The Value of the Short Story

This summer, I was honoured to have been asked by the intelligent and talented people at University College London to write an introduction to the short story anthology of student writing which made up the UCL Publishers’ Prize. It was recently released and I got my copies in the mail about a week ago. It’s a wonderful collection of short stories and while you won’t find it on Amazon, it is representative of some of the best short form writing the university has to offer. What follows is my introduction to the book…

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Reading fiction is my escape. My stolen moments where I escape into the mind of people I would never normally have the chance to meet, to find myself situations both real and fantastic, to experience profound emotions that rarely present themselves in regular everyday life. I often find it difficult to put a book down and turn out the light. I just want to keep reading.

Before my days as a publisher, I never put much thought into how those stories came about, the process, the pain, the joy, the pride and the self-loathing that goes into writing. After having worked with dozens of writers, I now have a small glimpse into what it takes to create those places, people and events that take the rest of us away to places uncharted. So, let me first speak for all readers and say to all writers out there: Thank you. Thank you for creating what we cannot, for following your dreams and your heart on the road that you must take to write.

If an author is one of the lucky ones that makes enough to support themselves on their writing, that is indeed a wonderful thing. But if you are like the vast majority of writers, you are working one or more jobs in addition to your writing, much akin to supporting an addictive habit. Regardless of what one is paid, there is an inherent true value in writing. I am a huge fan of Steven Pressfield and his book, The War of Art. I often quote and credit him for his advice – which is that a writer does the world a disservice if they do not write. If they ignore the muse and push that urge aside – we all lose that creative energy. So please – keep writing.

While storytelling is as old as humankind, there has been a shift in the world of reading. While we still read novels, we are reading more and more in short spurts – getting our fix in non-traditional forms; stories on blogs, micro-poetry, twitter haiku. Even novels are sporting shorter chapters, making it easier for us to read and follow stories in shorter increments.

In an age where we read in smaller segments, I believe the value of the short story is more pronounced. The changes in the publishing industry and the reading universe mean that there is a shift in power to the author and to smaller publishers. The beauty of these changes in reading and publishing means there are more venues for the short story – and for the author. The opportunities for shorter pieces are increased yet again with the advent in subscription based reading services. With these, the cost for a month’s worth of reading is the same – whether it be in the form of longer or shorter works. Since we are craving a shorter period to gratification – the short story is a perfect fit.

It is a great thing to read an anthology such as this. It fosters the art of the short story and encourages the power of young writers in an ancient industry that is being forced to renew itself. Young writers creating relevant works in a new old world: now that’s a story that I can’t wait to keep reading.

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