Frightening New Collection Coming
There are going to be a total of twenty books from me coming out as e-editions this year, including nearly all of my short stories, and a brand-new collection of short stories entitled: ‘Frightening’. I hope to be able to price this below the usual level to encourage new readers.
I’d told myself I wasn’t going to write any more short stories; they’re almost impossible to sell these days, you virtually end up giving them away and the market is tiny. And yet how can you stop if you’re still pursuing that ever-shifting phantom, the perfect short story? I’ve certainly never written one – although a few have come quite close to pleasing me. But oddly enough, the collection with which I was most pleased, ‘Red Gloves’, was seen and bought by almost nobody. After it came out two years ago I virtually stopped producing such tales.
It didn’t help that the publisher of ‘Red Gloves’, PS, produces the very finest looking books in the country and has the worst distribution system I’ve ever come across. I felt that perhaps I’d never write another decent short story, or perhaps that I was simply – like so many of the authors I write about in my weekly ‘Invisible Ink’ column – simply out of my time.But there it is still in front of me, the tantalising image of the perfect tale. I know of some other authors who have produced utter masterpieces, so I know it’s possible.
Among the greats I would include ‘The Swimmer’ by John Cheever, stories by Conan Doyle, Raymond Carver, Shirley Jackson, HH Monroe, Jim Shepard and William Faulkner. If I was famous enough to persuade a publisher to let me gather together the very best stories, I’d include William Sansom, who wrote ‘The Long Sheet’, in which captives are required to wring out a great wet sheet with their hands, and the process is described in flesh-smarting detail. Nor can the sheet ever be completely dried, because fresh moisture is constantly sprayed on it. The final lines of the story reveal the true nature of torment while pointing the way to another prescient writer, J G Ballard.
I’d also include the unsung genius Dino Buzzati, whose stories have the grim inexorability of an infinite downward spiral, as roads never end, houses gradually collapse, rivers flood, good people starve, revolutions occur and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that anyone can do about it.
It will come as no surprise that these two authors are out of print while MR James is constantly republished. I find James’s tales filled with comforting nostalgia, not disturbing at all, and the same goes for HP Lovecraft, whose tales of nameless horror I have never truly enjoyed. I prefer Elizabeth Jane Howard, whose final haunting image in the story ‘Three Miles Up’ stayed with me for years, and shows her terrific storytelling strength, or John Collier, whose bizarre tale ‘Evening Primrose’, with its central image of shadowy figures moving around in department stores at night, also haunted my dreams (Weirdly, this has been released on DVD as a TV musical with songs by Stephen Sondheim (!) although I think it’s very rare now).
Because perhaps great short stories are like music. They soar and lift the emotions, but also plunge them to the depths. They are a condensed drug, and one I hope from which I never recover.
The picture above is, of course, from the astonishing Gregory Crewdson, whose photography books are the most unsettling I’ve ever seen.