Willesden Herald: New Short Stories 11


Front cover of New Short Stories 11 – first look

“Contemporary fiction from Britain, Ireland, America and Nigeria, from huge cities to very small towns and on several journeys. We’re at work, at school, in homes, gardens, cities, in the countryside and on the road. There are crises, violence, tragedy, vengeance, reflection and reconciliation. Here are vividly evoked times and places, characters of every kind, and insights into their circumstances and relationships.”

The 15 best international short stories, as submitted to the Willesden Herald in the past year. Editor: Stephen Moran. With an introduction by Gina Challen.

Available from

isbn: 978-0-9995277-6-4


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Willesden Herald: New Short Stories 11 – Preview

The 15 best international short stories, as submitted to the Willesden Herald in 2019. Editor: Stephen Moran. With an introduction by Gina Challen.

Front cover for New Short Stories 11. Photo and design by Stratos Fountoulis.

Contemporary fiction from Britain, Ireland, America and Nigeria, from huge cities to very small towns and on several journeys. We’re at work, at school, in homes, gardens, cities, in the countryside and on the road. There are crises, violence, tragedy, vengeance, reflection and reconciliation. Here are vividly evoked times and places, characters of every kind, and insights into their circumstances and relationships.

Editor: Stephen Moran. Fiction by JL Bogenschneider, Ursula Brunetti, Carol Dines, Derek Dirckx, Sarah Evans, Jeff Ewing, David Frankel, Ray French, N. Jane Kalu, Marylee MacDonald, Jaki McCarrick, Gerard McKeown, Jay Merill, Diana Powell, John Saul. With an introduction by Gina Challen.

Here are fifteen stories transporting us, like the dreams of fifteen nights. In one we remember a beloved teacher, a hated one and our friends. In another we are on a bus somewhere in Britain, on the way to losing our virginity. On another night we wake from a heartbreaking haunting in the changing seasons of Lagos, Nigeria. Or we’re in Northern Ireland practicing with a friend’s shotgun, and wondering if we can trust him. Then again we’re in the Irish borderlands in a tale of neglect and revenge. We travel through remote parts of the US, a fugitive from the past, and hook up with a loner in his last days. Or we’re in a surreal family circus, with a remarkable cast of characters, living out a poignant adventure. A nun travels on leave through small town America in search of family history and closure. We agonise over a doctor’s ethical dilemma and a professor’s marital crisis, drenched in a rainstorm. We’re in Newport in Wales, trying to stay off the booze and achieve a reunion. We take something that’s not really ours and turn over in our minds what would have happened if we hadn’t. We spy on a swimmer as she swims naked in the sea every day till it all goes wrong. In a nightmare, there’s a river, a forestry work camp, two labourers living on-site, and a dead body. We meditate and scroll through thoughts on the people, situations and how we interact with those around us, friends and neighbours. (SM)

Available from

isbn: 978-0-9995277-6-4

The Sense of a Short Story

I feel a bit of a misery for having written a list of blunders found in short stories. Such lists are not unusual and often repeat what others have said before. However it is much harder to talk about the qualities that enthral and delight, that transport us to unknown places and stir the emotions. What is that literary flavour beyond sweet and sour, the umami that makes me want to keep on reading?

1. A sense of perfection

There is a difference between evidence of raw talent and a finished product. Without practice and the unrestrained commitment that Pavarotti put in, for example, he would still have been Luciano, the guy with a great voice but unknown to the world. It is the combination of great ability, dedication and unqualified commitment that results in that feeling like being in a jet plane when it goes for take-off, when his voice at full power takes flight, and carries us with him.

IMG-20121008-1548A lot of people sing in the shower, a lot of people write stories. Not everyone has the voice, for a start, but equally not everyone gives all. Sentences are not well worked; narrative is somewhat choked off, restrained.

What is wonderful is when a gift for writing is combined with technical perfection and a free flowing narrative. When it succeeds, there is nothing laboured, all is like a swan sailing across a pond, seemingly without effort. It’s not because Pavarotti could hit a high note. Actually, many of us could hit that note. It’s the way he hits it. Clearly we don’t want half measures, we don’t want errors. But the sense of a short story is not about what we don’t want. It’s about what we desire, what life itself seldom offers, a sense of perfection.

