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“These regular anthologies ... are becoming essential volumes for fans of short fiction.”

— Scott Pack

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Separations.

The Fiction Desk anthology seriesIn the early days of planning our anthology series, I worried about whether we’d have the resources to find enough writers from abroad, allowing us to feature an international blend of stories. In the event, I’ve been surprised to find that we have the opposite problem: despite being based in the UK, it’s been a real challenge for us to find British short story writers. We’ve been working hard to increase awareness, getting in touch with all sorts of different organisations around the country, but just 10% of our submissions come from the UK.

As this is National Short Story Week in Britain, it seems like a good time to ask: where are our new short story writers?

I’m not talking about famous, established, or dead writers, you understand. Let’s not get sidetracked by shouting ‘Somerset Maugham’ and ‘Graham Greene’ and, I don’t know, ‘M R James’ at each other. (Although we maybe should save that for another time.) I’m concerned with the new writers: the ones who are maybe just producing their first publishable material, or who have begun to make a name for themselves with longer works, and are now starting to take an interest in the short story. I’m thinking of the people who might be publishing their first collections in two or three years’ time, and who should now be placing their first stories and starting to get their names in front of readers. These are the kinds of authors that we’ve been featuring in our anthologies, and these are the kinds of authors that it’s hard to find in the UK.

We’ve been pretty active about encouraging more submissions from British authors. Aside from some online appeals (which have done very well), we’ve also worked with more than a dozen universities around the country, providing books to creative writing courses for workshopping, hopefully to encourage students to work with the short story. We’ve also contacted independent writing groups to encourage their members to send in material.

One problem is that short stories, especially new short stories, just aren’t widely read in the UK. Often, an otherwise keen reader will tell me that they simply “don’t read short stories”. For obvious reasons, this makes it hard for British publishers to maintain a regular, quality publication: when stories are published, it’s often with very limited resources, meaning the stories aren’t great, or are only by big names, or are Worthy rather than entertaining. As a result, readers don’t come back for more, and the momentum never builds.

(British short story publishing may be at its healthiest today not in mainstream fiction but in genre publishing, where the editors and writers still keep in mind—more often than not—the ability of short stories to entertain.)

It’s sometimes said that the short story is more an American form than a British one, but I don’t really believe that. The UK has produced some terrific short story writers in the past, and there are some around today too. I do think though that the Americans are better at promoting short stories: they have more magazines and journals, which they take more seriously. As a result, they have more opportunities to write and read quality short fiction.

I hope that The Fiction Desk’s anthology series will in its own small way help to improve the situation in the UK. By giving the country a decent quarterly publication dedicated to new short fiction, I hope we can encourage writers to write short stories, and encourage readers to buy and read them. If you’re a writer and you think you might have a story for us, you’ll find our submissions information here.

And if you’re a reader, please consider taking out a subscription to the anthology series, because the best way to support new writing is to read it, and because you might just be surprised by how much you enjoy it. You’ll find subscription information here.

30 Comments on “Where are the new British short story writers?”

  1. Rob Says:

    I just want to add that we still welcome international writers too; we’d like more British writers, but not only British writers.

  2. Jim Hinks Says:

    Glad to see you take up the cause!

    Comma Press is an independent publisher dedicated to the short story. We publish established authors like David Constantine (in the estimation of many, the greatest living English short story writer), Sara Maitland, Sean O’Brien; along with work by up-and coming authors like Adam Marek (Arts Foundation Short Story Fellowship 2011 winner) and Zoe Lambert.

    We also publish a lot of short stories in translation. A good starting point for interested readers would be Iraqi author Hassan Blasim’s collection ‘The Madman of Freedom Square.’ Hassan was described by The Guardian recently as ‘Perhaps the best writer of Arabic fiction alive’, and this collection of stories lives up to the billing: expansive, imaginative, phantasmagoric, and utterly compelling.

    Thanks.

