In 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.