2. A sense of adventure

This is not about secret agents, bandits, pirates, cowboys, though they are also part of it, it’s something to do with a journey, danger, hazard, perhaps conflict.

It happens that space travellers, cowboys, romantic maidens, elves and so on go on journeys, encounter hazards and conflict, but seldom will they succeed in taking us with them. No, the sense of adventure is to do with a feeling that real people are in a real location, that we are with them, somewhere we might know, which is interesting, or somewhere we don’t know, which can be even more interesting, and it’s uncertain what is about to happen.

If there is a nagging thought that this is routine, that we know all this, then we fall into the “I have a life of my own” trap. As the woman says in The Ice Storm, when her lover starts to talk about his work, “I have a husband.” What I seek is the feeling of landscape, of views across townscapes, of skies and the travel against weight, not weightless, where the progress interacts with a new environment. There must be people to meet, to find out about, an adventurer alone is a hard case. He or she had better be thinking about others or else we enter the dead zone of solipsism.

3. A sense of inspiration

You could call this a sense of interest, a sense of importance, a sense of significance, a sense of relevance. It’s the feeling that we’re onto something. Whatever you call it, it relies on a theme of sufficient weight. We’re busy people. We have our own lives. Unless a story is of vital interest, why spend the time to read it? It must draw us in from the first paragraph.

However, we are resistant to being told what to think. We won’t stand for it. The miracle of fiction is how it enables us to share another’s vision, see things through another’s eyes for a spell, to enter a partly hallucinatory or dreamlike state. I suggest that this can occur when the writer has been inspired.

So what is it? Sometimes inspiration, like procreation, entails the fusion of two elements. You may think of these as spark and fuel. The spark is very small but active and the fuel is large and full of potential but static. The fuel is your theme, perhaps something that’s been bugging you for some time. The spark is your angle, something trivial that you realise can be combined with your theme to bring it to life. That is your inspiration.

Hitchcock coined the term “the McGuffin” for something trivial that he used to build his suspenseful films around. For example, in North By Northwest and The Thirty-Nine Steps people chase around after something but we really don’t care about the actual object of their pursuit. How many can even remember what it was?

Writing directly to a main theme runs the risk of becoming aphoristic, portentous, pompous, didactic, perhaps polemical. The trick is to write a story seemingly about the trivial one of your two elements, against a background of the main concern. This allows you to deal with what’s bugging you, without seeming to talk about it at all. Without a theme, no matter how brilliant your writing, you will lose the reader. “All spark” is a bore.

Misdirection is as useful in fiction as in conjuring. Come to think of it, fiction is a form of conjuring.

4. A sense of humour

The only place this occurs is in serious writing. Anything that tries to be funny is anathema. If you take any of the well-known comic writers, or writers whose work encompasses humour, you will find that it is all presented in a seemingly serious manner. The stories of Waugh, Wodehouse, Tom Sharpe, George Saunders, J. P. Donleavy, Saki, James Thurber, Garrison Keillor, David Sedaris are presented with a straight face. Even Jerome K. Jerome and George or was it the other Grossmith brother. The story is king.

All humour is incidental. In spite of ourselves, in spite of the author himself or herself, we find we are concerned with the theme, delighted by the inspiration, enthralled by the adventure and then to leaven the mixture, there is something funny. There are varieties of humour; laugh out loud when you know something is bound to go wrong but the character in question doesn’t, a comical remark in dialogue, or smile at the petty concerns of a miser. It’s something to involve you further with the story and to feel that we’re on the same page as the author, we get it.

It’s pleasing to think that we are reading alongside the author and other readers. There is something more exquisite in a shared experience, (and it doesn’t take much imagination to find a suitable metaphor for that), the joy is redoubled. We might not know what the author thought about certain things, but we’re pretty sure we’re on the same wavelength and that others will be too, when the sense of humour shines through.

5. A sense of suspense

We return to Hitchcock and recall that he said his biggest mistake was to have the bomb go off in Blackmail. As long as the bomb hasn’t gone off there is suspense. Yes, we want to know what happens next but only if something is at stake. If nothing is at stake, I couldn’t care less what happens next. Salesmen have a mnemonic: ABC – Always Be Closing. The worst result in sales theory is a continuation. With fiction, it’s the opposite: ABC – Always Be Continuing, and the worst result is closure. The urge to settle for an ending and declare the story closed is like a siren calling the writer, the captain of the story, onto fatal reefs.

