shining the spotlight on short story collections
So, there’s been a lot of public cries here in the UK of 2012 as “the Year of the Short Story”. We here at Short Review towers sigh a little when we hear this kind of thing. With our binoculars, and our microscope, we have not seen any waning of the short story over the past 5 years of our existence, no slowing down of the numbers of short story collections we get offered for review – so we would like to suggest an alternative title for 2012, “The Year Mainstream Publishers Re-Discovered What We All Knew About The Short Story Already”! Catchy?
Anyway, we certainly celebrate any upsurge in short-story-related activity and there does seem to be quite a bit here – from The Telegraph newspaper’s Short Story Writing Club to a “short story newspaper” as reported in The Bookseller, Random House’s Random Shorts (more coming soon on that) and Penguin Shorts.
One of the most exciting developments is that Bloomsbury is publishing 5 short story collections in the first five months of 2012! We thought we’d better find out a bit more, so we put some questions to Bloomsbury fiction editorial director Helen Garnon-Williams:
The Short Review: We were very excited to hear that Bloomsbury is publishing 5 short story collections during the first 5 months of 2012, surely a record for any UK publisher! Can you tell us a little about each collection? Are they debut collections? UK-based authors?
Helen Garnon-Williams: We are thrilled to be launching five completely wonderful and very different short story collections out into the world this Spring. One collection comes from America, one from a Canadian author living in England, and three others from British writers. There are four debuts and one long-awaited collection from a Booker-nominated novelist.
The first collection, Diving Belles and Other Stories, is by Lucy Wood. Set in Cornwall, where Lucy grew up, her stories combine the magical elements of folklore with everyday, domestic environments. Dazzling, mischievous and beautiful, her collection has already drawn praise from the likes of Michel Faber, Phillip Hensher and Jon McGregor. And Lucy is still only 26, which is, frankly, a little terrifying.
In February, we are publishing Jon McGregor’s breathtaking first story collection This isn’t the sort of thing that happens to someone like you. Two of the stories in this collection have been shortlisted for the BBC National Short story Award, and in both cases they were named as runner-up. Set in the flat and threatened fenland landscape these delicate, dangerous and sometimes deeply funny stories tell of things buried and unearthed, of familiar places made strange and of lives where much is hidden and tender moments are hard-won. They are absolutely astonishing.
In March we are delighted to be publishing Homesick, by Roshi Fernando. Roshi has won the Impress Prize and been shortlisted for the Sunday Times Short Story Prize, and in this stunning collection of linked stories about Sri-Lankan families in South London, she traces the fine lines of politics, tradition and community, exploring questions of belonging and home in finely-honed and powerful prose.
In April, we are publishing DW Wilson’s debut collection Once You Break A Knuckle, from which his BBC National-Short-Story-Award-winning The Dead Roads comes. Dave Wilson is a remarkable young writer and we are incredibly excited to have him on our list. His stories, set in the remote Kootenay Valley in western Canada, crackle with tension and are propelled by jagged, cutting dialogue, as they describe good people doing bad things.
And finally, we have I Am An Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran, an incredibly exciting young American writer whose work has already appeared in McSweeney’s, Granta and Zoetrope, and whose darkly funny, wildly original stories about the power of love, and the love of power form a glittering, savage and elegant first collection. ·
TSR: What those of us who write short stories hear very often from literary agents is that publishers feel they can’t sell collections of stories. Bloomsbury clearly feels differently – do you have any plans for special marketing campaigns for these collections that are focused on the fact of them being short stories?
HGW: I’m afraid that there does, unfortunately seem to be more than a grain of truth in this maxim. Whereas in the States, short story collections can easily reach the Number One spot on the New York Times bestseller list (Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth being a case in point), in the UK we very rarely see short story collections selling in large numbers – unless they are linked collections, published as novels, like A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing and Jennifer Egan’s fantastic A Visit from the Goon Squad.
But, ironically, or so it seems from my perspective as an editor anyway, more and more writers are turning to the short story form – indeed, most of the authors I work with seem to spend a sometimes alarming amount of their day on twitter! – and I think it is where some of the most original and exciting fiction is to be found today. And, in a world where opinion and debate are distilled into 140 characters, where life seems to be moving at an ever faster pace and our appreciation of the ‘short’ is growing every day, it seems a fair assumption that more readers are being drawn to short stories, to perfectly-crafted little worlds into which they can escape, where they can be surprised, and moved and transported in the course of a tube journey or a lunch break.
And then of course there are the electronic-opportunities that arise with short stories – where single stories can be separated out and read on smartphones and e-books and in electronic magazines. At Bloomsbury we have always been committed to publishing literary fiction of the highest quality, and we have a great tradition of short-story publishing. We have published collections by Mavis Gallant, Tobias Wolff, TC Boyle, Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford, Jay McInerney, William Boyd and Nadine Gordimer – all of whom are wonderful writers in whatever form they choose to write in.
So, another reason for us to take on these short story collections, in particular those by debut writers, is because we believe that they are at the start of incredibly promising literary careers, and whether they go on to write novels, or more story collections, we wanted to commit to them as authors at this stage. In publishing these collections closely together we wanted to announce the arrival of a collection of hugely talented writers. And by launching them in the same period it has allowed us to draw strength in numbers, as it were: we have produced a beautiful sampler (both electronically and in print form), containing a story from each of the collections that we have sent out to the media, booksellers and festival organizers.
We have been able to blow our trumpet about our Year of the Short Story, which has, in turn led to coverage and previews for each of the authors and their books. Various publications are interested in running the stories over the coming months, and festivals and libraries are excited by the idea of a kind of short-story roadshow, where people can listen to groups of short-story writers talking together. By publishing them together and confidently, as opposed to the perhaps rather apologetic way that short story collections can sometimes be published, our hope – and our intention – is that the collections will be noticed in a way they might otherwise not have been.
TSR: What is it that you love in a short story? What does a great short story do for you?
HGW: In stories, as in novels, the first thing that I am drawn to is always voice – I am struck by voices that feel original, and confident and that instantly draw you in. Story collections can be a treat because they often contain so many different voices and they really showcase the craft that goes into creating convincing characters and narrators. I also love the elegance of the short story: the precision and skill needed to hold it together successfully. But most of all, I love the story in a story: whether this is narrative that lasts for half a page or for 30, for me, the best short stories are those that make you feel like you have read an entire novel, with all the emotional investment, and intellectual and emotional pay-off that that involves.
Thank you so much, Helen – we at Short Review Towers are feeling the love! We look forward to reading – and reviewing -these collections (read a sample here) and certainly hope that 2012, 2013, 2014 and on and on continue to be years of the short story!