*picture credit: Peggy Riley
It’s always a time of excitement for the short fiction lover when a dedicated event is scheduled in Charlotte Square, and there was much to get enthusiastic about when two principal writers of the short form took to the stage in the Writer’s Retreat on Monday afternoon, in an event subtitled ‘stories in the key of life’.
Standing as one of the most driven purists of the short form in the UK right now, Adam Marek was at the festival to present his latest short fiction collection, The Stone Thrower (Comma Press). It’s a collection that was recently longlisted for this year’s Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and it was also shortlisted for the 2013 Edge Hill Short Story Prize. It’s a collection that’s been described by fellow short story writer Carys Bray as being measured and haunting; a collection that resonates throughout with the subtle echo of a single unifying theme (the theme being based on the fragility of children and of parenthood).
Adam was joined in the event by esteemed writer Rodge Glass, senior lecturer at Edge Hill University and Associate Editor of Cargo Publishing. Rodge is perhaps better known for novels such as No Fireworks and Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs, and the award winning biography on Scottish writer and artist Alisdair Gray, called Alisdair Gray: A Secretary’s Biography. But of late his short fiction has been appearing everywhere, with Freight Books also recently publishing his collection LoveSexTravelMusik: Stories for the EasyJet generation. Based around the theme of low cost international travel and its consequences, Rodge’s collection was also longlisted for this year’s Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.
So with much onus on the short form, it was wholly appropriate perhaps that half of the event was dedicated to readings from these specialists, and what fine readings they gave.
Before taking to the podium to share the story chosen from his collection (Tamagotchi), Adam elaborated on the theme of The Stone Thrower, and the fact that all thirteen stories had come about entirely because of his experiences in parenting. “Terror, anxiety and paranoia are really rich sources to go to when you want to write fiction,” Adam said, leaving the audience in no doubt as to what extent (as with any parent) he had suffered at the hands of such emotions.
Before reading from his collection (the story, We’re All Gonna Have the Blues), Rodge said a little something about the emotional core of a story, and how important it is, according to his publisher, for an author to put some truth of himself into his story. “It doesn’t matter how much a story is dressed up,” Rodge said, “or who the characters are, or where the story is set etc. just as long as there is something in there that’s true to the author. If there is then there is a good chance that that truth will get through to the reader.”
And Rodge’s story certainly did get through to the audience, as did Adam’s. Both readings seemed to illustrate perfectly the power of the short fiction form, and how emotionally affecting and powerful a well written short story can be.
Following readings it was perfectly correct to ask of these short fiction gurus what it was about the short story that they found attractive.
Adam replied, saying that he really loves short stories, both the reading and the writing of them. “It’s a hugely plastic form,” he said, “and it’s one that lends itself very well to experimentation; to doing unusual things.”
Adam continued. “Short stories offer me huge freedom to play, while at the same time giving me total control. Unlike a novel, you can hold an entire short story in your hand; see the story as a whole, know every word intimately. With my limited experience in novel writing I’ve found that writing a short story is like wringing water out of a flannel, whereas writing a novel feels like wringing water out of a duvet.”
Responding to the same question, Rodge agreed that short stories were a pleasure to write. He was quick to point out however that he was coming to short fiction from a different direction, having focussed primarily on novel writing throughout his career. He said that he views short stories as something more as a means to an end, because he can more readily play with short stories and experiment with them, which made them the ideal form for getting him to where he wants to get to in his novel writing.
That said, Rodge’s feelings towards short stories changed somewhat when he started to get more commissions to write them. He hit upon the notion that if he retained ownership of the stories he wrote then he could stockpile them in the hope that one day he would have enough for a collection, at which point he could hopefully encourage a publisher to take on that collection without the need for much outlay. That day finally came it would seem, with the publication of LoveSexTravelMusik.
Inevitably, as is always the case in short form events, the question of the lack of popularity in short fiction was raised, and both authors offered their opinions on why short fiction doesn’t sell in the UK. Rodge put forward the interesting theory that the market itself is to blame. “The problem is we’re trying to sell short stories within a market that’s set up for selling novels,” he said, “and while the explosion of the Internet and ereaders may bring about increased interest in short stories, the market has to find a way that suits short stories, which can then be sold in this context.”
Adam on the other hand denied that there was a lack of popularity in the short story in the UK. Claiming that it was unfair to compare the mass market appeal of novels to that of the short story, Adam suggested that short stories are in fact very popular in the UK. “From my experience of going around festivals I’ve met a lot of hugely passionate people who enjoy reading short stories,” he said. “And they not only enjoy reading short stories but they also enjoy writing them as well. So the popularity is there, it’s just on a smaller yet no less passionate scale.”
And it was clear from the audience reaction throughout this event, that there was certainly plenty of those highly passionate short story lovers that Adam talks about, filling the seats.