6. A sense of wonder

This is what we’re left with after reading a great short story. It leaves us thinking, literally wondering. There is a completeness to a short story but it is not the completeness of satiation, of finality, it’s the completeness of entry or exit, a door that opens to wonder. The beginning is a door to a secret garden and the end is the same door. We can re-enter. Somebody described the sonnet as a machine for thinking. Maybe we could describe the short story as a machine for wondering.


These categories are arbitrary. I might add more later, I might change their contents. I could as easily invoke the theatrical maxim, “Make them laugh, make them cry and scare the hell out of them”. I only wanted to describe what it is that I like in a short story. Having typed this far, I find I’m none the wiser. I still couldn’t tell you why the stories in The Magic Barrel are so sublime, or Dubliners. I don’t know what it is Denis Johnson does, or Annie Proulx, or Chekhov, or William Trevor, etc. The list is long. I am in awe of them and all great short story writers. I don’t give a damn about the novel. There, I’ve said it. (Actually, it’s not true, I love reading novels.) As near as I can describe, what I desire is a sense of perfection and a sense of adventure. The rest of the headings and comments are tentative.

Stephen Moran

Originally published in my blog and here in the Willesden Herald (2012)

Common Faults in Short Stories Submitted (updated)

I’m republishing this piece I wrote in 2008 from The Willesden Herald blog. A previous version appeared in one of the Writers’ Handbooks from Scarletta Press. After this I will post the complementary piece with “positives” – The Sense of a Short Story. There is a list of resources for short story writers below the article. (Steve)

Some people have expressed interest in knowing why entries in the Willesden Herald short story competition are eliminated or advanced, so I offer the following notes on why all but the last few are eliminated.

Writers need to realise that writing is like music: there is no getting away with bum notes. Think of the judging process as a series of auditions – X-Factor, American Idol, Young Musician of the Year, if you like. Now think of the hopeless cases. Out of tune: Next! Inept: Next! Hopelessly feeble: Next. Ego tripper: Next. An open competition is by definition a talent contest, and the entries can be imagined in the same way. But what are the bum notes, gaffes, misconceptions, delusions, ineptitudes in writing that are analogous to the failings of talent show entrants? Here are a few, not rearranged, but simply as they come to mind.

1. Failure to observe the rules. Let’s get this most boring reason for rejection of entries out of the way. In this year’s Willesden competition, the rule most breached was the one that specifies no author’s name on the manuscript. Not double-spaced or single-sided also featured, as well as missing or incomplete entry forms. Last, in both senses, were entries received after the closing date. Something approaching one in ten was eliminated for not complying with the rules. It is likely that some people took incomplete information from third party sites, so I recommend that you get the official rules and entry form from the competition website. Then follow the rules exactly, not approximately. Any entry that is not in compliance with the rules will be binned, unread.

2. Overcrowded with characters. Seán Ó Faoláin said a short story is to a novel as a hot air balloon is to a passenger jet. Like a jet the novel takes a long time to get off the ground, carries a lot of people and takes them a long way from where it started. On the other hand, the short story takes off vertically, rises directly to a great height, usually carries only one or two people, and lands not very far from where it took off. So when you mention three, four, five and sometimes even more names in the first two pages, it is inevitable that readers will be turned off (unless you have created a virtuosic masterpiece that defies all critique, such as Theresa’s Wedding by William Trevor). Your story is likely to suffer from the following problem as well.

3. Undifferentiated characters. A name is not a character. Pinky said this, Perky said that, Blinky said something similar and Pisky said the same, as the old wartime song might have gone. Each character should be a complete person, with their own C.V. if you like, their own history, temperament, habits, weaknesses, plans, objectives etc, though these need not and should not be explicitly listed as such.

4. Solipsism. One miserable person being miserable. This was the most common and depressing failing. Unrelenting monotony of one single, invariably miserable and oppressive viewpoint. No sign of concern or even mention of any other character, nothing other than one person’s dreary moaning. If you are not interested in other characters, at least make it funny.