    Jim Hinks
    Editor
    Comma Press
    http://www.commapress.co.uk

  3. Rob Says:

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for coming by and commenting. I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you for a while. I’ll try and email you today, but do get in touch if you don’t hear from me.

    Best,
    Rob.

  4. Rob Long Says:

    Seems a vicious cycle to me – short stories aren’t widely published and so are little written, except as a stepping stone. I’ve had short stories published in anthologies and online, but taking it further with putting together a collection is tricky when there are (or seem to be) so few avenues for getting one out there, particularly if you don’t write genre stuff. For longer short stories, of the 10,000-word and over variety, that counts double and the novella – a form I love – suffers perhaps even more. Trying to find markets for those is very tough. I’m not surprised people are drawn to longer stuff, much as I wish it wasn’t so.

    Still, as a Brit who has submitted a story to the Fiction Desk, I live in hope 😉

  5. Rob Says:

    Hi Rob,

    Yes, I think you’re exactly right. We’re trying to break that cycle, but we’ll see how it goes. You’re right about novellas, too: another terrific form that’s very hard to publish.

    Thank you for submitting!

  6. Marla Says:

    Oh, dear! Yorkshireman, Antony J Waller writes short stories with abandon. The Dalesman Magazine is publishing a short story of his in their December, 2011 issue. We are preparing to publish his e-Book, a story of romance and intrigue, with surprising twists, which are typical of Antony’s style.

    From the first moment that I read some of his earlier writing, he had me hooked. That was more than two years ago, and he is still coming up with new stories regularly.

    Keep an eye on him; he is lauded by his readers.

    Best wishes,
    Marla Davis

  7. Mick Davidson Says:

    My short stories seem to always come out at a bit less than the 2k min you want for submissions – so I need to try harder! 🙂

    What I find is that we are always told that the publishing world will NOT publish your short story unless you are already famous in some way. They actively discourage writers with this attitude. And I don’t believe Brits are not into short stories, but I do believe they are fairly ignorant of just how wonderful this form is. I bet many don’t realise how many films come from short stories. Also, I suspect that if a book isn’t a 1000 page fat, then people think they aren’t getting value for money.

    OK, enough. I shall head back to my story writing activity and see how quickly I can pump out 2001 words. 🙂
    Cheers,

  8. Mandy Taggart Says:

    Many British writers I know think of their short stories as practice rather than “real writing”. Or, as you say, to be a showcase for (and sometimes a distraction from) their novels-in-progress. I sometimes find it hard to persuade people that it’s my own preferred form, and that I don’t plan to write a novel one day.

    On a practical note, the majority of my publications to date have been in US online magazines, and I find that this does affect my writing. I feel that I need to make the work suitable for a US readership, and that any overtly “British” language or references may not be understood.

    I’m still a relatively new writer, and am not sure whether these concerns are justified – but, if one of my stories turns out to be very British in tone, I find that there are only a small number of UK publications to which it could be submitted. Yours is a welcome exception!

  9. Mick Davidson Says:

    Mandy, I have exactly the same feelings and experience had. Although I’m glad to be getting work on a regular basis at spectermagazine.com, I do feel that I have to change the way I write to fit in more with the other writers, who are in the main, American. It’s not a big deal and I’m sure I’ll learn from it, but it does affect my natural style.

    I also find that breaking through into what can be perceived as the ‘in-crowd’ can be a long and lonely task. Good practise for living in the real world of writing (I keep telling myself every time a rejection arrives…).
    Cheers,

  10. Rob Says:

    Mandy and Mick,

    It’s alarming that you feel you’ve had to change your writing style to fit the US market. Remember we – and other publishers – are here publishing British stories too. There are plenty of barriers to publication, but your national style needn’t be one of them.

    Rob.

  11. Mick Davidson Says:

    Rob, thanks, for me and only in this instance, I feel I need to fit in more with the overall style of the mag. I know I shouldn’t have to but since this is my main writing outlet (other than work, I’m a technical writer – which isn’t very creative) I feel I have to prove myself to some degree. It’s nothing to do with the mag’s editors etc, just me.

