Tell Us a (Short) Story; It May Not Be as Popular as the Novel, but the Short Story Is an Integral Part of Literature. as It's Celebrated during a Weekend of Events, We Ask Six of the Writers Involved Why It's So Important

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 24, 2013 | Go to article overview

Tell Us a (Short) Story; It May Not Be as Popular as the Novel, but the Short Story Is an Integral Part of Literature. as It's Celebrated during a Weekend of Events, We Ask Six of the Writers Involved Why It's So Important


Byline: Rhys Davies

In the fast-moving world we live in, it might be said that the short story is suited to our hectic lifestyles.

Next month a weekend will be dedicated to exploring the often misunderstood genre.

The Rhys Davies Short Story Conference, which takes place at Swansea University, is organised by The Rhys Davies Trust in partnership with Literature Wales and Swansea University.

The first event of its kind in the UK, it seeks to bring short story writing to a national audience.

Taking the reputation of one of Wales' most renowned short story writers - Rhys Davies - as a starting point, it provides an opportunity to enjoy the craft of the short story.

There will be a wide-ranging programme of talks, panel sessions, masterclasses and performances all centred on the short story, both modern and traditional.

The three-day event will feature talks and workshops from a line-up of writers, including Edna O'Brien, Will Self, Tessa Hadley, Janice Galloway, Meic Stephens, Dai Smith, Claire Keegan, Cynan Jones, Rachel Trezise, Shena Mackay, Jon Gower and more.

Here some of them share their craft...

Tessa Hadley Human beings think in short story shapes. The short story comes naturally to us. A joke, or a scrap of news, or a bit of gossip - all these are short stories in embryo. So it's surprising that even passionate readers are sometimes wary of the short form. Perhaps reading short stories is more strenuous than reading a long novel - because you have to keep starting over again, plunging with each new beginning into a new place with a new set of rules. But that strenuousness is the joy of the form too. Because stories are short we have to read carefully, taking in every detail because everything counts. Each story is its own miniature adventure, posing its own question. It could be a thought experiment by Kafka: a man wakes up and finds himself transformed into a giant insect. Or it could be a psychological puzzle, like the one in Irish writer John McGahern's Gold Watch, where the watch becomes a sign for the half-hidden rage between a father and a son. There are no rules to dictate how short a story has to be. There are masterpieces by Borges which take up half a page, and then there are masterpieces by Alice Munro - winding around their mysterious core - which feel as capacious as worlds.

Writing a short story can feel wonderfully irresponsible; there's so much less heavy engineering than in writing a novel. What matters is concentration - every element has to matter, and earn its place. A story may focus on something small or on one particular moment - but we have to feel the whole weight of the world behind it. As Nadine Gordimer says, a good story should "burn a hole in the page".

Will Self I began by writing short stories because, frankly, the novel form intimidated me. Also, many of the writers I really admired - Chekov, Kafka, Borges, Saki, Mansfield, Joyce - had produced short form work that I found as exhilarating as any novel. In one way the short story seems to me to be the novel stripped of all excess baggage - useless and unreal narrative, disposable sub-plots, implausible additional characters - and repurposed as a surgical strike on the very gory stuff of life. The best short stories so completely evoke mood, situation, setting and the subtle veillities of the human psyche, that they seem to render long-form fiction otiose. Of course, 25 years and 10 novels further down the line I feel slightly different about this; now I think the two forms are simply different - novels aim to be complete worlds - attempted homomorphs either of this world (whatever that may be), or some other. Short stories, by contrast, are when well done, synechdochal in form, offering a part of the world in lieu of the whole, and the whole of themselves in place of a part of the world. I still love to write short stories - I have a strange sort of Post-It note billboard in my office that has ideas for perhaps 200 or 300 short stories on it. …

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