Guy de Maupassant, Aleksandr Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol might appear unlikely pin-ups for the iPod generation, but audio files of short stories by the giants of European literature are now available to download for the first time.
A website dedicated to the joys of the literary form has gone “live”, applying Apple’s world-dominating music model to the written word.
The heavyweights of French and Russian writing can be found alongside such popular modern British novelists as Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan, as well as classics by Hilaire Belloc, DH Lawrence and GK Chesterton. The site will also showcase the talent of new writers struggling to be published elsewhere.
Each story, narrated by famous actors including Timothy West and Prunella Scales, is available to download in MP3 format for between 49p and £1.99 depending on length. A handful are free. They can be played on mobile phones, MP3 players or even satnav systems. Browsers looking to find more substantial works by their favourite writers are directed to Amazon. The creators of the site, www.spokenink.co.uk, believe the appeal of short stories, after a long period of decline is greater than ever.
The writer Edmund Caldecott and his business partner Constantine Gregory, an actor and voice coach, have spent 18 months enlisting support from writers, publishers and performers. Caldecott said he was inspired to create the site after a negative experience at the hands of a publisher.
There is a slew of new literary prizes for short stories and authors looking to be published in the format. “People are certainly reading short stories again and I thought it fits with how people live their lives today,” said Caldecott. “It is not that we have shorter attention spans. It is that there is so much more on offer to distract and entertain us.”
The site’s founders declined to reveal how much each author would be paid when a work was downloaded. Caldecott said the key to success in writing short stories was in being able to entertain a reader from the outset. “You cannot waste words – you have to be succinct,” he added.
Earlier this month, Amazon began offering two short stories – described as too long for a magazine but too brief for a book – for its electronic reader, the Kindle. The stories by Christopher Buckley and Edna O’Brien, costing $3.99, were picked by staff at the US magazine The Atlantic, which stopped publishing monthly fiction in 2005. Although the short format reached its apotheosis in the mid-19th century when the newly literate classes flocked to weekly journals and magazines that made stars of authors such as Charles Dickens, the tradition of telling short stories dates back to Chaucer and Boccaccio. By the 20th century, most writers were active in the field and the work was highly lucrative.
F Scott Fitzgerald was paid $4,000 for a single short to appear in The Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s, while W Somerset Maugham became the most popular and wealthiest writer of the inter-war years largely on the back of his short stories.
Small is beautiful. Short story classics
* Anton Chekhov Kashtanka is a classic by the undisputed champion of short story writers, telling the story of a little red dog which gets lost and trains for the circus.
* Peter Carey has twice won the Booker Prize. His Million Dollars Of Amphetamines offers three ingredients for a great short read – sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
* Margaret Atwood: The best-selling Canadian author’s work Betty unravels the strangeness of the adult world through the eyes of a six-year-old.
* Ian McEwan: His 1975 short story Solid Geometry is a diverting tale which features a pickled penis as well as some troubling maths problems.
* Angela Carter: The Company Of Wolves, from the pen of the grande dame of up-scale Gothic and magical realism updates the classic fairytale Red Riding Hood.