    For my fiction I try always to stay loyal to myself (100% in my poetry) but I also want to be published and write fiction for a living (I know, both mad and incurably romantic) so am aware of the commercial necessities too. It’s thin line, horns of a dilemma, Catch 22 etc etc. 🙂
    Cheers,

  12. Rob Says:

    Mick,

    Sounds like you have a sensible attitude. There is always a measure of compromise, but the important thing is that you can still take pride and satisfaction from your finished work.

    I’d be interested to know in what ways you (and Mandy) feel you need to alter your work for the American market. (You also have me wondering if and how our US contributors might feel the need to change their style for us…)

  13. Mandy Taggart Says:

    Rob – don’t be too alarmed! Perhaps it’s less a question of tailoring the writing, and more of tailoring the submissions. I know that certain of my completed pieces would be less suitable for a US market, and submit accordingly.

    Of course – since my time is limited – I probably do prioritise the more generally-submittable stories. So there may still be some cause for alarm… 😉

    Mick – glad to hear you have a regular gig with Specter. One of mine is in there today – it’s a small world after all!

  14. Mandy Taggart Says:

    My experience is still quite limited, as I only began submitting stories earlier this year. However, in a few cases I’ve had to discuss changes to local idiom and references at copy-editing stage, some of which were closely tied in with the imagery of the story.

    It’s strange, in fact – I’m actually Northern Irish, and haven’t had the same experience when I’ve submitted work with a strong “Irish” voice. Perhaps it’s because there’s such a wide variety of possible British dialects and references.

    But, I should emphasise again, I still don’t have much experience.

  15. Mick Davidson Says:

    Rob, I plan to compromise my way to success (or die trying).

    I think I feel I have to be more upbeat and little more street (which is ridiculous since I’ve never had any street credibility and am far too old to care about such things). But I’ve read all sort of American literature, everything from comics and Mickey Spillane, through sci-fi to Cormac McCarthy, so the feel isn’t a stranger to me.

    When I’m writing from my heart, I find the internal narrator often has an American accent, which is strange don’t you think? I’ve lived all over the south of the UK and in Europe a fair bit, so I don’t have strong regional ties or accent, so my writing voice is fairly neutral.

    Mandy, brilliant, good for you! I’ve got it earmarked for reading asap. I’m not in this one but have been in the previous editions.

  16. Clark Zlotchew Says:

    I find it fascinating that there seems to be a feeling that short-story writing (and reading?) is more an American than a British interest. But even in the U.S. it’s much more difficult to have a short-story collection published than a novel. This means that American as well as British aren’t interested in reading short stories. I have no idea why this is true. It seems to go against the tendency for short attention spans geared to TV sound bytes. Question: would there be any interest on your part in including a story (a) by an American, (2) that is part of a recently published collection of short stories which was one of three Finalists in the short-story category of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, 2011?

  17. Rob Says:

    Clark,

    I agree that the short story is a minority interest everywhere. What sparked this post was the disproportionately low number of submissions we receive from the UK.

    To answer your question, we certainly accept submissions from Americans (take a look at our authors pages). However, we don’t accept stories that have been previously published elsewhere. Do consider us when you have something new ready, though.

  18. Marion Clarke Says:

    Hi there, like Mandy above, I am from Northern Ireland (hi Mandy!) and write short stories and poetry.

    Strangely enough, a couple of my stories have been published in the US by a writer I met on an Irish writing forum! I love short stories and well written flash fiction, which is great for when you only have a short time to dedicate to reading.

  19. Jessica Says:

    I usually submit to more US markets because they seem to embrace more experimental short stories.

    I don’t tend to change my writing style for the market – I write what I want to write because I believe my writing should satisfy me before an editor (if it doesn’t then it’s not ready to be sent out for submission). I agree with Rob when he said ‘There are plenty of barriers to publication, but your national style needn’t be one of them.’

