The Short Story’s Shelf Life Comes To An End
You Have To Love Something Enough To Kill It
Martin Scorsese said that. It’s how I feel about short fiction, which I love writing. Above are some of the giants who have created complete short story collections. The era of the short story is not quite over – the Sunday Times still offers the biggest short story prize money in the world – but it is coming to an end.
Certainly the time when you could make a living from writing them has gone because fiction magazines have gone, beyond a handful of small specialist independents. When I started writing them in my twenties I was paid Â£50 a story. That’s the same rate as my most recent sale.
It’s not just money, of course, it’s the readership. Writing up cases for Bryant & May is different. From Sherlock Holmes onward, there have always been short crime stories using established characters, but the market for short genre fiction has moved to small press. As a consequence, I think it’s time to publish a definitive set of short fiction.
My first collection was published in 1986 by Sphere. It gathered together all the tales I had written for various magazines, back when you could be regularly paid for writing stories in the press, who were wealthier than publishing houses. Now only a tiny handful of authors are accorded that privilege.
I didn’t know what I was doing, continuing a hobby from childhood perhaps, and was amazed that anyone was interested. This is not false modesty; I wrote to please myself and still do, and unfortunately it shows in places. They say that the British write as if their mothers are looking over their shoulders and the Americans write as if their tutors are looking over theirs. I think it’s true; we are all stifled in different ways and work without guidance.
I carried on through the years and the stories started to pile up. I did not like taking commissions because I had my fingers burned quite often, so I found a handful of trusted editors and wrote for them. There were hardly any female editors, which was a bad thing because some now feel as if they are carrying the burden of redressing the balance; it should always have been equal.
Ten collections and many other stories were fired at publishers – I quickly lost track of what I wrote. So did technology; formats changed and the only copies of certain stories melted into the ether. So about five years ago I set out to find all of the original stories, track down their rights, buy them all back and put them in print. The result is over thirty years’ worth of short stories, to be produced soon and hopefully made available in one astoundingly huge volume.Â We’re talking about 2,000 pages here.
The complete collection has a precedent these days – a number of authors, particularly American ones, have produced single volumes of work, or have split them into two parts.
Working with Sally, my delightful assistant, we’ve created an immense single document of all the stories. The only stories missing are tales that don’t stand up on their own. A few are dated now, but looking at them collectively I can see a lot of recurring themes and ideas. There are experimental, macabre, comic, satirical, bleak and fantastical tales, some award-winners, some stories which were filmed or turned into plays. I just hope there’s a market for such a collection. It’s been over thirty years in the making, and has taken five years to sort out. Now 99% of the hard work is done, and I have a title and running order. I’m toying with the idea of running them chronologically backwards, but maybe I should stick with linearity.
Coming sooner than you think – watch this space!