Our 2015 short story celebration continues…….
Chioma Okereke (Writer of fiction and poetry, Chioma’s debut novel, Bitter Leaf (Virago), was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2011 – Africa Best First Book. She was a runner up in the 2013 Costa Short Story Award)
While the publishing industry is on its quest for what it considers ‘big’ stories, the quieter voices (of characters and authors) often get overlooked. What is lost is the staggering beauty of small lives in smaller towns, and invariably through the contemplation of these we see there is no such thing as a small, or indeed short, story.
The Redemption of Galen Pike – Carys Davies (Salt) This collection of stunning shorts demonstrates Davies’ gift as a writer. Her prose is considered, moving and steeped in powerful imagery that lingers well off the page.
Beneath the Bonfire – Nickolas Butler (Picador) I have a slight fascination with what I imagine to be Americana and Butler doesn’t disappoint with these haunting stories set in Wisconsin. Butler’s characterisations and descriptions are so powerful… There’s equally a skillful depth to these stories that make his work utterly moreish.
Tania Hershman (Author of 2 short story collections, Tania’s stories have also been published in numerous magazines and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4. She is the co-author of Writing Short Stories and curates short story website, ShortStops)
Honeydew – Edith Pearlman (John Murray) I love this book, Pearlman’s fifth collection, for its wit and bravery. It will devastate you, as Pearlman demonstrates her utter mastery of every single word, every sentence, of all the shapes a story can take. A joy for readers and a masterclass for writers.
Mahesh Rao (Author whose debut novel, The Smoke Is Rising (Daunt Books Publishing) won the Tata First Book Award for fiction and was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and the Crossword Prize. One Point Two Billion (Daunt Books Publishing), his collection of short stories, was published this year)
The collection I’ve enjoyed most this year is Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women (Picador). Her tales of lost and damaged characters are brought to life by her sharp wit, the quiet, poignant details dropped into the narrative, and her wonderful eye for the grotesque. “The lights were still burning while the water splashed rainbows through them” — any writer who uses these words to describe a toilet leaking into the apartment below gets my vote.
I’ve also read the proof of a brilliant collection that is due to be published in February next year. The stories in Light Box by KJ Orr (Daunt Books Publishing) move from Buenos Aires to the American East Coast and across to Tokyo and the heartland of Russia: they are beautifully formed and contain powerful, vital moments of transformation, that light up in pitch-perfect prose.
Claire King (Writer whose short stories have been published in many magazines and journals including New Scientist and Metazen. Claire’s debut novel, The Night Rainbow (Bloomsbury), will be followed by a 2nd, Everything Love Is (Bloomsbury), next year)
I’ve been dipping into several collections – Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Fourth Estate), Alice Munro’s Dear Life (Vintage), and Roald Dahl’s The Complete Short Stories Volume Two 1954-1988 (Penguin). all of which I am enjoying in very different ways
What I would really like to share is Humans of New York – Brandon Stanton (St Martin’s Press) which I know isn’t really a short story collection, but as a writer (and human!) I absolutely love it. I was working in NYC this October, and bought it from a bookstand on the High Line. Most people have probably seen Humans of New York on social media, but having the book is better. It’s 427 pages of micro non-fiction, with photos. It’s full of humanity and inspiration and real characters. My daughters love it too. You can’t help but leaf through it and be moved.
Rowan Lawton (Literary agent at Furniss Lawton, Rowan represents a wide range of fiction and non-fiction writers)
If I loved You, I Would Tell You This – Robin Black (Picador) I cried at about every second story and Robin Black has now become a firm favourite
Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri (HarperCollins) This won the Pulitzer and rightly so – it’s sublime. Both this collection and robin black’s are collections around a theme which I realise is probably my preference, I still like to find some sort of narrative thread that runs throughout, even if tenuous
Persephone Book of Short Stories (Persephone)– how I discovered a love for Dorothy Whipple, before Persephone re-published her, a very under-appreciated British writer. Wonderful social commentary on 20th century Britain
Benjamin Johncock (Writer whose debut novel, The Last Pilot (Myriad Editions), was published to great acclaim earlier this year. His short stories have been published by The Fiction Desk and The Junket and is a winner of Comma Press’ National Short Story Day competition.
CivilWarLand In Bad Decline – George Saunders (Vintage) My birthday is 1st January, and getting CivilWarLand In Bad Decline, Saunders’s first collection, as a present was like being given a bottle of fine whisky at the beginning of the year. Late in the evening, from time to time, I’d pull down the volume from my shelf, settle into a cosy spot, and savour one of the stories. There’s six here, plus one novella. Saunders is a finite resource, so appropriate rationing is important. His stories are rich, dense, filling; like dining at a Michelin-starred French restaurant. They are also funny and sad, savage and satiric, full of humility and humanity. Essential reading, then, in these strange and terrible times.
