.

There are many, many writers, listeners and readers who are very concerned about this development. Writer Susie McGuire and Ian, organiser of the UK's National Short Story Week, have formulated the following:
The new Controller of Radio 4, Gwyneth Williams, will be a guest on FEEDBACK on BBC Radio 4 next week. How very timely.
Would you add your name to a letter/question to ask her?
Would you pass on this email to other writers who care about the health of the short story…?

The more of us, & the better known the writers who sign it, the more likely it is to have some effect.

If so, please find below a short, polite question, proposed by Ian of

Reminder: info on her decision to cut the short story’s presence on Radio 4 outlined here

If you’d like to add your signature, please email YES to
ian AT shortstoryweek DOT org DOT uk

& cc to me: info AT susiemaguire DOT co DOT uk

NB – It would be really helpful if you could reply within 24 hours so that the question can be lodged as soon as possible. This is by no means the *only* action interested parties can take, but it’s a start, and I hope you might add your weight to it with this (and further suggestions are welcomed)

Proposed question:
We were surprised and disappointed to learn of the decision to reduce the short story output on Radio 4 to once a week from next spring. Radio 4 has been a great champion of the short story for many years. It is one of very few places in the UK where both new and established writers can have their short stories broadcast to a large audience, and where radio listeners can enjoy readings of the short story form. This move comes at a time when interest in the short story is growing, but paid opportunities for short story writers are still scarce. Could Gwyneth Williams please explain:
1) what has led her to make this decision?
2) whether the short stories on Radio 4 extra will be new commissions or repeats of existing recordings?
3) how this decision fits with the BBC’s sponsorship of the National Short Story Award (and indeed if this will continue?)
If you are moved to do so, please take action, following the instructions outlined above. Signatories so far include:

Clare Wigfall
Sara Maitland
Philip Pullman
Nicholas Royle
Vivian French
James Robertson
Michael Holroyd
Jane Rusbridge
Dr Charles Smith
Sarah Hall
Sarah Hilary
Vanessa Gebbie
Jill Dawson
Lucinda Byatt
Maggie Gee
Sarah Sheridan (Soc of A, Scotland)
Tania Hershman (Ed, The Short Review)
Helena Nelson (publisher, Happenstance)
Morag Joss
Lola Perrin
Jules Horne
Suzanne Bellenger
Richard Beard (Nat Academy of Writing)
Ali Bacon
Nicky Parker, (Publisher, Amnesty)
Dan Powell 
Ian Cundell
Kathleen Langley
John Courtney-Grimwood
Wendy Ann Greenhalgh
Alison Wells
James Wall
K E Bergdoll
Linda Cracknell
Jonathan Pinnock (also see his FB links)
Sarah Salway
Alison MacLeod
Louis Winters
Emily Dubberly
Karen Whiteson
Griff Griffiths
Sara Schofield
Ian Macpherson
Stella Burchill
(and counting...)
Please join us!

ADDENDUM: There is now an online petition here - please sign!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Short stories help

There are so many things to write about. Thank you, first, for all your lovely comments on my post about Cleo, and for your wonderful emails too. It gets a little easier each day. And short stories help me, as they always do. I just read The River Nemunas from Anthony Doerr's astonishingly wonderful collection, Memory Wall. I didn't know the story would be about death and grief, and it tackles these so lightly yet so powerfully, and it felt absolutely true, absolutely right to me, now, even though it is about a 15-year-old American orphan living in Lithuania with her grandfather. That is the power of fiction, isn't it?

I am busy preparing for ShortStoryVille on Saturday, for the session I am chairing on reading short stories. Is there anything you would like me to ask our three panel members, Scott Pack, David Hebblethwaite and Clare Hey, all of whom are readers but not short story writers? I have quite a list of questions myself, but more are welcome, leave a comment here. A whole day of short stories is definitely keeping me going right now, I love nothing more than talking about them and spending time with other people who love nothing more than talking about them. I'm also reading later, together with some other wonderful local authors, and haven't decided yet what to read. I will leave that til the last minute. Something older, something new, perhaps something with a cat in it, but then there's the risk I will blubber, so perhaps not.

I will write about my time at Hawthornden soon, but here are a few pics as tasters until then:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cleo, RIP

Our beautiful cat Cleo, who adopted us 7 years ago, was hit by a car yesterday and killed. It's hard to write this. She was a perfect writer's companion, gorgeous, feisty, and loved to sleep in my shed. Cleo, we miss you. Wherever you are, I hope you always have a place in the sun.