Thursday, 14 February 2013

A new writing club from the Daily Telegraph

Have you discovered the Daily Telegraph’s Short Story Club? After decades (and decades) of neglect  and positive dislike, readers are returning to the short story. The Costa Prize has inaugurated a short story prize (see my previous post), and there is a further raft of competitions that offer prize winnings that should attract writers of note, as well as hopefuls – because a surprising number of our favourite novelists write short stories; they seem to almost do it ‘on the quiet. Recently I’ve enjoyed stories by Deborah Levy, Rose Tremain, Ian McEwan Kate Atkinson, Joanna Harris, M.J Hyland and Jane Gardam. 

 Isobelle Carmody, the Australian author who writes both novels and short stories says, The short story form allows evocation, suggestion, implication. Its potency often lies in what it does not say.
I think she’s hit at least one of the nails on the head with this remark. A short story cannot, and should not do the same things as a novel. It should not lay out, expand, explore widely, or tell everything. It should hint and suggest, implicate and haunt. Even shorter than Carmody's, V.S. Pritchett’s definition is perfect...something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing. Maybe, finally, the British reading public have realized that a good short story can be balm for our souls as we travel on the tube through the rush hour, or grab five minutes in our lunch hour.

The Daily Telegraph website is cashing in on this sudden interest. It runs a thriving Creative Writing group where members can get feedback on their work and run their own, user-led competition, which is judged by the previous month’s winner. Now they’ve also started a Short Story Club It’s run by writer Louise Doughty and is rather a vehicle for the short story writing course she offers within the club, but her blog posts are lively, none the less. This club is also running a complicated but interesting  Short Story Club competition, which will offer the chance of publication online every month and the chance of a bit prize at the end of the year. Every week, Doughty, who says of this sudden resurgence, magically, mysteriously, short fiction, that butterfly of a literary form, is back, will set a writing task that can be incorporated into new ideas for a new story. 

I surfed to the site and enjoyed a brief moment of reading, with an abridged version of a story that appears in Diving Belles by Lucy Wood, published next week by Bloomsbury. Like me, Lucy explores magical realism in her short fiction; this story is about a woman who has been using a special cream on her eyes...which allows her to see the world of the fay. But it is cleverly told, in the 2nd person POV, by her daughter, who knowing nothing of this, uses the cream by chance. It’s a very good use of the magical and mysterious, and what it does not say is far more important than what it does say.

In the meantime, my most recent story The Illuminated Back  will be out this month. This story is also about self-discovery and an unasked-for sudden magical power, but it's settings could not be more different than Woods...I use an armomatherapy clinic and the sandy terrain of the British Army on manouevre. You can chart the progress of the anthology at

I thought I’d try one of Doughty’s exercises to see if it kick-started a new story, but her most recent suggestion takes me straight be to my my bookcase by suggesting we look at collections of short fiction and ask: what makes multi-author anthologies work?
The truth is that I find creating and polishing a short story as much hard work as most of the writing around an entire novel. The Illuminated Back took me several months to perfect; I kept going back to it, rethinking what the story was about. As Henry David Thoreau once said...Not that the story need be long but it will take a long while to make it short....

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