Alex Linklater: 'Stories don't need to be big to do great things'

From a speech by the deputy editor of 'Prospect' magazine, at the launch of the National Short Story Prize, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
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The Independent Online

Firstly, British literary journals ceased to matter. Secondly, mass-market magazines abandoned the publication of stories. British publishers began to believe that only the novel was worthy of making a writer's name.

But, in America, publishers continue to make stars of their short-story writers. In the introduction to a new collection of stories from McSweeney's Literary Quarterly, Dave Eggers has fun at the expense of Europe's literary mainstream-ism:

"This is an endless source of fascination for us in the United States: the unmitigated indifference Europe feels for short fiction. How to get Europe to love the short story? Should we use a threat of force? This is the main idea we export in the US, and we think it will work in this instance as well. Here it is: you must love the short story, and you must start many literary quarterlies, lest we bomb your people, invade your shores, and send mercenaries to fight your insurgents."

The mockery is nicely placed. It is not an invitation for our writers to ape theirs, only a reminder that stories need places to be read. The one area in which the story is well served in Britain is radio. What is missing from the picture is the publishing and magazine culture necessary to developing the written form.

So, coming together to build a prize for writers of short stories, we have a rather remarkable collaboration of partners: Prospect and Radio 4 will create a shortlist of five writers to be sponsored by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. This prize is meant to achieve three things: to focus attention on the form, to acknowledge the storytellers we have, and to help make it happen for those we don't yet have. Like the story itself, it doesn't need to be big to do great things.