"If you take them seriously, writing short stories requires a lot more effort, per square inch, than novels," says Tibor Fischer. "You've got to put much more flavour into a story, without the padding you're allowed in a novel. In a story you've only got those few words to capture the reader, so you're much more exposed."
Fischer was one of those 20 names selected by Granta back in 1993 as Best of Young British Novelists around the time his first novel Under the Frog was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Now he's just in the middle of writing his first short-story collection (published late next year by Secker & Warburg), and is one of four writers commissioned by the Royal Festival Hall to create new short stories for a seasonal fiction event on Tuesday.
Lucy Ellmann, Julie Myerson and Diran Adebayo will be joining Fischer to read their new tales - all variations on the theme "Cold".
For his story, Fischer returns to the time he spent as a foreign correspondent in Budapest in the late 1980s. A chilling true story, it takes him through Kalashnikov-patrolled road-blocks over the border to revolutionary Romania, and the desolate fields outside Timisoara, where he's witness to the after- effects of one of Ceaucescu's most infamous atrocities. "It was awful, cold, dark and miserable that night," remembers Fischer, "but spiritually, it reached absolute zero."
Lucy Ellmann made a neighbour give her a crash course in supermarket refrigeration, for her dark, comic fantasy about top-secret cryogenic experiments on a certain blonde ex-Prime Minister by an American cocktail connoisseur. "My story is really part of my mission to make people drink Martinis," explains Ellmann, whose tale gives detailed instructions about olive-blotting and ice-cube-shaking. "My own freezer is disgracefully half-full of other stuff - but I soon aim to have it back in pristine state, with only ice cubes, gin and glasses," she insists.
That extra flavour a writer needs to add to a short story, it emerges, is pimento-stuffed and precision-coated in Noilly-Prat.
Cold Short Stories: Diran Adebayo, Lucy Ellmann, Tibor Fischer and Julie Myerson, Tuesday 15 December, 7.30pm, Purcell Room, South Bank, London SE1 (0171-960 4242) pounds 6 (concs pounds 3.50)
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