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'Short stories meanwhile deserted me'

2 February 2015

'I began my writing career with short stories. I was happy to do so. Then, somewhat to my surprise, I wrote a novel, then another, and another. Short stories meanwhile deserted me - or perhaps I deserted them. I put it in that rather ashamed way because I have no sense of the short story being an inferior form only leading to novels. Both forms seem to me equally rich and viable. Much is made of their differences when actually they have a great deal in common. They are both prose fiction, they are both narrative, they both explore the human condition. A novel is a long story, a short story is a short one. I don't feel a different creature when writing one rather than the other...

It has been a joy to return, at long last, to the short story, the only difference being that with my recent stories I felt very quickly that they'd all contribute to some single whole (perhaps this was now the deserted novelist in me) indeed to a single book that came to have the title England and Other Stories, a title at once comprehensive and fraught with a sense of the elusive. A book that delivers its coherence from embracing an incoherent, shifting idea.

It has been a joy for many reasons, but perhaps chiefly because it has returned me to beginnings, to my beginnings, and to beginnings generally. How do you begin? What makes you begin? These are questions so big for writers that they are felt more like tinglings in the blood. There are 25 beginnings in this book. It has taken me back afresh to that sense of the enticingly ungraspable that perhaps makes all writers begin, that makes them writers in the first place. It is like being once again that travel-weary youth on the night ferry, coming into Dover at dawn and seeing before me that weird, spectral country that was nonetheless mine.'

Graham Swift, author of Last Orders and England and Other Stories in the Independent on Sunday