The ideas for short stories often arrive in a light-hearted manner. This morning I was at a property auction with my daughter, they are marvellous free entertainment. A man wearing the summer uniform of gentlemen and clerics (beige linen), was standing to one side observing the proceedings and that was the trigger. I now have an idea for a story will stay at the back of my mind for weeks, nothing will be committed to paper until I need a break from other work, only then will I write the opening sentence and ruminate on the theme. Gradually this builds into something more substantial.
I admire the good short story writers, I have my favourites: Elizabeth Taylor, Carys Davies, John Updike, Elspeth Barker and Alice Munro. Good short stories are very cleverly conceived and executed. They are stealthy, unpredictable and bold.
My very short fiction, generally under a page, is often inspired by objects and these find there way onto my website (this months offering being The Mincer.) My artist’s eye enjoys close observation, particularly of utilitarian household objects.
Apart from competitions where can writers find a home for their stories now magazines so rarely take them? I would like to say BBC Radio 4, but a recent announcement by the controller, Gwyneth Williams, that from next spring short stories broadcast will be reduced from three a week to just one; two years ago they commissioned 260 a year. Given that a new writer receives £177 rising to £306 for an established author from the BBC, this can hardly be justified on grounds of cost and production values must be quite low. A campaign has been launched and details of the campaign and a petition, which I urge you to sign, can be found at www.ipetitions.com/petition/noshortstorycuts.
My own personal campaign is to persuade bookshops to devote a small amount of shelf space to the category clearly marked Short Stories, rather than sticking them in that dark, dusty, inaccessible area at ground level just after the letter Z.
And as an afterthought to last month’s blog on the industry, just why do publishers cave in to supermarkets and give massive discounts? Books aren’t milk, where one cow’s product is much the same as another, books are unique.
Next month: paying for promotion. The bungs publishers pay for that coveted place on the two for one table.