I was delighted when the proof of Unthank Books‘ Unthology 7, their latest anthology, arrived in my inbox a day or so ago for checking. It seems ages since something of mine was published, although it was only last year. Because my focus is now on the novel I submit fewer short stories, so it’s nice to still keep some momentum going.
I spoke to someone yesterday who’s interested in our new writing group who said, “So all I want now is a publisher for my short stories. Can you find me one?” While I offered pointers, you have to put in the legwork. The short story form remains something I love — to read and write — and as I have said many times was really how I learned and how I still learn. I would like to write more of them and I will, at the moment my time tends to be spent on the novel writing. So to have another story is a good short story collection — and I rate Unthank Books very highly, is a great feeling. It maintains the momentum.
Someone also asked me recently about short story publishing and its role. These successes, and I have over twenty short stories published now in collections, no matter which publisher, really tend to sell to the contributors and to their friends and family. That’s how it goes. But for me it’s still about getting your work out there and who knows who might read it. Does it really matter how small the audience? Better than no audience at all, right? Books in the British Library catalogued against your name are your legacy. I always remember when Stephen King in his On Writing, said how he sees writing as a form of time travel. He says it is 1990-something and he is writing this and you (the reader) might be sitting in 2015 reading the words. You might be reading those words long after the author is gone, but the words do the same thing as if he was here.
What an honour it is to do that. I am very grateful for that.
The story to be published this spring in Unthology 7 is called Open Windows. It’s quite personal to me even though it’s fictional; because it is the first short story I’ve written based where I grew up and where I now live: Canvey Island, tucked into the Thames Estuary. Open Windows is a melancholic (yet tinged with humour) tale of reunion at a wake, based at Canvey sea wall. Adam got stuck when he reached thirteen after a car accident; he was the little boy who never grew up while everyone else did. He was still in 1984 even when he passed away. The friends look for Adam’s graffiti on the sides of an old cafe; long washed away and listen to the haunting taunt of running teenage footsteps along the sea wall. I guess I wanted to capture something in me about growing up, about making time to be together — before it’s too late.
The person I spoke to yesterday also asked me what kind of stories I write. That ought to be an easy question to answer, but it’s not necessarily. I had a think and then I said I write ordinary life, with a touch of the extraordinary. Or that’s my intention. It sounds like a good legacy to me.
What about you?