In the final stretch till the end of our annual Short Story Competition we spoke to this year’s Judges, the award-winning author Susan Hill, writer Kevan Manwaring and Alessandro Gallenzi head of Alma Books, to find out exactly what the short story means to them.
What do you look for in a short story?
SH: ‘A little world, made cunningly.’
AG: Economy of language, humour, a well-devised structure and, above all, a satisfying ending that makes you laugh, cry or think long after turning the last page.
KM: An arresting premise. A life in freefall. A moment in time, dramatising life on Earth, in all its quotidian particularity.
Which short story writers do you admire?
SH: In no order – Chekhov, Elizabeth Bowen, James Lasdun, Helen Simpson, Henry James, Katherine Mansfield… and many many more.
AG: My favourite short-story writers from the Western canon are Boccaccio, Chekhov, Fitzgerald, Gogol, Conan Doyle, Poe, Pushkin, Saki, Pirandello and Carver. Among the contemporaries, Ian McEwan and Yasutaka Tsutsui.
KM: Carver, Carter, MR James, Ray Bradbury, Le Guin, Neil Gaiman.
What possibilities does the form of short fiction present to a writer that the novel doesn’t offer?
SH: It doesn’t – it is just different.
AG: A short story enables the writer to develop a particular idea or describe a situation or set of circumstances without having to create too much context or dilute the narration with excessive description. A short story is compact and pithy – it is, to the novel, what a sonnet is to a long poem: the shorter form helps to condense the thought and delivers a punch more effectively than the diffused narrative of a novel.
KM: A heightened attentiveness in the reader – everything takes on a talismanic quality. Each word punches above its weight, can tip the balance, can stop time. Its the closest prose gets to magic.
How would you describe yourself as a reader?
SH: Omnivorous – almost. I don’t read fantasy or sci-fi.
AG: Curious and omnivorous, with a penchant for the sapid.
KM: A lazy grazer. A midnight snacker. A word-humphrey and narrative addict.
If you had to recommend one short story for contributors to read what would it be?
SH: I’m having 3 – Katherine Mansfield, ‘The Doll’s House’. James Lasdun ‘From the Minutes of the Honorary Secretary’. Helen Simpson, ‘Burns Night’. And about 1,000 more…
AG: Five, please: ‘The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Fell Out with Ivan Nikiforovich’ by Gogol, ‘The Queen of Spades’ by Pushkin, ‘Berenice’ (or ‘The Tell-tale Heart’) by Poe, ‘Chichibio and the Crane’ (Decameron, VI, 4) by Boccaccio and ‘The Wheelbarrow’ by Pirandello. Hang on, there’s also…
KM: Graham Joyce’s An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen (2009).
Find out more about how to submit to our 2015 Short Story Competition here.