Susmita Bhattacharya (Writer whose stories have been widely published including in Wasafiri, Litro, TellTales, and Penguin Unplugged, Susmita’s debut novel, The Normal State of Mind (Parthian), was published this year)
The Gurkha’s Daughter – Prajwal Parajuly (Quercus) is a collection of eight stories of the Nepalese diaspora. I enjoyed Parajuly’s simplistic language that was effective in telling the tales without embellishments. It did not contend to stereotype, and I enjoyed the fact that I read about Nepal and its people, with the absence of the obvious such as the Himalayas and other stereotypes we have, and especially as an Indian, I enjoyed reading literature about a neighbouring country, that I have not read much about.
New World Fairytales (Salt) by Cassandra Parkin won the Scott Prize in 2011. It takes a modern twist to retelling the traditional fairytales, and it is dark and delightful. The stories are set in modern day America and appear as interviews, giving the feel of the traditional oral method of storytelling. It was fun to try and spot the fairytale, because they are not literal transpositions, but carefully constructed tales that may or may not reflect the originals immediately. I use the stories in my creative writing workshops, and they always bring such varied responses, these stories are pleasure to read in the classroom setting as well.
Kaite Welsh (Author, critic and journalist who writes for a number of publications including the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, Kaite’s fiction has featured in several anthologies. In 2014 she was shortlisted for both the Scottish New Writers Award and the Moniack Mhor Bridge Award)
There’s nothing better than curling up on a dreich day with a good short story collection – unless it’s curling up with three good collections. Scottish short fiction has had a bumper year from both established and emerging authors, but here are three that particularly stood out.
Jellyfish – Janice Galloway (Freight) After focusing her considerable talents on novels and memoir, Galloway has hit a rich seam of imagination as she returns to the short story as a form. It’s perfect for her style – wry, slightly off-kilter and always returning to the theme of parent and child, the kind of subject matter that offers Galloway the chance to delve once more into the murky depths of human relationships.
A Portable Shelter – Kirsty Logan (ASLS) Logan’s second collection – after 2014’s award-winning The Rental Heart (Salt), which earned her comparisons to Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter – was supported by Creative Scotland’s Dr. Gavin Wallace Fellowship. Thirteen stories told by two women to their unborn child in a cottage in the stormy Highlands embrace Logan’s unsettling brand of magic realism as she unveils stories of loss, identity and the purpose of stories.
The Way Out -Vicki Jarrett (Freight) Longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, The Way Out is a raw, devastating debut. She gives us an unalloyed glimpse into the lives of people pushed to the margins but is never sentimental and only the quality of writing makes the truth she tells palatable.
Danielle McLaughlin (Award-winning writer whose stories have been published in numerous places including the New Yorker, The Irish Times and The Stinging Fly, Danielle’s recently-published debut short story collection is Dinosaurs on Other Planets (Stinging Fly, John Murray (UK 2016))
It’s been an excellent year for short story anthologies, including a number of astoundingly good ones from Irish publishers:
A Kind of Compass (Tramp Press) features 17 stories on distance and a thought-provoking and engaging introduction by editor Belinda McKeon that opens with the words: ‘Distance is inherent to the short story. Or, the short story is made out of distance, out of the problem of it.’ Contributors include Niven Govinden, Eílís Ní Dhuibhne, David Hayden, Sara Baume, E.C. Osondu, Yoko Ogawa, among others. I was fascinated by how each writer approached the theme of distance in a different way. At the same time, there are unifying elements. To quote again from the introduction: ‘People travel in some of these stories, but they are in exile in all of them. Any story that digs into the human is a story about exile, in a sense;’
The Long Gaze Back edited by Sinéad Gleeson (New Island) contains thirty stories by Irish women writers, arranged chronologically and spanning a period of over 200 years. Gleeson, in her introduction, says that she wanted the book ‘to look back, as well as forward: to trace a line to the past when women publishing their writing was rare, and often discouraged.’ It’s a rich and dazzling mix, with stories by Elizabeth Bowen, Mary Lavin, Maeve Brennan, Anne Enright, Mary Costello, June Caldwell, Susan Stairs, E.M. Reapy and Eimear Ryan, to mention just a few, and I love that there’s such a diverse range of styles and subject matter.
Winter Pages edited by Kevin Barry and Olivia Smith (Curlew Editions), is a brand new annual arts anthology. It’s totally gorgeous, a cloth-covered hardback, hand-finished in silver and navy embossed foils, and as well as short stories, it also has interviews, essays and photography. There’s a new story from Claire-Louise Bennett whose stunning collection, Pond, was published earlier this year, as well as fiction by Colin Barrett, Sally Rooney, Rob Doyle, Desmond Hogan, and more. And while my focus here is on the short stories, there’s also lots of other great stuff in Winter Pages, including powerful essays by Lia Mills and Claire Kilroy.
A huge thank you to all our contributors so far, what a feast of ideas and inspiration they have served up. Our final selections will be posted tomorrow.