Perennial imperilment

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve just picked up The Best British Short Stories 2011. It seems that short stories are always in danger – periodical markets shrinking or disappearing, publishers refusing to publish them because readers allegedly have no interest in them. There’s always someone organising a year of the short story, or a save our stories campaign. Nicholas Royle’s excellent introduction to this collection, however, largely dispenses with the traditional woe is us, for a variety of reasons. Three of the stories from his collection were originally published in UK newspapers (the Sunday Times and the Guardian), as well as from literary reviews. That newspapers are still publishing short stories, however infrequently, is a positive sign, since they hardly seem a natural vehicle for the form, surrounding it with swathes of much briefer pieces vying for the reader’s attention. On the other hand, reading one story at a time is perhaps the best way to enjoy them, rather than devouring an anthology or a literary magazine whole over a day or two and then later struggling to disentangle the stories and characters from one another.

In the UK, the past few years have seen the arrival of some new short-story prizes with substantial purses. The Manchester Prize offers a huge £10,000, while the BBC and Sunday Times go even further, offering £15,000 and £30,000 respectively – although these two are both for established authors. There are also numerous new literary magazines, frequently unpaid and online, of which two of the best are Untitled Books and Five Dials.

The UK has never really had a small literary magazine industry like those in Canada and the US, which is where some of the most recently successful Canadian short story writers cut their teeth. In the last couple of years there have been several successful collections by writers who focus on the short form, including Neil Smith, Matthew J. Trafford and Rebecca Rosenblum. Alexander MacLeod and Sarah Selecky even made the 2010 Giller shortlist with their collections, with MacLeod also being shortlisted for the €25,000 Frank O’Connor award.

Royle shares my misgivings about Granta, which is, as he says, “perhaps the only UK literary magazine that might be named by the man or woman on the street.” I let my subscription lapse not long ago, mostly out of disappointment. Although I find the non-fiction they publish reasonably interesting, I haven’t felt inspired or eager to pick up the publication in some time. The fiction issues, however, are always worth reading, especially the Best of Young British Novelists, next instalment due 2013.

From the first couple of stories the collection looks substantial and well curated. Review to follow.

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