Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The waywardness of stories

The New Year is going well: yesterday I was delighted to hear that a new story, 'Bitter, Horned', will be published on Litro Online next month. It's one of several stories I've written recently that deal with some pressing current issues I've been getting exercised about.  While 'Kiss' (MIR Online) concerns terrorism, this story concerns the triple issues of housing and the threat of homelessness, environmental pollution and domestic violence. However, the real trigger for writing about anything for me is always deeply personal: some human situation I've experienced or observed and which has deeply moved me, and it just so happens that the human dilemmas in these particular stories are embedded in these social and political issues. I was beginning to feel that this was my new schtick in storywriting, but then of course a story pops up that doesn't fit the pattern - I have now been moved to write a story divorced from any current political issue but based in one of my abiding themes, the difficulty of communication in personal relationships - as indeed was my recently V S Pritchett longlisted story. Stories - in some ways you just can't control them, and I guess that's the exciting thing.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Dramatic and quiet stories. 'Kiss' chosen for Best British Short Stories 2019

Happy New Year!

I have started the new year on a bit of a high, as my story 'Kiss' which early last year was longlisted in the Short Fiction Journal prize and was recently published on MIR online, has been chosen by editor Nicholas Royle for inclusion in Best British Short Stories 2019, to be published by Salt later this year. This is the second time I've had a story in this great series - in 2014 my story 'Tides, Or How Stories Do or Don't Get Told', made it (interestingly, that had also been previously published online) - and it's a huge thrill to have a published story receive this further - and prestigious - acknowledgement. ('Kiss' is the story I wrote about in my post on research for fiction.)

I've had three strikes with this story, basically, and pretty quickly (it did get two blanks, with two other competitions), but as far as I can remember 'Tides' suffered a few rejections before being accepted for publication and finally receiving critical praise in reviews of Best British Short Stories. It's made me ponder the mystery of why some stories make it easily and quickly, and others take some time to get acceptance even though they may do well in the end. Perhaps to some extent it's subject matter: as a story concerning terrorism, 'Kiss' involves an urgent current topic and a dramatic situation. There's also the question of the form of a story: the urgency of the situation in 'Kiss' is reflected in a deliberately rushed, breathless prose. 'Tides', on the other hand, is consciously contemplative both in subject matter and style - I guess you could say it was a 'quiet' story. And 'Kiss' involves sexuality, including a new and youthful relationship, whereas 'Tides' concentrates on the quieter poignancy of a long-term relationship. Yet to me these two stories are equally dynamic in terms of their themes and the issues they raise. (I'm afraid 'Tides' is no longer online, but it can be read in my latest story collection, Used to Be [Salt].)

It makes me wonder: are 'quieter' stories less likely to catch the eye of competition judges and magazine editors overwhelmed with material and inevitably to some extent scanning on first sight? Is there such a thing as a 'competition story', as I have long suspected? It would be a great pity if quieter, more contemplative, but no less accomplished and thematically important stories were to be squeezed from our culture...