Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Where can you publish your stories?

Tania Hershman has just posted on her blog a comprehensive list of UK online and print journals which publish short fiction. Tania's list also includes information about whether these venues pay writers.

Gold stars galore to Tania for her hard work in compiling this list, and for her wonderful generosity in making it available to others. This is a fantastic resource for all writers and readers of short fiction. You can read the list here.

And if you haven't already discovered it, Tania also publishes The Short Review, the only website I know dedicated exclusively to reviewing collections of short fiction. Check it out here. I've contributed a few reviews to the site - this month I've reviewed Alice Munro's debut collection from 1968, Dance of the Happy Shades. You'll find it here.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Right Hand Pointing

The lovely people over at Right Hand Pointing have published my little flash, Slip out of the warm sheets and gone, in their latest issue.

You can read it here:

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Under the Boardwalk - Jayne Anne Phillips

Number 1 on my list of favourite short stories is also, by some distance, the shortest. Less than a page of text, barely 300 words - these days we’d call it flash fiction. I don’t think that term was widely used when the story was published back in 1979, as part of Phillips’s debut collection, Black Tickets.

Reading Phillips’s work for the first time made me see what short fiction was capable of. How a whole world and way of life could be sketched in a couple of lines. How you could tell stories without having to spell out every little detail. Most of all, how in one page a gifted writer can suggest poetic connections and emotional depths that most novelists don’t get near in 400 pages. She was 26 when the book was published. Damn her eyes!

It took me a few minutes to read Under the Boardwalk for the first time, but its still haunts me, years later, and every time I re-read it I see something new. There’s pitch-perfect, precise description:

‘The Castos all look alike. Skinny, freckled, straw-haired. Joyce’s is the colour of broom sage, dried out by some heat in her head.’

It’s those last eight words that are the killer, moving us from mundane if observant description to the suggestion of something wild, uncontrolled and destructive. Because Phillips plants that little seed here, right at the start of the piece, the later events of the story – incest, teenage pregnancy, possible infanticide – don’t strike us as totally implausible.

There’s a poetic patterning to the language that belies the surface realism. Joyce’s father is a ‘fire-and-brimstone preacher’, and her brother, who works in a steel mill, ‘holds a thing that burns orange fire’. These two details link back to the ‘heat’ that dries out Joyce’s hair, and to this sentence: ‘Music is the work of a devil that licks at her legs.’ Through the story, there’s a real sense of danger and terror, connected with the father’s fire and brimstone religion as well as Joyce’s harrowing experiences.

And just when we think we’re done, Phillips turns the knife in the wound with a final detail involving dogs. This is not a cheap twist in the tail, just an example of how a great short story writer gets the reader in her grip early and never lets go – however short the piece.

There – I’ve written more words than are in Under the Boardwalk itself, and only begun to scratch the surface of what I’ve got out of the story.

And I haven’t even mentioned what the Drifters have got to do with it.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

New year, new blog, new list

Brand new year, so it must be a good time for a list. Here's a random list of some of my favourite pieces of short fiction. No particular order.

Under the Boardwalk - Jayne Anne Phillips
The Tumblers - Nathan Englander
Radio Baby - Deborah Kay Davies
Boys and Girls - Alice Munro
The White Road - Tania Hershman
I can squash the king, Tommo - Vanessa Gebbie
Sheer big waste of love - Kate Atkinson
Mr. Roopratna's Chocolate - Lewis Davies
Brokeback Mountain - Annie Proulx
Junior - Anna Gavalda

There, that'll do for now. I'll try to explain why I like some of them, soon.