5. Well-enough written but I just don’t like it. This is the uncongenial protagonist or narrator, arrogant, cruel-minded, usually petty, often attempting gross-out effects, and usually going round in ever-diminishing circles before vanishing in a puff of studied triviality. It leaves a bad taste and invariably evokes the response that it’s well enough written, but I just don’t like it. There is no gun to the reader’s head. People do not read to be grossed out, or to join in somebody else’s squalor or misery. There has to be an element of transcendence, transmutation of the base material into the gold of fiction.

6. Throwaway endings. The story has been going along fairly well, showing signs of life and suddenly the writer must have thought, “Oh I can’t be bothered, I’m just going to put a twist here and finish it.” It’s literally almost impossible to believe sometimes why anybody would ever think of sending in something that is clearly truncated and given up on – what a waste of postage etc.

7. Over-elaborated endings. All has been going well, we’re hoping this might be a contender, we come to an excellent sign-off line, then woe, woe, thrice or four or five times woe for every extra sentence or paragraph that follows after that, telling us what should be left for us to decide for ourselves. So frustrating to hit one of these after reading all the way.

8. Throat-clearing openings. A build-up to the fact that we are about to hear a story, what it’s not about, what it is about, the fact that it starts here, the fact that it starts with something, the fact that it’s of a particular kind, the fact that you’re going to tell it. Cut, cut, cut. Then we come to the line where it really starts, but by then it’s too late: for something to get on a short list, it has to be virtually flawless and you’ve just started with a whopping great flaw.

9. Boring. “Middle of page 3 and I am totally bored.” “Well enough written but what is the point?” “I’m losing the will to live.” Again, the reader does not have a gun to his or her head. We have lives of our own. We don’t need to substitute somebody else’s dreary domestic arrangements in our minds for our own. To us, yours are far less interesting – and ours were not that interesting to start with. Who cares if somebody listened to a news story on the radio, went shopping, bought a packet of corn flakes? Yawn, yawn, yawn.

10. Banal. Commonplace, dull, the sort of thing you hear every day. This is really a continuation of “boring”. A lot of stories about elderly people living in squalor. A particularly English phenomenon. A lot of stories about dying relatives. Okay, but they better be good. It’s important to write about these things, but when you do you need to realise that there will be ten other people writing about the same thing, so you’d better make it very good. Life can be banal, but we turn to fiction to find – again –transcendence. This is more or less the same point that dead henry made in his “statement to the peasants”, which was so ill-received.

11. Mush. Mom and Pop and kiddie all having breakfast mush and school mush and boy and girl friend mush, car and scenery mush and all starting and ending up in a nostalgic sunset mush. I’ve given you English kitchen squalor, now I give you American kitchen mush. Both equally nauseating. I might as well add princess and frog fairytales in here.

12. Failed experiment. It’s fine and admirable to try an experimental format, but it’s not an excuse for slightness, skimpiness, overwriting, repetitiveness, underwriting, forced or boring content, or as often as not for semi-disguised or decorated solipsism, or any of the other failings listed here.

13. Unconvincing. Clunky or melodramatic. I just don’t buy it. This is fake, phoney baloney, unbelievable but presented as supposedly realistic. Often forced and plot-driven. Corny ending likely. Let’s add in here “routine police procedurals”, where hard-bitten Captain Craggy trades inscrutable comments on cases with eager tyro etc.

14. Weak premise. The triviality of some themes submitted is hard to believe. When you get a story that is 30 pages all about a minor ailment that has no apparent effects or significance, what are you to make of it? The writer is talking to himself, like one of those poor souls you can see on the high street any day. A sort of sub-category here is the “clever-sounding” element, that is like a lump of gristle in the apple pie of the story. Some people have a compulsion to mention things they have some specialist expertise about or simply know the names of, in a certain way that makes me think, “Go away.”

15. Not a short story. We don’t tell you what a short story is, you’re supposed to know. If you don’t know, tough. You need to go away and find out. I can tell you it’s not something over 220 pages long, as one entrant must have thought. Neither is it an essay. I presume people send in essays, thinking “Well it’s a long shot.” No it’s not a long shot, it’s a dud. Regardless of length a short story is not a mini-novel – a real tyro failing. The simplest advice is to read as many good short stories as you can and yours should be at home in their company – if you aspire to that. And if you don’t then why do you bother writing?

