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Now it's National Short Story Week!

29 November 2010

This week has been UK National Short Story Week and we've all been invited to join in as readers, writers and listeners by a new website with that name. The site offers involvement for writers, readers and audio listeners, and campaigns to get more attention for short stories. It was founded by audio producer Ian Skillicorn, who has been producing and broadcasting short stories, and supporting the work of both new and established short story writers, for many years.

Story, the campaign run by Booktrust, has been trying to do the same thing for some time. As well as its campaigning role, it has an extremely useful series of articles about short stories from writers, agents, editors, publishers and the digital world.

In recent years there have been not just the two campaigns mentioned above but also two new prizes in the UK alone.

These big prizes, the BBC National Short Story Award and the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award have made short stories news, although the latter is only open to published writers, which is a pity in that it will never discover new talent.

Nicholas Shakespeare commented in the Evening Standard last week 'short stories still languish in the literary doldrums, perceived by critics and readers alike as a minor tributary of literature.'

So, what has changed in the world of short stories? Well, the biggest change is that the internet has made short stories more viable by creating the possibility of publishing them online and using the internet to find an audience for them. Because of the brief form, short stories can be read online or even printed out, which, just like poetry, gives them a head-start over novels. The short form also suits a time-pressured audience with an increasingly short attention span.

There's still not that good a market for stories in book form though and they usually have to be written by a major author and even then are not expected to achieve sales which are comparable to their fiction - and usually don't. Authors such as Ian McEwan (with his attention-grabbing stories debut First Love, Last Rites) and Maeve Binchy have published collections of short stories but generally they are not as well-received as their novels. Many readers simply like to lose themselves in a novel-length story and find short stories unsatisfactory at providing this engagement.

Anthologies, such as those published by small independent Cinammon Press, are a rather different matter and can offer authors a way in and the chance to showcase their work. For a new author stories can be an excellent way to build their craft and their reputation. If you can get them into print, all the better, but even internet publication will help. Stories are a great form to turn to for a change of pace or a new approach and many authors find them refreshing to write, even if the audience is a bit thin.

National Short Story Week


Story articles

BBC National Short Story Award

Cinnamon Press