Sunday, September 28, 2008


I was at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester yesterday afternoon for a very welcome event celebrating the short story. Organised by Manchester Libraries and the National Short Story Campaign, it was an event for writers and readers of the short story. There's something always potentially a little compromising about such things but luckily Manchester has a bit of sense about such things. Three writers and a publisher - now there's a pitch for a Hollywood movie - talked about their favourite short stories, before we split into smaller groups for a couple of hour long workshops. The highlight of the day for me was just being in a stimulating environment, where the subject itself didn't require any particular case to be made for it. I've sometimes been to poetry events where there's been so much emphasis on encouraging people not to be scared by the subject, that there's been little time left for those of us who are anything but scared.

I'm not sure the short story requires a campaign, or a national prize - the BBC's support of short stories is welcome, but I fear, always on their own terms, i.e. what they consider will work on radio in a particular way - rather, what it needs is readers, and opportunities for writers, preferably on a reasonably local basis. It's after all, the model that has made American literature so strong in these area over the years. For once, magazines like "Transmission" weren't present, but it was important to have local story specialists Comma here, and the attempt to show us a film of a David Constantine story on the break was a good example of how stories can transcend the page.

I suppose some of our peculiarity over the short story is that its too much of a catch all, finding room for Grimm's fairy tales, alongside sci-fi, the BBC's short story spot, alongside both the nascent writer and the overly venerable. Yet, as a reader, its the place the story has in the development of the main literary trends of the 20th century that interest me. Modernism is best served in the short story, and novella; as are the post-modernist tributaries that flowed after the 2nd world war, and even contemporary greats such as the recently deceased David Foster Wallace, are, I think, likely to be remembered as much - or more - for their shorter form than the longer. In this sense, the short story remains something of the heartbeat of literature. Whatever comes next, you can be assured, will more than likely exhibit itself here first rather than in the novel.

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