‘The Great Master of Ecstasy’ was the story that ‘sent’ me most out of those in Glenda Beagan’s book of the same title. ‘Muscles Came Easy’ is easily the best from Aled Islwyn’s collection Out With It. Both are novella-length magnets, drawing you into the world of a novel, so that you treat the tales at the end like you would the secret track on a CD. As a reader, I enjoy the unspooling of character motivation that can only happen over thirty plus pages. My hunch is that a reader needs a set number of pages or a minimum timespan, book stuffed in bag, in order to bond with its characters. Maybe such bonding is a factor making many of us avoid short stories? Wily publishers and authors therefore cannot be blamed for trying to make story collections more palatable with a very long lead-story or the interweaving of characters across a book.
Novellas per se sell even worse than story collections. But just as capitalism abhors a vacuum, so Amazon created the Single Kindle: a marketplace for digital texts (including nonfiction and essays) of between 10,000 and 30,000 words. Parthian, ever quick off the mark, have brought out SK versions of the lead novellas from longer print editions: Aled Islwyn’s Muscles Came Easy (42 pages, £2.39) and Susie Willd’s Arrivals as well as highlights from classic Library of Wales authors Hilda Vaughan and Arthur Macken's 'The Great God Pan'. Hopefully Seren will give Glenda Beagan's similarly titled ‘The Great Master of Ecstasy’ the same e-treatment.
As for the proper single shortie of 2-3000 words, when will the App-knight ride to her rescue? This damsel’s still tied to the tree in terms of book publishing deals. However, the single story is scooting merrily to grab the living-wage prizes offered by the Sunday Times, BBC and Frank O’Connor International Short Story competitions. The latest BBC winner, David Constantine (who has family near Aberystwyth), collected £15,000. The Sunday Times award, meanwhile, shortlisted Roshi Fernando, brand new Swansea PhD graduate, whose interlinked collectionHomesick will be published by Bloomsbury next autumn.
There was concern for the genre in Welsh last year when the Allen Raine Short Story Competition failed to award first prize in the language (though why on earth refuse to honour runner up Jon Gower, and why aren’t they working with our literary magazines?). But solutions are more readily found in creative enterprise than committee. Gower has created a story-chain or collaborative work of fiction (inspired by 1997’s Finbar’s Hotel) where readers must guess, among authors such as Fflur Dafydd, Siân Melangell and Gower himself, who wrote which chapter-story. Short in stature some stories may be. But that didn’t stop Napoleon!
This was first published in Gwen's Saturday books column, The Insider, in theWestern Mail, 9 July 2011
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