16. Full of errors. Slapdash spelling and grammatical errors are like bum notes in a musical audition. Even if you are a shining genius (as you all think you are) it is unlikely you will get away even with one. More than one and you’re stone dead. A lot of people who do not speak English seem to think they can find success in a short story competition with texts that contain errors in every sentence. Very rarely, there may be a story that is otherwise compelling but frustratingly riddled with errors.

17. Transparent attempt to pander to the judges. Every year we’ve had one or two (usually impossible) journeys in London, invariably ending up in Kilburn or Willesden. Try to see it from my point of view, imagine I open a guide book and try and write something about your city, where I’ve never lived – imagine the phoniness of the result. I would suggest you do not attempt to write to order for a competition. You can if you insist, but I can spot it a mile off and it is really off-putting. It just suggests that you have no real hinterland of your own.

18. Poor dialogue. Exposition of the story in dialogue is a common failing. “We must be very careful, as it is raining now and visibility is low.” “Yes, and it is cold. Ooh, look at the traffic there,” said Pinky. “Yes, there is a lot of it, isn’t there,” said Perky. “Look out! Elegant variation dead ahead”, muttered Pinky and exclaimed Perky simultaneously. Maybe you’ve heard somewhere that there has to be dialogue. What they didn’t add was, “not at any price.” If there is dialogue, it should be something that people really might say. Do not make your characters into ventriloquists dummies to tell your story through. There can be long passages without dialogue or there can be lots or a little dialogue. What there must not be is phoney dialogue. Another thing, if your characters are well enough defined, you should find that hardly any attribution is needed.

19. Unevenness. This includes unevenness of tone, pace, style and theme: parts of the story that are not in keeping with the rest, which should have been edited out or replaced. A story that starts out in one tone, maybe as a serious and really compelling story, then halfway through turns into a facetious spoof. A digression from the main theme that makes the reader think, “What is that doing here?”. I think there was one entry we received that seemed to be three short shorts stuck together. More slapdashery. Remember: it’s like music – you can’t “get away” with anything. With most competitions it should be safe to assume you are writing for/playing your music for people who can say in all modesty that they are not tone deaf.

20. Summation. “All in the past” syndrome. This is a problem sometimes characterised as “undepicted action” or “telling instead of showing.” Most writers seem to have a grasp of the need to get attention at the beginning, but an astonishing number by the middle of page two have started to tell us all about some ancient family history. All sense of immediacy and story is lost and instead we’re having summaries of complex events that happened, one sentence each, like a dry and tedious history book.

21. Underwriting and overwriting. Too sketchy or too long-winded. I get the impression that the long-winded are probably more pleased with themselves, but they’re no more popular with readers than the skimpers – rather the reverse. Cut out as much as you can, without cutting into the quick, and you’ll find that your text will improve. Isaac Babel said that our writing becomes stronger, not when we can add no more but when we can take nothing more away. The skimpy efforts are just rushed, undercooked, choose your own metaphor. I’m sure we know when we have underwritten (I include myself), so why do we waste postage sending underwritten pieces out?

22. Unicorns and elves, chick lit, police procedurals and bodice rippers. These should only be submitted to specialist competitions for their specific genres. The Willesden is for so-called literary stories. It’s not a pleasing term, so I would rather say non-generic stories. (I think Joyce once said that the word “literature” was used as a term of abuse.) Readers will not get beyond the first line of – and they are invariably labelled thus – the Prologue: “Nervelda gazed on the mistfields of Thuriber. Her green eyes glinted in the slanting sun, as the tribes of Godnomore straggled over the barren land.” Lord and Lady Farquahar and their servants will journey in vain to quaint villages full of worthy and unworthy peasants. I think I’ve already mentioned Inspector Craggy (promoted in the sequel) and his eager sidekicks. As for chick lit: in reading as well as in life, we may be partial to a bit of office romance, but about ten or twenty of them later and they begin to pall.

23. Faux jollity. Particularly faux jollity centred around pubs, and particularly around pubs in Ireland. Industrially extruded quantities of guff about distant histories in small town life. Standing jokes that should have been left where they toppled. Weird spastic prose as if the task of writing the story had been given by a writer with a good idea to the former class dunce, now barman. I think humour only ever exists in something that sets out to be serious. Anything that sets out to be humorous is doomed.

