For the past few months Get Into Reading groups have been involved in the judging panel for this year’s Edge Hill Short Story Competition. There were five authors up for nomination this year, and GIR groups read one story from each of these author’s short story collections. Everyone involved enjoyed taking part; at the time we had no idea who the authors were so it was all very exciting.
The competition raised important questions amongst GIR members about what a short story should be like. One member from my Wednesday morning group offered the following suggestion about what makes a good short story:
A good short story is one that confronts awkward feelings and thoughts and situations that we all experience as human beings. A good short story makes us recognise the fact that these feelings and thoughts are difficult, and does something with them to make us think and reflect. It is not about being clever or wordy or filling it out with lots of stuff. A good short story needs to have some substance in it …
On Thursday 3 July GIR group members who had been involved in the competition were cordially invited to attend the award ceremony. Two of my group members came along, as well as several others from different groups, and we all had a really good time. With wine on tap and an exciting array of canapés continually being offered to us (and note I’m talking about very posh canapés of salmon and caviar and goats cheese and aubergine) we really felt part of the occasion and, well, really quite important. Indeed, one of our own group members joined Jane on the platform to announce the winner for the Reader’s Choice Award. Claire Keegan with her short story collection Walk the Blue Fields won the first prize of £5000. During her award speech, Keegan spoke about how the form of the short story had become unpopular as a literary genre because it was often regarded by others as too slow, and yet as Keegan recognised, its very slowness was an integral part of its point. The author interestingly observed:
The short story is there to slow us down. It doesn’t follow a clear progressive narrative in the conventional way. If you’re not reading the short story at the pace of the narrative voice within it, you’re not reading the story.
A very interesting idea I thought, and one that is no doubt integral to the rationale behind GIR itself. Indeed, one of our group members, Louise, spoke in turn about how the short story competition offered the opportunity for a break in the normal ongoing routine of life. Simon Robson won the second prize of £1000 for his collection The Separate Heart. The Reader’s Choice, nominated by GIR, was Christopher Fowler’s ‘Cupped Hands’, taken from his collection Old Devil Moon.
To top the evening off, after several glasses of wine, one of our GIR members thought it would be a good idea to ask one of the authors to join our table. The author in question was Simon Robson, who wrote the short story ‘Fat Girl’, which tells of a young boy’s redemption through the accident of fate. The story’s ambivalent ending (which I won’t give away for those of you who haven’t read it) had always perplexed some group members, hence why Len decided to bring the author over for a personal question and answer session. After the initial shock of nerves and trepidation, and increased confidence with a little help from the red and the white stuff, we suddenly found ourselves involved in a serious literary discussion with this talented author.
Posted by Clare Williams