The Short Story so far, by Carys Bray

Posted: March 16, 2012 in Friday Guest
Tags: , , ,
Creative Writing, Short Stories
and the Edge Hill Prize

I have read thirty short story collections so far this year. I’m squeezing stories into every spare moment, whizzing in and out of meticulously constructed worlds, streaming through pages of detailed observations and revelling in gorgeous metaphors. I love short stories and I usually like to savour them, however January to March 1st is the Edge Hill Prize submission period and during that time I read and review every collection that is entered.

The Edge Hill Short Story Prize was founded by writer and critic Dr. Ailsa Cox. It is the only literary prize to recognise a short story collection by a UK or Irish writer. Previous winners include Colm Toibin, Claire Keegan and Jeremy Dyson and a roll call of shortlisted authors would read like a Who’s Who of contemporary short fiction.

The 2012 entries are many and varied. I can’t name any of the books because the longlist won’t be announced until later this month, but reading them has been a fascinating task. Alongside what would traditionally be classed as ‘literary fiction’ I have read science fiction, crime stories, ghost stories, horror and humour, sometimes within the same collection. I have read stories that have given me the shivers, stories that have made me laugh and there have been a number of flawless specimens that I will never forget.

One of the beauties of the short story is its versatility, the way it can be moulded and stretched into something seminal and perfect. Writers frequently try to describe the form: Anne Enright writes that short stories are, ‘the cats of literary form; beautiful, but a little too self-contained.’ Helen Simpson has likened short stories to ‘speed boats or soft-top sports cars.’ David Sedaris maintains that a good short story takes him out of himself, only to ‘stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.’ While Haruki Murakami writes that short stories are ‘like guideposts to my heart.’

When I’m not reading short fiction, I write it. I think that the best preparation for writing is reading. My work on the Edge Hill Prize allows me to constantly reassess my own approach to short stories, to consider possibilities and redefine my literary parameters. I first worked on the prize as an intern during 2010, following the completion of my Creative Writing MA. I was considering a short story based PhD and the internship provided me with an opportunity to familiarise myself with some of the best contemporary short fiction. After I started my PhD (which has since turned into a novel) I got a part time job teaching on the first-year Fiction Module at Edge Hill. I often discuss excellent prize entries in fiction seminars, which means that my involvement with the prize also benefits my students.

In the world of publishing, short stories are a frequently neglected form. In this article, Saving Short Stories, writer and editor, Claire Massey makes an impassioned defence of the short form. 2012 has been dubbed Year of the Short Story, however reviewers at The Short Review have joked that perhaps 2012 would more appropriately be named The Year Mainstream Publishers re-Discovered What We All Knew About The Short Story Already.

Those of us working on the Edge Hill Prize believe that every year is a Year of the Short Story. Founder Ailsa Cox says, ‘In the past the short story has been considered the poor relation to the novel… The prize shows that it is possible to make a literary career out of writing short stories. The short story is dynamic and infinitely varied, and our award highlights the huge diversity of talent working in that form.’

If, like me, you love short fiction, have a look at the Edge Hill Prize longlist when it is released. Read the reviews and find a collection which appeals to you, then savour the charm and magic of the short story.

***

Carys Bray is an associate tutor at Edge Hill University. She is a co-editor at Paraxis and her short story collection Sweet Home has been shortlisted for the Scott Prize. She blogs about short stories and other things here. Watch out for the Edge Hill Prize longlist announcement later this month.

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