Lucifer’s Writers

Reading & Writing

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What do the following names have in common? Winston Churchill, Raymond Chandler, John Lennon, Muriel Spark, JB Priestley, Bram Stoker, F Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Daphne Du Maurier, Noel Coward, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Answer: They all wrote short stories. Some were macabre and fantastical, some involved detectives or ghosts, some were pulpy and sensational, written mainly for personal pleasure, but all were published. There was once no snobbery in enjoying popular fictions. It was said that you would have to go far to find a bishop who did not keep the latest Agatha Christie on his bedside table. WH Auden loved Chandler, and Dylan Thomas read science fiction adventures.

Winston Churchill’s ‘Man Overboard’ is a disturbing little number that leads off a marvellous collection entitled ‘The Lucifer Society’. Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Bottle Imp’ is an ingenious reboot of the traditional genii story. HG Wells’ moving ‘The Door In The Wall’ is one of the most perfect short stories ever written, capturing the rush and regret of a lifetime’s experience.

For many, short stories were the opener of the way to a literary career. The challenge is the chance to construct a flawless jewel of concision and power. With abbreviated length comes a condensation of language that can be polished until it sparkles. A plot can be controlled without the need for digression, a character can be rendered indelible with a phrase, a twist to the tale can add extra depth or turn the whole account inside-out so that it must be reread to be fully appreciated.

Perversely, my most successful collection of short stories is ‘Bryant & May: London’s Glory’ due to the loyalty of regular readers, but it’s something like my thirteenth collection. There will be a new collection of creepy tales called ‘Frightening’, the difference being that…it’s going to be an e-book, because the bottom has dropped out of short story market.

So this is an open request – anyone know of a great collection or recent anthology I should read?

9 comments on “Lucifer’s Writers”

  1. Adam says:

    Not a new one, and you’ve probably read the stories already, but I’ve just bought ‘the mammoth book of locked room mysteries’ for a fiver on kindle. Lots of classic authors, and short stories are perfect for dipping into when you don’t have much time and want a good resolution. I’ve definitely picked up a few authors who I’ll search out, based on these stories. Does anyone have any theories why short stories don’t sell, as they are perfect bite-sized experiences in my opinion.

  2. The. Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, edited and introduced by Hugh Greene, Bodley Head 1970, is a cracker.

  3. Brian Evans says:

    P.G. Wodehouse wrote loads, but I’m sure admin has read them. They are always up for re-reading though.

    Who remembers the British monthly publication called “Argosy”? It was dedicated to short stories, and was a good stepping-stone for would-be writers. I think it stopped being published in about the mid-1970s

  4. Vincent C says:

    W. Somerset Maugham, whose Collected Short Stories, originally published in four volumes by Penguin in or about 1970 and still available, Brian Aldiss, whose Complete Short Stories, a multi volume venture still in progress, Lord Dunsany, whose Two Bottles of Relish, The Little Tales of Smethers and Other Stories, has recently been published, W. W. Jacob’s, whose Monkey’s Paw is a great favourite of mine, Fredric Brown, described in Wikipedia as “known for his use of humor and for his mastery of the “short short” form—stories of 1 to 3 pages, often with ingenious plotting devices and surprise endings” and Roald Dahl, whose two volume Complete Short Stories (not to be confused with his children’s writing) was published a couple of years ago, are all authors whose work has great appeal for me.

  5. Brooke says:

    Good collections of short stories…
    The short story survives in the US in magazines like the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly and several dedicated to the form–all have digital editions..

    Each year there is a collection “The Best American Short Stories for (name of year)” with a compilation edited by an actual writer–not an editor. And the O. Henry compilation for each year, a separate publication, gathers short stories from around the globe and includes horror, fantasy, sci-fi.

    Amazon has been pretty good at publishing short stories– that’s how I stumbled upon “B&M and the Secret Santa” and went in search of London’s Glory. I don’t know whether the economics work for the author, but it’s great for readers.

  6. Stefan M. says:

    If you’re in for something different, I’d recommend “In Sunlight or in Shadow – Stories inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper”, which just came out. In this case, the printed edition is to be preferred (because of the reproductions).

  7. Laura Humphrey says:

    Phantasms by Peter Bell, published by Sarob Press has just come out and it is superb

  8. Stephen says:

    Hi Chris,have you tried the Black books of Horror?

  9. admin says:

    I think I have a couple of the Black books, but I did find many of the stories falling short in terms of quality, and they’re very male-centric.

    I’ll try ‘In Sunlight of in Shadow’ next…

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