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!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recap, Tania. I am with you; the little short story dance at the end of an exceptional short story is part of the satisfying ending for me. You may already be aware of this, but Vanessa Gebbie and Gerard Woodward (along with three American writers) participated in "Why the Short Story? A conversation among writers," over on my site: PatriciaAnnMcNair.com. You are fighting the good fight for the story; thanks again.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thank you for celebrating the short story, T. It is so important. I share everyone's dismay at the BBC's decisions - even though they've never accepted one of mine. I feel sad - I've lost a goal - I was hoping, maybe one day!

But also, as we were saying over the weekend (or I was anyway) - I would not have written a novel unless it was an extension of my real love of short fiction. So I am grateful to the short story, too.

Group 8 said...


Thanks for the report. I would LOVED to have been there.

Now, back to my STIP (story in progress).
N x

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. This Radio 4 campaign has really showed how we writers feel about short stories. I've been thinking in the last few days why is it that writers of short stories are so passionate about them and have gathered this way to defend and promote the story. I know that of all the types of writing I do it's short stories that I get fired up most about.

The short story is life, put essentially. It can encapsulate truths about being human in just a few sentences and it has it's place more than ever in modern society. To write them is thrilling, to start with a wraith of an idea and develop it but then later to edit it back down to it's raw elements. I wish the campaign for more Radio 4 stories success but I'm also optimistic that readers and listeners will value and look for the short story.

Tania Hershman said...

Patricia, so lovely to meet someone who isn't embarassed to admit to the short story dance! and thank you for drawing attention to the fantastic things going on on your website, I haven't had a chance to read the conversations in any depth yet, it's on my "Exciting Things to Do" list!

V - thanks, let's keep our fingers crossed and keep celebrating!

N - good luck with the StIP (love it!) Or even: SIP, seems to be appropriate somehow.

Alison, it is true, isn't it, that if you like short stories you probably love them, but perhaps also because of the odd attitude towards them from outside, we are even more enflamed... Lovely summing-up of what the short story is, that's beautiful.

Susan said...

Speaking as someone who made the longlist but not the shortlist of the Bristol Prize, I would have loved to go but am glad everyone enjoyed themselves.

I have my own thoughts on the reduction of short stories on the BBC and am going to collect them together before I write a blog entry. I am broadly in support of their retention though and question the motives for cutting them.