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Still working on saving our short story

10 October 2005

Perhaps surprisingly, it looks as if the Save Our Short Story campaign may actually have had some effect. The length of the short story may have become a virtue, when everyone has become so pushed for time. In the UK a new site, Story, has been set up by Booktrust, with Arts Council funding, to support the form: 'We believe that the short story is one of the most exciting and important literary forms, that can and should reach the widest possible readership.'

Jackie Kay's eloquent article on the site in support of the short story ends:

'A story should stay with you long after you have put it down. A good story should change the way you see things, the way you think. It should help you know yourself better... It is an exciting time for the short story. It is the perfect form for our times.'

On 25 September the inaugural Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, the world's richest short story prize at €50,000, sponsored by O'Flynn Construction, was presented to Yiyun Li for her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.

Later this month Legend Press will publish The Remarkable Everyday, a volume of stories each based around a single day in a character's life. There are many authors focusing on writing short stories, such as Leigh Rowley who publishes them on her website.

But does anyone want to read them, or are short stories something writers want to write but no-one wants to read? There are very few outlets for individual short stories, now that women's magazines have reined right back and there are fewer more literary magazines to send them to. It rather remains to be seen whether this rekindling of interest will lead to improved sales of short story collections - the evidence of the past is, sadly, against it. Alison Samuels, publishing director of Chatto and Windus says:

'Publishers are often blamed for telling authors to concentrate on novels because short story collections don't sell, but that is the truth - they simply don't. You can market novels and stories by the same writer in exactly the same way and the stories still won't sell. It's a question of changing people's perceptions. This prize is the best thing that could have happened to writers of short stories because it's got everybody talking.'

So can all this interest change people's perceptions, create a new audience and make readers reach for short stories? Right now, the jury's out.