Table of Contents

Books

Short stories are easy to write. Good short stories are tricky. Great ones are all but impossible. They become poems where every word has to carry its weight, and I have yet to write one which satisfies me entirely. When it comes to read, you occasionally find a perfect tale. I own hundreds of short story collections, of which about half of which currently remain unread. One of the problems is keeping track of the ones you have read. I frequently find myself reading the same ones again by mistake.

Another problem arises from wanting to collect a definitive set of tales from one author. It’s easy to find the complete works of Kipling and even Dickens, both of whom were incredibly productive, but try tracking down all the stories of Charles Beaumont, John Collier or Daphne du Maurier without overlap – it’s impossible.

Hence my cunning plan to place all of my stories in one or two large hardback volumes. If I can find no publisher to take them I’ll crowdfund them myself. The last volume I wrote was called ‘Frightening’, and collected all of the remaining tales I’d penned that had no home in e-format. The running order, for completists, is;

Spine

The Baby

OFF

Pacified

The Ash Boy

Oblivion By Calvin Klein

Anything Can Happen

The Girl Who Loved French Films

The Corruption of Simon Montfleury

The Well of Seven

Uncle Alan

The Caterpillar Flag

The Scent of Roses

The Lift: A Play for Hallowe’en

The stories here range from science fiction (‘Spine’ and ‘OFF’) to apocalyptic horror (‘The Well of Seven’) to historical (‘The Scent of Roses’) and even fairytales ‘ – ‘The Ash Boy’ is my twisted take on ‘Cinderella’.

Since deciding I would write no more short stories I’ve already written two, both for friends who are editors. Sally, my delightful amanuensis, is transcribing the volumes one by one so that I can create a single manuscript and then place all the tales in an appealing running order. So here’s my question; how do you like your complete story collections to be arranged? By theme, year, alphabet, subject? Do they have to be chronological, or should they be arranged in sections?

8 comments on “Table of Contents”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    The more organised the less appealing. It’s like the library having adventure, mystery, science fiction, etc. sections so you don’t read out of your comfort zone. Of course the best books are in General Fiction, the only organisation being alphabetical by author. How would you categorise Dickens, or Delderfield? They are in general fiction.
    Oops, I’ve fallen into one of the intense discussions I have with our librarians, but you get what I mean.
    I have End of the Line and have read most of them, very good, although I haven’t read yours yet because I was saving it for last – especially as it’s at the end of the book. I think having a theme limits the market, although some people may buy books that would otherwise not.
    Having sections smacks of a school reading text: Tales of Adventure, A Taste of History, This Modern Life, and so on. I don’t think that would be desirable. A short Introduction could give a rough overview of what was in the stories for those who don’t know your work. (What! There are people unaware of Timothy Wowler?)
    There is an argument for chronological order but publishing date is no guarantee of writing date so it wouldn’t provide a development of style – and would you want people to start off with perhaps the weakest of your work? If the idea in one story leads logically to something in the next that would make for interesting reading.

  2. Colin says:

    I prefer by theme, it’s nuce to match a story to a mood.

  3. Brooke says:

    What Helen said.
    I really enjoyed the introduction to London’s Glory, “Still Getting Away with Murder.” Personal example of a close encounter of the worst kind, followed by a reflection on “reality” versus crime fiction. I moved into the stories in a reflective mood. The introduction is the most you should do in terms of organizing the work for the READER. I think you will probably shift and shuffle behind the scene as you reflect on your writing intention.

    Perhaps the title(s) will convey the perspective that you want the reader to consider when reading… like Balzac’s short story The Unknown Masterpiece.. ambiguous and leading the reading into multi-dimensions.

  4. Jo W says:

    Theme? Time? Alphabetical? I don’t have a preference unless the choice is e-book or real book. Paper every time.
    Perhaps you could try a random arrangement then it would be like dipping into a tin of mixed biscuits.

  5. Ben Morris says:

    I’d prefer them to be organised by theme, although if they are short storeys then I’m not so sure it’ll matter as the time I’d be committing to them will be less than a full length novel.

  6. Ian Luck says:

    Has anyone here read John Connolly’s short story collection, ‘Nocturnes’? All flavours of scary stuff. I heard these at first on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Late Book’ where they were read, quite brilliantly by the late Tony Doyle. They stuck in my mind as no other short stories ever had. I was a fan of Connolly’s ‘Charlie Parker’ thrillers, where there are some supernatural elements, but in ‘Nocturnes’, Connolly is seemingly channelling M.R.James, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Aickman, and Basil Copper. The result is wonderful, and truly flesh-creeping, particularly the title story. I’d love to see some of them brought to horrid life as animations.

  7. Patrick Kilgallon says:

    Some years ago Pete Townshend released a series of records/cd’s under the title scoop. These contained demos and some largely finished pieces that could be looked on as a set of short stories. They were arranged randomly so had something from 1965 alongside something from 1999 and so on. This random arrangement made it a joy to listen to as there was no running theme and so I think a random arrangement works best where there is no theme.

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    I like them in chronological order so I can see the change in style and themes (plus I like things to be listed with the date by them, there is a nice Ramsey Campbell collection that does this.) , but to be honest I don’t mind as long as they good stories.

    I have a Conan Doyle collection split into genres and to be honest some of the historical stuff does not appeal, subjects and themes I would avoid.

    If it is a big collection, alphabetical is good, or at least an index in date & alphabetical order is good for research and finding that favourite story easily.

    Wayne.

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