photo by Nick Kenrick
by Paul McVeigh
We all know about Lydia Davis, Alice Munro and George Saunders’ short story wins, and now we can add Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim to the list, after he picked up the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize last month.
Perhaps all this short story prize-winning and attention is just a trend, as Chris Power’s excellent article ‘The Short Story is Dead! Long Live the Short Story!‘ argues. But, personally, I can’t help feeling excited by all the fuss, even if it is all just part of one big short story, cyclical narrative. I feel there’s momentum and, whatever has set it off, I’m running behind it, pushing with all I can to try to keep that momentum going, even if it’s all just imaginary – I am a writer, so it goes with the territory.
During the last two years, I have spoken to many writers and organisations about the idea of a short story festival for London and I found others were thinking the same thing. The energy, hard work and finances were the obstacles preventing it from becoming a reality. Then along came Spread the Word, London’s writers’ development agency. Having worked with writers in all fields, and recently started their own short story publishing venture, Flight Press, a short story festival was right for them, in terms of their vision. They were prepared to invest their resources into making it happen and, suddenly, the idea for a festival was a reality.
The inaugural London Short Story Festival
takes place from 20th to 22nd June,
at Waterstones in Piccadilly,
the largest bookshop in Europe.
When Spread the Word asked me to curate the Festival, I jumped at the chance. What short story lover wouldn’t? Being a writer of short stories myself, teaming up with a writers’ development agency, it was natural to have writers on my mind and so panel events were my first port of call. Featuring the short story gatekeepers – lit journals, prizes, publishers, BBC Radio 4 – the panels are designed to answer the questions writers want to know. There’s also masterclasses and workshops with great writers and tutors. They sold out quickly, but you can still catch the UK exclusive lecture and masterclass from Claire Keegan on ‘How Fiction Works’. But be quick!
During the Festival, Spread the Word will launch their London Short Story Prize to give writers something to aim for, judged this year by Jackie Kay and The Word Factory‘s Cathy Galvin, founder of the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. Salt Publishing will be there to launch The Best British Short Stories 2014 anthology, with a reading from, among others, London Book Award winner, Stuart Evers.
In terms of short story writers, at the top of my wish list was Irish author Claire Keegan and I’m delighted I was able to convince her to come over. Add Jackie Kay, Helen Simpson, A.L. Kennedy, Adam Marek, Jacob Ross, Colin Barrett, M.J. Hyland, Alison Moore… the list goes on. There’s a free ‘Writers’ Space’ too, where Litro Magazine and English Pen will give mini-workshops and the wonderful Vanessa Gebbie and Lisa Blower will be on hand to run writing exercises with you.
Aware of emerging writers, I created Speakers’ Corner. Right at the entrance of Waterstones, on the hour, writers will read a short story, for free. I didn’t want the stories to be locked away all of the time, I wanted them to be heard around the building. I thought it would also help give that festival feeling of pop-up events in the crowd. And hopefully it will give exposure to some exciting new talent.
People often ask who are the best short story writers in the world? Who are the best we’ve ever seen? So often the focus is on American authors. Being a London festival, I wondered, who were considered to be the best British short story writers and what was the best British short story ever written? A tough one, I know, but by asking this question I hoped to get people talking, to bring attention to home-grown talent and hopefully get people reading (and buying) short story collections from British authors. Thus promoting the writers and the publishers and hopefully encouraging the publication of more – a long shot, maybe, but who knows?
In the meantime, it’s interesting to find out what you think is Britain’s best short story. You can vote over at the London Short Story Festival site, and in the process you could win a Spread the Word Laureate Friend membership and see your favourite story read out by writer and actress Stella Duffy, at the close of the Festival.
I hope Thresholders will be there to help us celebrate and make it a huge success and ensure the London Short Story Festival becomes an annual event.
Paul McVeigh‘s short fiction has been published in the New Century New Writing and Rattle Tales 2 anthologies, Harrington’s Fiction Journal, the Flash Flood Journal and been commissioned by BBC Radio 4. He has an upcoming piece in The Stinging Fly and appearances on BBC Radio 5 and at the Belfast Book Festival, the International Conference on the Short Story in Vienna and the Cork International Short Story Festival. He is currently working on a linked short story collection and has written his first novel.
Paul is the Director of the London Short Story Festival taking place in June this year, and is Deputy Editor of the Word Factory, the UK’s leading short story literary salon. He also has a successful blog for writers, where he posts on short story opportunities and has interviewed authors including George Saunders and Kevin Barry. You can find Paul @paul_mc_veigh and on Facebook.