Short stories are messy little things, hard to categorise and awkward to collect. As an inveterate short story collector, I know that while it’s nice to own paperbacks with lurid covers and wonderful story collections inside, I’ll also read them in any form I can find, including e-tales.
But although JG Ballardâ€™s short stories are crucial to understanding his thinking, only half of his output is currently available online. Ray Bradbury had a habit of excerpting chapters of his novels as short stories, and trying to read all the bits drives me mad. Shirley Jacksonâ€™s tales are still turning up nearly fifty years after her death.
This randomness afflicts a great many authors. The argument is that short stories do not achieve the same level of novel sales, so writers tend to be profligate with them. They take commissions for 10,000 word tales and if the anthologies in which they are printed fail, the stories vanish from sight. Theyâ€™re hard to keep track of; the total number of stories in my ten collections is fewer by twenty stories than the ones Iâ€™ve sold, so where are the others?
I keep files, but inevitably some stories go missing. I have a feeling even my most avid collectors (step forward, Mr Groves) are missing tales like ‘The Girl Who Loved French Films’ and ‘The Well Of Seven’, because I’m having trouble finding them too!
Some of the cheesiest old paperbacks hide the juiciest finds. Christopher Lee put his name to a ton of paperbacks in the 1970s, and there’s no sense in the grouping of stories beyond the general ‘Out Of Copyright’ rule the editor must have slapped on him.
Which is why it’s interesting that paperback book fairs have taken off again. Two years ago I went along to one in Victoria and found myself the only person there. This year I had to queue to get into the same event. What had happened in the meantime was collectability. Now that there are virtually no mass market paperbacks produced, there’s a finite market for such lovely tactile items.
Perhaps the hidden tales will come out into the light. But that’s the joy of collecting anything – suspecting that there’s still something out there.