Over a year ago now I took up the gauntlet thrown by Jodi Cleghorn to read a short story a day for a whole year. I started on 14th February 2010 and am happy to say, as of the 14th February this year, I managed to stick to it and complete the challenge. Not that it was that hard, reading a great piece of short fiction every day was an absolute pleasure. Over the course of my challenge I read a wide range of titles from a host of authors both classic and contemporary. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the archive of my Short Story Challenge posts.
I also noted down my favourite stories, limiting myself to one story from each of my favourite collections, though I could easily have listed two or three from each of the authors below. These stories were the ones that moved me, while also being expertly crafted examples of what the short form is capable of:
Grief (translated as Misery in most collections) – Anton Chekhov
Marzipan – Aimee Bender
Tamagotchi – Adam Marek
The Bath – Raymond Carver
Pride & Joy – Etgar Keret
Mr Burdoff’s Visit To Germany – Lydia Davis
The Mechanical Woman – Nik Perring
The Father – Leonid Dobychin
This Is Us, Excellent – Mark Richard
Letters – Nuala Ni Chonchúir
This Is About Dixie – David Gaffney
Busy. Come. Wait – Tom Vowler
Sanctuary – Erin Pringle
Learning Stick – Jared McGinnis
Over the course of reading a short story a day for 365 days I covered a wide range of authors and genres, from sci-fi to magical realism to literary fiction and lots in-between. What really struck me was the inventiveness and life present in the short form. Yet, in the UK at least, it remains such an underrated form, one which most publishers and agents ignore when looking at work from new authors on the apocryphal basis that ‘no one buys short fiction collections.’ Most short fiction writers seem to be asked for a novel when they do grab the attention of an agent; I have lost count of the number of interviews with short fiction authors that features a some variation of this story.
Admittedly, up until around 2008 I could probably have listed the short fiction collections I owned and/or read on one hand. But in recent years, since undertaking my now completed OU Diploma in Creative Writing, I have bought and read and, most importantly, enjoyed dozens of short fiction collections by all kinds of authors. Reading and writing the form to the extent that I have over the last few years has given me a love and respect of the form that I didn’t previously have. I realise that I am perhaps an unusual case. Not everyone is going to come at fiction from the direction of the aspiring/emerging writer. Still, it’s a shame that the publishing industry in the UK largely shuns short fiction, or publishes collections of established novelists without considering new authors that have chosen to specialise in the form. Weird when you consider the appreciation the short form receives in the U.S. particularly and even in other parts of Europe.
That’s not to say the U.K. doesn’t have some great champions of the short form. The Bristol Prize, The Bridport Prize and the National Short Story Award are amongst the most prominent prizes that help spread the word about great contemporary short fiction. Publishers Roast Books, Comma Press and Salt Publishing all specialise in producing quality collections, publishing some of the best British writers working in the short form today, while digital publisher Ether Books specialises in short works for reading on mobile platforms. It would be great to see some of the larger publishers taking a chance on short fiction from debut authors but that’s probably asking way to much in the current economic climate.
Since completing the challenge I haven’t stuck to reading a short story a day, though I have read one most days and I have been posting links to the best online fiction I’ve been reading over on my tumblr, The Short and Long of It. I am certain to keep reading and writing short fiction as it is a unique form that does things that aren’t possible in any other medium. The short form’s brevity is its greatest strength.
Some links to websites/blogs that celebrate the short form:
Tania Hershman’s blog
The Short Review
Nik Perring’s blog
Vanessa Gebbie’s blog
Scott Pack’s own Short Story Challenge
13 Responses to Short Story Challenge – epilogue.
Oh, yes, do love reading short fiction. I’ve read many of those titles you’ve listed, and am going to find the ones I haven’t read yet to enjoy.
You won’t be disappointed by any of the authors on that list. Each of the collections those stories were taken from are wonderful reading experiences.
Wow! Thanks for the mention, Dan. I’m in quite remarkable company, there!
Deservedly so. I keep dipping back into Not So Perfect every so often and am amazed all over again.
Excellent post and a terrific goal. I love several of the stories you’ve listed.
Hi Christopher. Thanks for dropping by. There are some absolute corkers on that list, eh?
This is something I really want to pursue this year… though thinking it will take it a month at a time and perhaps involve the crowd at Write Anything in a quasi sort of challenge/book club. And I will be going through your archive to see the collections you have read to follow in your hallowed foot steps.
How much do you think the reading you did over the past 12 months influenced the writing you were doing… given an amazing run of publications in the past 12 months?
I’m looking forward to eMergent (hopefully) joining that list of short story publishers – but proudly only publishing the short fiction of emerging writers, rather than established ones.
I love the short story and it always saddens me to see it relegated to the position of poor third cousin in the literary community. Hopefully that will change soon given the marriage of technology and the short form is almost a certain winner (I know Ether thinks so!)
I should have given eMergent a mention in there, along with other publishers focusing on emerging writers perhaps. Or maybe that is another post about the way new, more digital focused small presses are fighting the short story’s corner.
As for how much I would say the reading has influenced my writing, I would have to agree that it has greatly. I didn’t enjoy everything I read which has taught me a thing or two about what it is I want to write. The stories listed above are probably the sort of thing I would aspire to write myself, though I am some way from achieving their quality.
I would say that reading so much quality short fiction has raised my game though. During the year I made notes in my diary about each story, reflecting on its mechanics, themes, characters, language. Flicking back through my notes, even the stories I didn’t enjoy told me something about how to write short fiction. I would say reading a short story every day was easily the best way to find out what works for you as an individual writer and what doesn’t.
If you do pick up the challenge again Jodi, I hope you get as much from it as I did. Thanks for throwing down the gauntlet as it spurred me to do something that I not only massively enjoyed but something that has helped me grow as a fiction writer.
Wow, thanks for this. Delighted you liked my story. Nuala x
I also read your collection ‘Nude’ as part of the challenge and could easily have put four or five stories from it on that list but limited myself to one story per author. Having said that, ‘Letters’ blew me away. Hence its place on the list.
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