Short Stories — the Future’s Bright?
This year’s Frank O’Connor and Small Wonder festivals have been and gone, the UK’s first National Short Story Week is around the corner, and at Salt we’re in the throes of putting to press our autumn collections of short fiction, including the winners of the inaugural Scott Prize. For a genre that people often lament as being neglected and forever in the shadow of its longer cousin the novel, there certainly seems to be a lot of activity going on to support and promote it, its writers and readers. But is it all a flash in the pan, does the short story really have a future and if so, what does that future look like? We asked some leading movers and shakers in the short story world what they thought:
Pat Cotter: Director, International Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival:
In order for an artform to remain art it must be constantly open to innovation and evolution. As soon as a form stops changing, becomes codified, meets lazy expectations instead of challenging them, it stops being art and becomes mere tradition. The short story can survive for discerning readers of the future by changing with the times it moves through, absorbing influences from other contemporary artforms (cinema, the lyric poem, even sometimes that most bourgeois of commodities: the Novel) to shape its own direction.
Sara Crowley: Author and Bookseller:
Technology affords the short story many opportunities for promotion. iPhones, e-readers et al. enable browsing of online journals, and story downloads, making literature more easily available. Furthermore, when we display really good short story collections in our bookshop we have healthy sales of them, so let’s be optimistic!
Tania Hershman: Author and Founder, The Short Review:
In the future as I imagine it, the short story would be nothing special. The short story would be a given. No need for campaigns to “save” it or articles about its renaissance. No, it would just be there, in daily newspapers, in collections in its own section of bookshops, on Kindles and iPads and iPhones and Sony eReaders and whatever devices follow those. Neighbours would meet in the street, moan about the weather, and then exchange short story recommendations. People waiting in queues would read a quick short story while they were waiting, then get on the bus or train with that little shiver that comes from having read something complete and devastating in 5 minutes. The Short Review would close, no one understanding the need for a journal completely devoted to reviewing short story collections. The short story – special? What do you mean? It’s always been there and it always will.
Nicholas Royle: Editor, Author, Reviewer, Agent, Publisher, Teacher of the Short Story:
The short story will survive anyway because it is a perfect art form. A novel is too big to sit in your mind and unfurl like a flower. A poem is too short to tell you a story involving enough to absorb you. I guess it could do with a little help, though. Magazine editors could stop lazily extracting stories from forthcoming collections and commission original stories instead. And maybe literary editors could offer a little more support by running regular review columns for short stories and perhaps acknowledging the existence of a thriving small press sub-culture, with its anthologies, collections, magazines and chapbooks.
Maureen Scott: Director, Ether Books:
Ether Books is a new Digital company that believes the short story will have a renaissance as more and more readers consume byte sized reads on their Digital eReader devices including the smart phone. One of our launch writers Toby Litt explained “short stories and smart phones were pretty much made for each other.” Consumers always carry their mobiles with them and their behaviour is rapidly changing. Ten years ago nobody read their emails on their mobile phone; now it is a very common method of accessing email on the go. Ether believes consumers will adopt mobile reading as more and more great content is available to consumers literally in their pocket. More than 4 billion mobile phones are currently used around the globe, and in markets like Japan mobile reading is a commonplace activity. Great short stories and their writers have a new channel to market via mobile phones and we are predicting and enabling short stories for smart phone consumers.
Ian Skillicorn: Director, National Short Story Week:
The short story will undoubtedly survive, but perhaps our focus should be on who those future readers will be. Most writers don’t need to be convinced of the joys of the short story, in fact many people involved in celebrating the short story are writers of the form themselves. There are a multitude of short story magazines, websites, live events, podcasts, competitions and projects, but we still need to find ways to encourage the wider public to experience them.
Millions of people read novels, newspapers and magazines every week, but may not consider the short story as a means of entertainment or enlightenment. Similarly, large numbers of people choose to make long journeys or sleepless nights bearable by listening to music or audiobooks on their MP3 players, but don’t think to listen to a short story instead. The challenge is to encourage them to become the readers and listeners of the future. It would be a great pity if the short story survives as a form celebrated and experienced mainly by writers and by readers who are already convinced of its merits. Those of us who are enthusiastic about the short story should be coming up with innovative and effective ways of getting people to explore the form and discover what they are missing. Hopefully National Short Story Week will be one way of encouraging active dialogue among writers, publishers, bookshops, libraries and anyone else involved in producing short fiction works.
Clare Wigfall: Author:
My husband claims to believe in the Mayan predictions of World Armageddon for 2012. He’s been going on about this for as long as I’ve known him. The year after we met, he gave me a copy of Major John Jenkins’ Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 for Christmas. He called me his Blood Moon in the inscription. He has this vision of the future for us in which together as a family we’re driving across a dystopian landscape in a Mad Max scrap vehicle.
Assuming we survive, I imagine I will still be creating short stories. Writing them down on concrete slabs maybe, or recounting them to our three-year-old daughter as together we syphon fuel from abandoned petrol stations to make fire. I hope they will bring her comfort. I hope I’ll be able to paint pictures in her mind of our current pre-Apocalyptic world as I know and love it. If short stories can potentially survive the 2012 Armageddon, they can survive pretty much anything.
So, what do you think? How can the short story survive and thrive for readers of the future?