The Really, Really Big Book Of Short Stories
When I decided to stop writing short fiction, it was for a number of reasons. I was overloaded with contracted novels. Short genre fiction was fun to do but financially worthless and too many anthologies were edited without any sort of critical judgement. A good editor can lift an anthology head and shoulders above the rest and create literature. They can thread tales together as if they were a novel. A bad editor goes through their virtual rolodex, calls up old friends and takes pretty much whatever they send in. Over the years I have collected perhaps six perfect anthologies in my collection, my favourite being Alberto Manguel’s ‘Black Water’.
I’d started many years earlier by writing the kind of traditional horror stories I’d read as a child, then moved into a kind of liminal fiction space where my stories became bleakly comic and surreal. The literary horror field died – I’m sure some will argue otherwise and I’ll happily be pointed to effective modern stories that aren’t pastiches – but I carried on writing stories for a while, although they took up too much time and invariably went out to small or independent presses.
The final story I wrote was called ‘The Washing’) and written for the excellent Maxim Jacubowski. It meant that I now had a canonical collection of 156 short stories totalling 1,800 pages. A vast, unpublishable tome, yet I perversely still want to produce it as a hardback artefact, a collectable object for the discerning reader who would like to own such an object. Tracking all the stories down and then laboriously clearing the rights took me over five years.
One problem was that audio and e-rights would be off the table for this huge collection – it would exist only as a treasury printed on paper, hopefully with a stunning design. Unliftable and unreadable, unless you were in a comfortable chair at home. Who in their right mind would want to publish such a thing?
Nobody, it turns out, so if I do go ahead I’ll probably team up with a designer and use a good self-publishing platform. There’s probably no market for it at all, other than the author’s vain desire to see such an object exist. But having been placed at the mercy of some incomprehensibly awful editors (two at Hachette and one at Anderson Press) I know what I want from this.
Meanwhile, as everyone on the planet is stuck at home with the exception of those in Mykonos, Santorini (enjoy your kebabs, folks) and er, Africa (no census takers) I shall be operating a public service and posting several stories from this jumbo jet of a book over the next few days.