Tag Archives: Alice Munro

More in praise of Alice Munro and the short story

After the popularity of Saturday’s blog on the short story, I wanted to add a few more links. The always excellent brainpickings has Alice Munro on the secret of a great short story: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/11/alice-munro-on-stories/

Earlier this Autumn, Literature Wales, Swansea University and the Rhys Davies Trust held a conference on the short story, with everyone from Edna O’Brien, Tessa Hadley, to Will Self in attendance. I was unable to attend, but am grateful for the coverage from the excellent Wales Arts Review, Volume 2, issue 23, which I highly recommend: http://www.walesartsreview.org/wales-arts-review-volume-2-issue-23/

This edition includes interviews with Rachel Trezise and Will Self; Patricia Duncker, Stevie Davies, Alison Moore and others on their favourite short stories;  a revisit of classics such as two of my personal favourites, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and William Trevor’s wonderful The Ballroom of Romance. The recent announcement that William Trevor has been awarded The Charleston Trust/ University of Chichester inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Short Story Writing seems to affirm this sometimes overlooked form is having its time in the limelight. Let us enjoy…

In praise of short stories – “hand grenades of ideas.”

Short fiction seems more targeted – hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them.  Paolo Bacigalupi.

It has been a stupendous week for short fiction. Today’s blog is in celebration of Alice Munro being awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature, and Sarah Hall winning the BBC National Short Story Prize. It also seems to be a year for women short fiction writers, for all on the National Short Story Prize shortlist were female.

For me a page of good prose is where one hears the rain. A page of good prose is when one hears the noise of battle…. A page of good prose seems to me the most serious dialogue that well-informed and intelligent men and women carry on today in their endeavour to make sure that the fires of this planet burn peaceably.   John Cheever.

Munro is the thirteenth woman to have won the award since its inception in 1901, and didn’t expect to win, partly because of what could be seen as an undervaluing of the form. On winning, she said “I would really hope that this would make people see the short story as an important art.” 

I remember a time, until quite recently, when it seemed that the short story was in decline, or certainly out of fashion. The genre seemed to be in free-fall, and there were campaigns to ‘Save Our Short Stories’. Publishers were blamed for not offering collections, and they in turn criticised the reading public for not buying and so investing in the form. With today’s burgeoning list of short story competitions, some of them extremely high profile, like the BBC’s national offering and The Sunday Time’s EFG private bank award, the situation seems to have changed. But as Ursula Le Guin states so clearly, below, we need readers:

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.
 Ursula K. Le Guin

I have been enthralled by a whole range of short stories it has been my great fortune to have read during the past eighteen months: Work by my favourites Kevin Barry and Sarah Hall, but also Helen Simpson, Jon Gower, Matthew Francis, Claire Keegan, Lavinia Greenlaw, Edith Pearlman, Ali Smith… the list could go on. It seems robust and innovative as a form, and I’m excited that publishers, including small presses like my local publishers, Cinnamon Press, are championing both the writers and the form.

In an article in The Guardian ‘We Need a Story Laureate’, Sarah Hall gives an overview of the state and general health of the short story in the UK, “..if not gloriously ascendant in Britain, then airborne and at reasonable altitude,” she says, in a recommended read: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/11/sarah-hall-short-story-laureate

So let us celebrate this week’s achievements, and support the form through being good readers as well as writers!

“For the source of the short story is usually lyrical. And all writers speak from, and speak to, emotions eternally the same in all of us: love, pity, terror do not show favourites or leave any of us out.”  Eudora Welty, On Writing.

To hear extracts from recordings of the BBC shortlisted stories, please go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0079gw3

For further information on UK short story competitions, deadlines, and where to get the forms, go to: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books/adults/short-stories/prizes/

Alice Munro wins the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24477246

Thresholds, ‘the international home of the short story’ has links to short stories you can read online, including work by Kevin Barry, Helen Simpson, O Henry and others at: http://blogs.chi.ac.uk/shortstoryforum/9019-2/

Reflections on the short story on World Book Day 2013.

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I have an addiction which I have already owned up to in public: I am addicted to quotations, to the bon mot. I love reading what experts have written about form, style, narrative, content… I collect ‘sayings’, advice to writers, and reflections on a form.

My previous series 150 ‘rules’ about writing fiction was very popular, and extended from its original ‘100 rules…’ When I reached number 149, I decided enough was enough, I couldn’t extend it again, but have had such a strong response from readers when I posted the last entry, I decided to continue, but in a more focused form, hence Reflections on the short story...

Although I’m primarily a playwright, I also write in different forms and for different media (radio drama, short film). I’ve contributed to various anthologies  (The Phoenix book of Irish short stories, and by Welsh independent publishers Honno and Parthian). I haven’t written short fiction for some time, but I read collections and am constantly fed by this most robust yet delicate of forms.

Short stories seem to be going through something of a renaissance. More collections have been published recently than in previous years – and the success of competitions such as The Sunday Times/EFG Private bank short story award (first prize £30,000) suggests that the often proclaimed death of the short story has been somewhat premature.

As Neil Gaiman put it: ‘Like some kind of particularly tenacious vampire, the short story refuses to die, and seems at this point in time to be a wonderful length for our generation.’

So in the spirit of this and World Book Day, here are some quotations on the short story from Raymond Chandler to Haruki Murakami, from Alice Munro to Eudora Welty, and hope you enjoy;

“My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and every one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart…” Haruki Murakami

“The particular problem of the short story writer is how to make the action he describes reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible…The type of mind that can understand [the short story] is the kind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.” Flannery O’Connor

“…writing stories was always a bit like falling in love with a stranger and running off to Marrakech for a long weekend. It didn’t have to be successful to be thrilling.”  Ann Patchett

“The novel…creates a bemusing effect. The short story, on the other hand wakes the reader up. Not only that, it answers the primitive craving for art, the wit, paradox and beauty of shape, the longing to see a dramatic pattern and significance in our experience.”  V.S.Pritchett

“A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry… A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has.”
William Faulkner

“It’s possible in a…short story to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things–a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring–with immense, even startling power.” Raymond Carver

 “I believe that the short story is as different a form from the novel as poetry is, and the best stories seem to me to be perhaps closer in spirit to  poetry than to novels.”  Tobias Wolff

“The first thing we notice about our story is that we can’t really see the solid outlines of it–it seems bathed in something of its own. It is wrapped in an atmosphere. This is what makes it shine, perhaps, as well as what initially obscures its plain, real shape.
” Eudora Welty

“Anecdotes don’t make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about.
”  Alice Munro

“…The literature of individuals is a noble art, a great earnest and ambitious human product. But it is a human product. The divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story…. Within our whole universe the story only has authority to answer the cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: ‘Who am I?'”  Isak Dinesen