24. Ankles in Asia. I’ve changed my mind on this one. As a matter of fact, I’m not at all sure that Ankles in Asia, though it now sounds worryingly like a rare disease, is not in fact a virtue. Let a thousand professors dream of butterfly kisses with a thousand feisty young neighbour girls.

25. Clumsiness. Proliferation of unnecessary commas. Awkward mis-edited clauses, unintentional rhymes, pedestrian, dull prose, infantile expressions, over formality (“Mr Smith had a reputation as bit of a disciplinarian. Miss Elma Furblong often thought that, while thinking about what to get to ease the hunger pangs in her tummy.”) Stuffiness generally. Let’s save a few more categories and add here out-of-date literary sensibilities and pretensions, the aphoristic, portentous, pompous, didactic and polemical. If I think of any more I’ll most likely add them into this catch-all category.

25. Clichéd. I’m thinking mostly of clichéd expressions. If I said I’m thinking “by and large” of clichéd expressions, that would be an example in itself. It’s usually little clumps of words that always seem to go together, but also whole concepts that go unquestioned. Cities are always bustling, sunsets always golden, looks always stern etc. The Irish poet Jean O’Brien said (in a workshop I attended) “Beware of the bits that seem to write themselves.” In avoiding clichés it is the underlying assumptions that have to be dispelled. A “translated cliché” would still be a cliché.

26. Unspeakable. “Actors call some lines pills to swallow, for they cannot be made to sound genuine” is an example of this syndrome. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the use of the word “for” instead of “because” archaic and laboured. I tend to think that if I wouldn’t use the word in speech then I shouldn’t in writing. I wouldn’t say “I think it’s very cold today for the pond is frozen” so why write it? Anything that would sound laboured if read out has to go. You probably recognise the dismal effect when somebody says something and “it sounds like they’re reading it out”. If I write: “The solution to this problem is to read everything aloud first” that in itself contains an example of the problem. If I read out that sentence, it sounds like I’m reading it out. Maybe it’s acceptable in an after-dinner speech, but it’s death to a story. It breaks the spell. (How might it be improved, the injunction to read aloud? How could it be phrased better? It just doesn’t sound right, maybe this way would work: “A good way to find parts that sound clunky is to read things aloud when you’re editing.”)

27. Pastiche. There can be cases where the whole story is a cliché, if you see what I mean, which is usually to say that it is derivative in the extreme. It might be deliberately writing to a formula, or it might be lacking a genuine “voice”. I’m very impressed by people who can emulate other writers to a tee, which can be brilliant, but I find it difficult enough just “to write like myself”. Here’s a little story: When I was a kid I used to sing myself to sleep at night. We used to go see films in the Casino cinema in Finglas (Dublin), and occasionally there would be a musical. I remember on one of those nights when I began to sing in bed, trying to sound like the singer one of those musicals. After a I asked my Grandad, who slept on the other side of the room, if he liked my new voice. I always remember his answer and I thought about it a lot. He said, “I prefer your own voice.”

In summary, when there are hundreds of entries to a short story competition, only a story that is near as dammit technically flawless has a chance of reaching the short list. As you know, there are still more qualities beyond technical perfection that are required. In a world class orchestra every musician is technically perfect, leaving them free to work on interpretation and expressivity. With stories I suppose it’s subtle resonances and other quasi-poetic elements in the layering of words, a sense of adventure, newness etc – another list to think about for another day.

I’ve just added another three categories of fault, a couple of days after posting the first draft of this, and a list of books* stopping short of literary theory, philosophy of language and suchlike. In the Willesden short story competition we’re not asking for high philosophy – Dead Henry might be, I can’t really say, though he has been compared with Baudrillard – but we are looking for something technically perfect, original, vivid and compelling in serious or humorous non-generic stories. Exactly how or why these come into existence may always remain a mystery but they do.

Stephen Moran

P.S. I only wrote the list of points above to be helpful and to open my own thoughts and prejudices to constructive criticism. I think, and always think every year, that all the writers who entered showed talent and potential, and that among the stories were many “near misses”.

