Everyone says you get shorter as you get older and I've discovered it to be true. I turned 40 and suddenly I'm writing short stories that really are short stories. For ages I just couldn't master this form and, although I could write flash fictions, every time the word count got above 400 or so everything started seeming like the beginning of something bigger.
But now I've completed a short story, Probation, for my OU Creative Writing module and got my highest marks ever. The feedback I got from the tutor was excellent and she said it just needed a bit of work and it would then be of a publishable standard. So I polished it, and then I polished it again, and then I submitted it to the Yeovil Literary Prize. I doubt it will get anywhere but the sense of achievement in doing it is more than enough for me.
I've been so inspired by my new found ability to write short stories that I'm working on another to submit for the Stories for Homes anthology that Sally Swingewood is putting together to raise money for the homeless charity, Shelter. I have 10 days left to polish it and I reckon it's going to end up at around 2000 words (the word limit is 3000 so I really am doing well!). And I know what I want to fit in the 1200 or so I have left to fill, and I think I know how to use them sparingly to just say what I need to say and not leave the reader with lots of unanswered questions that need a novel to answer them. I think I know this. The proof will be in the end result, so we'll see.
So how come I can suddenly do it? Well, it's not so sudden really. Although I have always read them it used to be fairly infrequently but I have spent the past 9 months or so reading lots and lots of short stories by very different writers. The ones that really stood out for me were Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver, William Trevor and Anita Desai. I'm currently reading Stuart Nadler's The Book of Life, it's great, and I have Alison Moore's The Pre-War House next on the TBR pile. And I also read the brilliant book from Vanessa Gebbie - Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story.
But I think what helped me the most in my quest to master this form was the advice I received from author and creative writing teacher, Shaun Levin, to just 'stick with a moment in time' and the critiquing at every stage of Probation's creation from my writing partner, Jen Squire. A huge thank you to them both for helping me do this. And then there's the Retreat West short story competition that I launched at the beginning of the year. Reading all the entries and choosing the shortlists has made me think much harder and deeper about what makes a short story work, and what doesn't. So my thanks also go to everyone that has entered so far - you've all helped to make me a better short story writer.
What short story writers do you enjoy and recommend I read next?