(Imported from Blogger; formatting glitches to be fixed)
Short stories are perfect for the age of short attention spans, according to some. But not according to P.A. O’Reilly. O’Reilly, whose novel The Fine Colour of Rust was released on March 1, finds short story collections by Australian women both “beautifully written” and “astounding.” She provided AWW with her “starter list”.
The idea of the Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge is brilliant – not only bringing into focus the gender imbalance in coverage of books, but actually doing something about it. And the reviews are evidence that readers are thrilled to be discovering new books and authors. Now I hope you’ll allow me to add another flavour to the challenge: short stories.
I’ve read plenty of comments about short stories being perfect for the contemporary world because, well, they’re short. Short attention span of the digital age, people having less free time, perfect length to read in a commuter ride and so on and so forth.
I think that’s rubbish. The less free time idea seems to presume that most people in ye olde reading days used to sit down for a ten or twenty (or, in the case of some doorstoppers, fifty) hour stretch to read. I imagine the butler brought meals and visitors were turned away at the door, ‘I’m sorry, but madam cannot be disturbed – she is Reading a Novel.’ The majority of readers have always picked up a book when they had a couple of free hours or at bedtime or on that commuter ride, and read a chapter or two.
And the short attention span? Tell that to someone who spends three solid hours struggling with a computer that’s eaten a document or minuting a meeting at work or looking after a two-year-old.
So here’s my proposition. Don’t try reading reading short stories because they fit into a busy lifestyle or you catch the tram to work or you can only concentrate for twenty minutes (!). Try reading short stories because beautifully written ones are astounding. A short story is designed to be read in a sitting and I urge you to get up after that reading and leave the story inside you to do its work. When you read a collection of stories, try to resist the urge to read one straight after another. Think of how you feel after gorging on a whole box of chocolates.
You may think you don’t like short stories much, but chances are you still remember a few. Man turns into a bug, village has a lottery, something about an overcoat. Yet it’s not the plot that makes a short story memorable. A short story works in a different way. It travels through you, into your hidden places. There is a single essence to a short story but it flavours everything you know. A short story has what in cooking we call umami. And in a short story, the extraordinary power of words is there, pulsing in front of you, each word essential, each word working with all its possibilities.
Try reading some short stories by Australian women. You probably know the names of our world famous short story writers Cate Kennedy and Margo Lanagan. If you haven’t yet, read them. But in recent years there have also been quite a few collections by other women writers published in Australia. Here’s a starter list of contemporary Australian women short story authors who’ve published recently – so many straight off the top of my head that I had to sort them alphabetically. I think you’ll love them.
- Julie Chevalier – Permission to Lie
- Amanda Curtin – Inherited
- Irma Gold – Two Steps Forward
- Catherine Harris – Like Being a Wife
- Karen Hitchcock – Little White Slips
- Tiggy Johnson – Svetlana or Otherwise
- Jennifer Mills – The Rest is Weight (forthcoming)
- Josephine Rowe – How a Moth Becomes a Boat
- Gretchen Schirm – Having Cried Wolf
- Leah Swann – Bearings
- Tara June Winch – Swallow The Air
No doubt I’ve left out many wonderful writers, so please add o the list in the comments section. Also, I’m woefully uninformed about speculative fiction, horror and SF collections – do give us some recommendations.
Paddy O′Reilly is from Melbourne. Her work has been published
and broadcast widely both in Australia and internationally. Her short story
collection THE END OF THE WORLD garnered much review coverage in
Australia and was shortlisted for several awards. Her debut novel, THE
FACTORY, was broadcast in fifteen episodes as the ABC Radio National
Book Reading in 2009. She has also written screenplays. Paddy has spent
several years living in Japan, working as a copywriter and translator.
Paddy’s new book The Fine Colour of Rust is currently on sale as an ebook via the following bookstores participating in the challenge (careful of the price differences).
ReadCloud bookshops participating in the AWW challenge include:
Booki.sh shops participating in the challenge include:
Avid Reader, Brisbane
If you are an Aussie bookshop participating in the challenge and you’re not represented here, please let AWW know.
Do you know any other recent outstanding collections of short stories by Australian women that could be included here?