  20. Dave Schofield Says:

    Hey
    Good point. The US over UK SS tradition is established since the 19th century, since Poe, there’s no shifting it. But it’s true we have a lot of potential in this country and small publishers like Comma seem to be taking advantage of it. I just did a short story writing course with Jim. I know loads of people in Manchester writing short stories, hundreds! but with duotrope and the net they might all head to the USA to paying markets. And I agree that genre gets snapped up while literary fiction wanders around looking for a home.

  21. Robin Jones Says:

    It’s so heartening to see all of this effort and attention on the shorter form, especially in Short Story Week. We’re committed to doing our little bit too with our Unthology series. Last week we published Unthology No. 2 which features thirteeen stories, some incredibly short and some incredibly not so. We want to provide a forum a bit like Snowbooks’ design aesthetic (featured on your blog) giving space for things to breathe and so we’ve no restrictions on word count, subject, author profile etcetera. In No.2 we’ve got stories from Tessa West, Steph Reid, Joshua Allen, Melissa Mann (Beat the Dust Bookshop etc.), Ian Madden, Paul Green, Charles Wilkinson, Shanta Everington and Sarah Evans as well as two of the novelists we’ve published – Nick Sweeney and Ashley Stokes -and one whose first novel “Captivity” we will publish next year, Lander Hawes. It’s such a thriving medium yet never accredited and assimilated the way it is in the US. Great to see Mischa Hiller going from strength to strength too whose ‘The Burning’ we published in Unthology No.1. All power to your elbow and to the short form!
    Robin Jones
    Publisher
    Unthank Books (Norwich and London)

  22. Mick Davidson Says:

    Robin Jones,
    Expect to hear from me shortly then! 🙂
    Cheers.

  23. Khadim Hussain Says:

    I’m here, the best short story writer in my mind, unfortunatly general public does not agree.

  24. James a Simpson Says:

    Hi
    I would like to submit a short story which is just being finally tidied up. I have never published anything to date but have been encouraged by the writers group I attend In Portstewart, Co Derry N Ireland to believe it may be good enough.
    Can you advise me as to how I might go about submitting it for consideration–it is approx 950 words only and i have enjoyed working on it.
    james a Simpson

  25. Rob Says:

    Hi James,

    You’ll find our submissions guidelines, and the submission form, in the menu at the top left of this page.

    Unfortunately, our minimum length for stories is currently 2,000 words, so your story wouldn’t be right for us. But do have a look through the guidelines anyway, and remember us when you have a story that might be a better fit.

  26. Danny Rhodes Says:

    I wouldn’t try to tailor work for the US market. There are enough Americans already! A few years ago I had a story published in a US magazine and it was criticised because the dialogue wasn’t English enough. I tried to explain that I was English so I ought to know but some of those American readers just wouldn’t have it…

  27. Mandy Taggart Says:

    Wow, Danny. That’s slightly amusing, but also a bit alarming – it’s almost as if the readers wanted English dialogue almost to fit into a caricature of “Englishness”. Looks like the best approach is to write in our own voices (or those of our characters).

  28. William Thirsk-Gaskill Says:

    I can’t tell you where they are at this very moment, but on Tuesday 22 November some of them will be in Huddersfield at the launch of the ‘Grist’ anthology.

    http://iamhyperlexic.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/grist-short-fiction-anthology-2012/

  29. CLUELESS ABOUT SHORT STORY MARKETS | Haarlson Phillipps Says:

    […] one: The Fiction Desk. Doesn’t pay much, but if accepted you’ll be in the running for a £200 prize for the best […]

  30. Nikhil Khandekar Says:

    I am struck by Danny Rhodes’ run-in with American readers. I mean, wow! Could an English author possibly be ‘not English enough’ for anyone on the planet? Now that it has been mentioned, and I come to think of it, well … I have no choice, really!

    It’s amazing on the one hand. On the other, however, the secret in appealing to the reader seems to lie in the flow, the grip and the natural ease that come from simply writing in a manner that is true to one’s nature. It might also have to do with accounting for the generation gap, which I believe every author worth his salt must attempt.

    The key lies in staying all natural.

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