So, the headline news at the Costa Book Awards ceremony in London last night may have been the (deserved) victory of Andrew Miller who took the title of Costa Book of the Year with his novel Pure (Sceptre), but the bigger news for me – and every short story fan across the UK and beyond – was the announcement that Costa is expanding their Book Awards in 2012, to include a new short story category.
A cause for celebration? Absolutely! As many of us know, the short story form remains woefully ignored in the UK – at least when it comes to the mainstream literary prizes (awards in the UK such as the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the BBC National Short Story Award, the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award and the Bristol Short Story Prize certainly keep a bright torch burning) – so putting it in a spotlight as bright and as public as the Costa Book Awards can only give the short story a much needed boost and elevation (some quite shockingly still see the short story as a lesser literary form), will which surely (hopefully) encourage more readers to embrace the glory of short fiction. I think I can see exciting times ahead.
I should be quick to add however, that it’s not all ‘shout it from the rooftop’ news for short fiction fans. Costa may well be putting a short story category in their Book Awards this year, but it will not be allowed to compete with the other five categories (First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book), for the overall Book of the Year prize. This is disappointing to hear, but then again how could it compete against the others because this new short story category will only consider single short stories, rather than story collections or anthologies.
Some would say that this a bad decision for Costa to make. I was speaking to a respected publicist earlier today who said that publishers would probably prefer it if the category were open to collections. I agree, to a point (especially if it meant that short stories could compete for the overall prize), but let’s not forget that a short story is a single entity; an encapsulated whole, and it should perhaps be judged as such (they’re certainly judged that way for the most part on RobAroundBooks).
Let’s also not forget how short story consumption is currently evolving. As time progresses and our move towards e-readers becomes more widespread, so the way in which we read short stories seems to be changing also. And just like the ‘iTunes Revolution’ where we began to favour individual music tracks over albums, we seem to be heading in a similar direction with short stories, where we have more of a desire to consume individual offerings rather than entire collections. If this turns out to be the case then Costa have made absolutely the right decision.
Regardless, I simply applaud Costa for taking such a definitive and just step in the right direction with regards to short fiction, and for doing so in 2012 – the year designated as ‘Year of the Short Story’. And it may only be January but there already seems to be a buzz like I’ve never seen before around the reading world with regards to short stories. What with Bloomsbury embracing the form, and new short story collections on the way from ‘masters’ such as Etgar Keret (Suddenly, A Knock on the Door (Vintage); published 23rd February) and Kevin Barry (Dark Lies the Island (Jonathan Cape); published 5th April), some are even going as far as to suggest that we may be on the verge of a short story renaissance. I certainly hope that we are, to the point where I’m wishing with all of my heart and soul. Imagine bearing witness to a renaissance, and a short fiction one at that? I can’t think of anything that would thrill me more.
Over to you: As you can tell, this is a subject that’s very close to my heart and I’d love to hear your own thoughts on it. Do you think Costa are wasting their time in introducing a short story category into their Book Awards? Do you think it will it encourage more readers to pick up short stories? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whatever they are.