Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 27, 2012

Stories and novellas, Bite-sized Fictions for the Time-poor

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It seems only yesterday that I was reading articles bemoaning the dearth of short stories in contemporary publishing, but now there is a veritable plethora of Australian publishers offering collections and anthologies of shorter form fiction.   Indeed, Text Publishing have just sent me a copy of the Griffith Review’s Annual Fiction Edition entitled The Novella Project, and it turned up in the same week as UWAP’s An Unknown Sky and Other Stories by Susana Midalia and an anthology from Fremantle Press called Sunscreen and Lipstick.  It seems that publishers are responding to the perennial cry that we are a time-poor society and so we need bite-sized fictions for our reading pleasure.  I suspect that many of these collections are timed for Christmas gift-giving too, because chez The Spouse et Moi we often receive Black Inc Books’ Best Australian Essays or Short Stories from friends.  (I just checked the Black Inc website, and yes, these will be available for 2012 soon, and Penguin are doing it too).  Just recently I attended the launch of a new collection called Las Vegas for Vegans by .A.S Patric and there are dozens of competitions for short story collections which make their way into print, a recent example of which is Things That Are Found in Trees, published by Margaret River Press and reviewed by Karenlee Thompson on her blog.

The publicity blurb for The Novella Project points out that ‘some of the best-known and most-loved novels are really novellas: A Clockwork Orange, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Heart of Darkness, and Of Mice and Men.  So with support from the Copyright Agency Ltd, the Griffith Review set up a project to encourage writers to try the form and the anthology was then selected from 200 entries.  The authors included are Mary-Rose Maccoll, Lyndal Caffrey, Katerina Cosgrove, Ed Wright, Christine Kearney and Jim Hearn.  (You can find dates for the Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane launches for this anthology in November 2012, on the Griffith Review website.)

I’ve also got what looks like it will be another treasure from the Giramondo Shorts Series, Street to Street by Brian Castro whose work I love to read.

The blurber for An Unknown Sky and Other Stories is no less than author than one of my favourites, Cate Kennedy, whose own collection, Dark Roots was released to critical acclaim not so long ago, while Sunscreen and Lipstick includes stories by Kim Scott & Hazel Brown, Joan London, Deborah Robertson, Simone Lazaroo, Elizabeth Jolley (that can’t be a new one, because Jolley died in 2007), Goldie Goldbloom,  Natasha Lester, Sally Morgan (all of whom have books reviewed on this blog) and other authors I have yet to read: Alice Nelson, Liz Byrski, Glyn Parry, Adriana Ellis, Pat Malcolm and Tom Hungerford, who died just last year.

And that’s not all that I have on my TBR.   I also have collections that I’ve bought myself, evidence of my respect for the authors and my good intentions to discover their short fiction.  These include Marion Halligan’s Shooting the Fox; Roger Hall’s Silence and some exciting new authors in a collection called Voiceworks which I discovered at a Wheeler Centre event featuring debut authors such as Broede Carmody.

The trouble is – and I’m not claiming to be time-poor because I can always find the time to read a novel, no matter how hectic life gets – I don’t seem to get round to reading these collections, that is, reading enough of them to write a review.  I leave them on my desk or the coffee table or the breakfast table for a while and read one or two, intending to come back to them, and then I have a tidy-up for some reason (usually impending guests or a disapproving cleaner) and I put the book away where it belongs, tidily in alphabetical order on my TBR shelves.  And there they stay! I forget to get back to them because there’s no ‘what happened next?’ ‘how does this author resolve this book?’  Short stories are just that, and I read each story in one go, but I don’t read the whole collection all at once.  They’re like Tim Tams, no matter how much you may like them, you can’t consume the whole lot in a single sitting.  I still haven’t read all the stories in The Best Australian Stories, a Ten Year Collection which I’ve had since last year, kindly sent to me by Black Inc.  There are so many stories in it, 37 in all, including one by Gerald Murnane (!), and it is so easy to get distracted from a collection in a way that I rarely get distracted from a novel.  By the time I get back to reading it, I can’t really remember enough about the others to review the collection in its entirety and have something intelligible to offer in the way of identifying its themes or preoccupations.

Fortunately I have a friend who is much better disciplined in her reading than I am.   As you know if you are a regular reader of this blog,  Karenlee Thompson (author of 8 States of Catastrophe) has reviewed most of the short story collections in guest posts here.  So, with these latest short story collections I am not going to leave them lying about half-read for months until I feel guilty, I’m sending them straight up to her and you can expect to see them reviewed some time soon in 2013.

But if you fancy them, or any of the others I’ve mentioned, for Christmas gifts, follow the links below:

Availability: Most links are to Fishpond, where you should ignore it if the title is marked unavailable because they will get copies in from the publishers, and your order will encourage them to do just that!  Others are to the publisher.

Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy
Annual Fiction Edition: The Novella Project (Griffith Review)
An Unknown Sky and Other Stories by Susan Midalia
The Best Australian Stories, a Ten Year Collection and Black Inc Best Essays or Short Stories 2012
Silence by Rodney Hall
Penguin Best Australian Short Stories
Street to Street by Brian Castro
Things that are found in trees & other stories
Las Vegas for Vegans by A.S. Patric
Shooting the Fox by Marion Halligan


Responses

  1. I agree that the shorter forms are making a comeback. I have read more short story collections this year than ever, and in my preferred field (literature in translation) the novella seems to be the default format :)

  2. I share your problem with short story collections. I enjoy short stories — when I read them. When it is a good one, I am impressed by how much the writer can convey in just a few pages. Yet I would rather be more involved and for longer, as one is when reading a novel.

    • Hi Nancy and Tony, from what I’ve read in Bookseller and Publisher, part of the reason for the renewed interest in the form is that it’s a response to digital publishing. I’m not quite sure where the border lies between a short novel and a novella … if we think back to the Golden Age of Aussie publishing when Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley and Marion Halligan were at their best, novels were only 200-250 pages long. Nobody called them novellas, but now maybe they are because 350 pages and more has become the norm.

  3. When I have short story collections to get through the way I do it is by decideding that I am going to read one each day. It seems to work as a form of self discipline and it is usually only a short time away from the novel. I also am not that keen to move from one short story straight to the next so that strategy works from the perspective as well.

    • Good idea, Marg, that might work for me too.

  4. Thanks Lisa, I am looking forward to reading them in the New Year. The short story done well is still my favourite form and I’m actually planning on writing more of them myself.

    • Yes, but I want another novel too, please!

  5. There’s an interesting article on the ‘new age of the novella’ in the latest Australian Author, for those of us who are members of the ASA. It’s by John Dale. Also on the ASA – at the Melbourne get-together a couple of weeks ago, there was an illuminating, if brief, discussion of the short story vis-a-vis the novel. For me, it’s rather like comparing a song with a symphony. I feel there’s a lot more to say on the subject.

    • Yes, I read that article – and posted it up to Karenlee as well. Dale seems to think that the rise of the shorter form is also linked to the impact of digital forms of publishing, and he’s probably right about that too. I just hope there’s always going to be room in the marketplace for all kinds of fiction!

  6. Thank you, Lisa, you have explained why I rarely seem to read short stories, even by authors I like (although I am hoping for another collection from Nam Le). For me the main difference is between short stories and longer forms – novellas, like novels, can create the depth of immersion in another world and the ‘what happens next’ factor that keeps me in there.


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