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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition