Claire King


Short stories – seducing writers and readers alike

Posted on: July 21st, 2010 by Claire - 11 Comments

I recently wrote a bio for a publication, where I described myself like this: “Claire King has an open relationship with her novel and a variety of short lovers.”

I mean this sincerely. As a writer I love my novel, I do, I do, and I want to make it work. But sometimes I just want something different. I want to let off steam, let the wind of a stubborn image blow through me until I have it down on paper. I want to use a completely different vocabulary, tackle a different theme, I want to do something dirty, or fast, or clandestine.

At the Bristol Short Story Prize ceremony last week, the writer Sarah Salway gave a great speech about short stories. About their power to pin down a writer until she has wrestled them into submission. Bertel Martin, chair of the judging panel, said that for readers, a quality of a great short story was to be able to re-read it, and read it again, and each time discover something new. A hidden depth or richness.

And that’s another wonderful thing about short stories. You can go back for seconds and it doesn’t take up a whole week of your reading.

So you choose – as a reader, your next weekend could be a wonderful, novelicious monogomy-fest or it could be a promiscuous fiesta of short fiction.

Now, what if you fancy a few dalliances, but aren’t sure where to meet short stories? Never fear. Sarah made the brilliant suggestion that we all share our recommended short story reads, and kicked off with three: Alice Elliot-Dark, Lydia Davis and of course the Bristol Prize Short Story Anthology 3!

Bertel Martin recommended La Gioconda Smile by Aldous Huxley and  Rain Darling by Merle Collins

Valerie O Riordan says this on her blog “And so, my recommendations are Nik Perring’s Not So Perfect and Denis Johnson’s Jesus Son. You’d have to be a hard-hearted crazy bastard of a person not to love Nik’s work, and I just adore Johnson.  Go and read.”

@BristolPrize has also added Amanda Davis’s collection ‘Circling the Drain’. Return to it often. Unusual, edgy, playful stuff.

Jonathan Pinnock recommends “21 Stories” by Graham Greene, “Labyrinths” by Jorge Luis Borges. “A Perfect Vacuum” by Stanislaw Lem, “Exotic Pleasures” by Peter Carey, David Gaffney’s “Sawn-Off Tales” and more! To read more on that, go and visit Jonathan’s blog!

Bristol Prize winner Valerie O’Riordan has this to say in her interview which you can read here:
f you were to read just one story, check out ‘The Ledge’, by Lawrence Sargent Hall. But bring tissues, and maybe don’t read it on your lunch-break, unless you want to go back to the office all tear-stained and emotional – it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever read.
Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Collected Stories’ never get old or dull, and ditto anything by Annie Proulx – these two ladies make tiny isolated rural American villages seem like the most fascinating places on earth. Gruesome and bleak and hilarious.
Junot Diaz’s ‘Drown’ is a stunning first book about the Dominican diaspora in New Jersey. Everybody adores his novel, ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’, but for me it’s all about the short stories.
Denis Johnson’s ‘Jesus’ Son.’ I’ve clearly got a thing for American writing, but Johnson’s work captures the elegiac in the mundane filthiness of his protagonists’ miserable lives. And he does brilliant dialogue.
‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men’ by David Foster Wallace. Wallace shows you there’s nothing you can’t do with the short story form. This blew my mind.

And I personally would like to add Sarah Salway’s own collection, Leading the Dance. Much darker and edgier than I had expected from a lady who blogs about benches!

Finally, check out the Short Review website for plenty more recommendations.

So, dear readers, go forth and multiply, and by all means please set me up on a few blind dates by commenting below…

11 Responses

  1. Marisa Birns says:

    There are wonderful new short stories you’ve listed here for me to read, though I do see some old friends that I like to reread 🙂

    I have just finished reading THE WHITE ROAD and Other Stories by Tania Hershman. Fabulous collection.

  2. Charlie says:

    I feel inspired to gently squeeze the buttocks of, smile engagingly at, and maybe even dally hedonistically with some of these coquettish little things that you mention.

    In reciprocation, therefore, I should perhaps share a couple of tidbits (titbits, even) of timeless classic from my little black book:

    “The Diamond As Big as the Ritz, and Other Short Stories” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    “Kiss Kiss”, “Switch Bitch” and the particularly fantastic “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More” – all by Roald Dahl

    There. That little handful should keep you lasciviously amused for… oh… several moments.

  3. Martha says:

    And – THE WHITE ROAD by Tania Hershman – excellent shorty mix. And yes, Nik’s book is brilliant (and pretty, and pocket-sized). I haven’t got Bristol Anthology 3 yet but I know it’ll be good.

    Charlie – titbit – is that not how it’s spelt? I mean, the d… what is that? I actually tried to look that up a while ago and could not fathom it out. I see tidbits everywhere but I grew up with tits on my bits, for sure.
    Is that proper – or not?
    Claire – what’s your vote?

  4. Brilliant post, Claire. I recommend any short story by Raymond Carver.

    ‘See’ you in the ether on Saturday at Write-Invite. I even managed to send in my entry at top speed in Bristol last Saturday. Hubby had laptop set up ready for me to dash one off. These short stories seem to work better (hopefully) when the pressure’s on and time is in short supply! Inspiration has to come quickly!

  5. Rufus Evison says:

    What is a short story? How may words does it have? When does it turn into a novella and how short can it go before it is a short short?

    More particularly where doe s 750 word story fit in? Is it long enough to be a short story? It is feeling a little insecure and uinferior. Is it to long to be a joke? Wat is it? it wants to know and on its behalf so do I…

    • claire says:

      I think a perfect flash is 250 words but up to 700 or so seems to fit too. An ideal short story for me is between 2500-5000 words, although some of the more prestigious competitions go up to 10,000.

      Novella – 25,000 to 50,000 words? What does wikipedia say? 😉

      I hate rules and labels anyway. A story has to be however long it has to be.

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