For literature's sake, read my book

EVERY NEWSPAPER, this week, has seemed to contain the threat of a hidden charge, buried in its obscurer depths, and I venture into the newsagent's each morning with a jaw set firm to conceal a real infirmity of purpose. For a week or two, the most innocuous-looking journal - a listings magazine, a glossy, a tabloid - may prove to contain something deeply disagreeable, and you pick up a newspaper left on the Tube with considerable nervousness.

In short, I've got a book out. It's true that I'm fairly lucky; reviewers have always been pretty kind to my books, and I have a useful, though sometimes rather embarrassing block which means that I can never remember a single thing that reviewers have said within a week. All the same, the week of publication is a nervous time, and I wish I had the self-discipline of those who just don't read their reviews.

This, too, is slightly worse than usual, since it's something no one - no publisher, that is - seems very keen on these days. It's a book of short stories. And putting one together has made me wonder what the problem is with books of short stories - there's nothing like a bit of self-interest in these matters.

Booksellers don't like them. Publishers don't actively object to them, so long as you make it clear that it's a minor piece of indulgence to slip between last year's deeply moving but delightfully quirky memoir of your childhood and next year's ambitious but perhaps rather second- hand historical novel, working title Major Martini's Euphonium. But they wouldn't actually encourage you to write one.

All this I find slightly odd, because readers on the whole are very keen indeed on short stories. No, really; they lap them up when they can find them, in magazines or even in anthologies. They seem to have no particular difficulty in buying something which sounds definitive, anything which can be described as the Collected Stories of a writer. But there's some kind of breakdown in the chain between a writer whose inclination is towards short stories and a reader with a taste for the form, which is difficult to account for.

Certainly, as everyone says, there's been a drying-up of interest from the old outlets. Radio 4 used to have an interest in broadcasting short stories, but you might as well forget it now. Magazines and newspapers which habitually ran a story from time to time now limit themselves to one at Christmas, if that. The excellent New Writing anthologies sponsored by the British Council still take stories, as do such admirable enterprises as the London Magazine, but their future is far from assured.

And if the situation is bad for individual stories, it's even worse for volumes; and something which has always been one of the glories of the literature is struggling for survival. The pressures of the market are irresistible at the moment, and right now, Chekhov himself would be bullied by his publishers into writing a big, boring novel.

This sounds a bit like a selfish whine, but it isn't really. For the moment, someone like me can generally place a story somewhere. But if I were starting out now, I think I'd find the situation pretty tough. And one of the classic forms of English literature, the volume of short stories, is dying off - not because no one is interested in it, but because no one seems to know how to market it.

Some of the most wonderful works of literature are volumes of short stories - Calvino's Ultimo Viene il Corvo, Joyce's Dubliners, Conrad's Typhoon volume. And there are more recent masterpieces; William Trevor, for instance, is a wonderful short-story writer, and his stories make the biggest impact, not in his Collected Stories but in a perfectly judged and balanced little volume such as Angels at the Ritz.

I have a solution. Considering how many literary prizes there are right now, it's amazing that there isn't one for a book of short stories. I wonder how many judges of prizes a couple of years ago read Candia McWilliam's superb collection Wait Until I Tell You and could find no way of recognising its excellence?

The Orange Prize was set up to reward fiction written by women. Everyone agrees that it serves no purpose apart from keeping the more ridiculous sort of lady academic off the streets. If something like that existed for volumes of short stories - if there was even a further category in the Whitbread Prize - then booksellers would know how to promote them, readers would become aware of them, and publishers might not groan at the prospect of one of their star authors turning from the novel to the short form.

Anyway, it's called The Bedroom of the Mister's Wife, it's only 200 pages long, available from all good bookshops for 10 quid, so go and do your bit for English literature.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones