With just over a month until our Short Story Competition 2016 closes, we spoke to judge Max Porter and found out about which writer never fails to inspire him, which three books he’d take if he were stranded on a desert island, and what advice he’d give to this year’s competition entrants.
What are you currently reading? If it’s not fiction, what fiction have you recently read and enjoyed?
I’m reading Lian Hearn’s Japanese adventure series Shikanoko, Eileen Myles’ I Must Be Living Twice, and some Peter Stamm short stories.
And what specifically did you like about it?
I like the very controlled and worthwhile magic realism in Lian Hearn’s books, and the sex, and the painterly way she has with violence. They’re hugely entertaining and I need that because I ‘literary fiction’ all day every day.
What is your favourite short story, and why is it your favourite?
That’s a horrible question and I refuse to answer it. Oh OK. On Monday it was The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. On Tuesday it was The Swimmer by John Cheever. On Wednesday it is The Country Funeral by John McGahern. Thursday The Early Deaths of.. by Jesse Ball. And so on.
I’d choose The Lottery for a space capsule I suppose. Because it is devastating, exquisitely well designed, witty, political, mythic. It tells vast truths quickly and with poise. It is perfect.
Which writer’s work can you always rely on to inspire your creative process?
If you were stuck on a desert island and you could only take three books, which three would you take?
Refuse to answer. Ok, Odyssey, Shakespeare and a massive cheat Poetry anthology.
What advice can you give entrants to the Short Story Competition 2016?
You should let the story do what it needs to do and not corral it harmfully into another shape. Stories are lethal tools, let it be. Consider how many we’ll have to read and show us quickly why we need to pay attention to yours. Do not waste one single word. Finish well, all the greats do.
Max Porter is an editorial director of Granta and Portobello Books. His authors include Han Kang, Eleanor Catton, Ben Marcus, Sarah Moss and Caroline Lucas. His debut novel Grief is the Thing With Feathers was published in 2015. It won the International Dylan Thomas Prize and will be translated into 23 languages. He lives in South London with his family.