* Some books about writing

Short Circuit – A Guide to the Art of the Short Story (articles by various writers)

The First Five Pages (Noah Lukeman, Prentice Hall)

On Writing (Stephen King, New English Library)

Dreaming by the Book – Elaine Scarry (deep, philosophical but readable)

Writer’s Workshop – by Stephen Koch

Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott, Anchor Books)

About the short story

The Lonely Voice (Frank O’Connor, Melville House)

A few interesting links

Belief and Technique for Modern Prose (Jack Kerouac)

A Short History of the Short Story (William Boyd)

Principles of a Story (Raymond Carver)

Paris Review Interviews on Writing (nearly every writer you could possibly want)

An earlier version of this article appeared in
The New Writer’s Handbook II, (Scarletta Press)
A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career
preface by Ted Kooser, edited by Philip Martin

* Illustration: An exercise in classification of rejected items for one year (2011?)


Poetry: Last Night’s Dream Corrected

Cover art by Stratos Fountoulis

It’s not new and it’s not short stories! But it is one of the anthologies we helped to publish back in 2006. And a right purty book it is too.

A tasting menu of poetry from outstanding newcomers alongside established and award-winning poets such as Joanne Kyger, Bill Berkson and Michael Rothenberg. Each poet has a separate section and the physical and visual pleasures of the book are intended to complement the poetry on the pages.

Here is a preview of the contents section from the book.

Contributors: Raewyn Alexander, Richard Atkinson, Bill Berkson, J. Tyler Blue, Sean Brijbasi, Terri Carrion, Ira Cohen, Josh Davis, Mikey Delgado, Stratos Fountoulis, Kim Göransson, Susan Kennedy, Joanne Kyger, Elias Miller, Stephen Moran, Julie Payne, Michael Rothenberg, Dean Strom, Blem Vide, Richard Wright. The title is taken from a poem by Sean Brijbasi.

A Few Maybes About Fiction

The joy of fiction is not in finding out what the writer knows, it’s the writer finding out what we know. Characters the writer hated turn out to be better than the writer imagined. Characters the writer loved were not all they were cracked-up to be. If non-fiction is for us to find out what the author knows then maybe fiction is an exploration in which the author sets out to discover what we know. Then like other discoveries, it sounds obvious when we hear it. We knew that all along.

Reading fiction is following with the logic of music, notes that establish a theme, counterpoint, development, allegro, largo, andante, the theme returns, resolution… The music is out there; it’s David in a block of marble, stories in the burble of a café, the susurration of congregants, the gull cries of a spoon stirring medicine in a glass, the sound of a small hammer on tin, which turns out to be a finch, the train sound from miles away that only carries on moonless nights…

(And always a basketball bouncing, though nobody round here plays basketball. Always children babbling and shrieking, though there are no children round here. Sometimes a jet flies low overhead though we’re not on any flight path. Helicopters hovering where the streets are too small to land. The same Jehovah’s witnesses call every couple of months, disbelieving the mezzuzah. Visits by the Seventh Day Adventists are settling into a pattern. The Church of Latter Day Saints is overstretched. A hungry teen with crow’s feet round his eyes sells flannels from a tray while a Merc. waits round the corner. The parcelmen knock and run away.)

But what does it matter? Turn the page, our hero is going somewhere, to where people are and there will be tea, JD, opium and lashings of ginger ale.

We are the lost tribe, the lost tribe of us, enrapt in a florid delusion of consciousness, where spirits live in history, and offerings are made on stage to gods of theatre, and there are such laughable concepts as careers, status, security and wisdom. Where everyone is a shaman drunk on industry, spinning in train carriages of spear-carrying accountants, trouping in powdery makeup through jungles of wire.

Stephen Moran

Originally published in my blog Museum of Illusions (2011)

Southernmost Point Guest House

This is an anthology of poetry from the same publisher as New Short Stories. Poetry and short stories, like horses and goats, make good companions.

The collection brings together poetry by writers currently living in America, Britain, Ireland, Italy and New Zealand. They have little in common other than finding themselves here, in this book, and in the early part of the 21st century, with something to say.

You can preview the list of contents here.

Contributors: Raewyn Alexander, Alex Barr, Lynn Blackadder, Sean Brijbasi, Susan Campbell, David Cooke, Tim Craven, Mikey Delgado, Vanessa Gebbie, Kim Göransson, James Browning Kepple, Charles Lambert, Laura Lee, Andrew Mayne, Geraldine Mills, Stephen Moran, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Richard Peabody, Lynsey Rose, Judi Sutherland, Lee Webber. The title is taken from a poem by Alex Barr.