It’s National Short Story Week! An annual awareness campaign run by Stories Unlimited C.I.C., the week aims to focus the attentions of the public and the media on the short story and short story writers, publishers and events – to get more people reading, listening to and writing short stories.
Although accounts of the origins of the form vary, there is general agreement that its roots go back centuries, with short narratives and tales having existed in one way or another for a long time – the Canterbury Tales, fairy tales and the Bible are all cited as examples of early types of the form. Subplots in plays and novels, pamplets and narrative poems have also been considered to be predecessors to the stand alone short story. The short story as we now know it is generally thought to have come into existence in the 19th century, when mass middle-class literacy arrived in the west. The Guardian’s ‘A Brief Survey of the Short Story’ series provides a useful introduction to a wide range of interesting and influential short story writers.
The form continues to flourish, and it’s been an exciting year for the short story with the publication of a new collection by George Saunders and an all-female shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award 2013 (the prize was won by Sarah Hall for her story ‘Mrs Fox’).
Here at The Reader Organisation, short stories play a important role in our work every day, as we read and share them with our reading groups. Short stories allow readers to experience and enjoy a wide range of subjects, styles and genres of literature, and their self-contained nature works particularly well where group membership can change from week to week.
A few of The Reader Organisation staff members share some of their favourite short stories below:
- Casi Dylan, Literary Learning Manager: ‘My all-time classic starter short story to read with groups is ‘Through the Tunnel’ by Doris Lessing. It just has everything you need for a starter story: childhood experiences, parent/child relationships, a really strong narrative, loads of atmosphere – and it’s a good length!’
- Ellen Perry, Communications and Development Assistant: ‘One of my favourites is ‘Tea with the Birds’, by Joanne Harris. There’s loads to discuss and relate to, including the topics of neighbours, language and sleep. The writing is beautiful and it’s got a fair balance of sad and happier elements. Personally loving it also makes it a pleasure to share with others.’
- Chantel Baldry, Development Co-ordinator: ‘My favourite short story comes from Angela Carter’s fantastic selection of re-written fairy tales The Bloody Chamber. The title piece is a brilliantly empowering, mysterious, blood-curdling version of the Bluebeard story mixed with the infamous antics of the Marquis de Sade.’
Happy National Short Story Week!