I have always loved short stories. As a teenager I remember devouring the work of Somerset Maugham, who was considered a master of the genre. I enjoyed the way that you were instantly immersed in a particular story or world. How the dynamics moved forward with a particular intensity. And how the best of the stories delivered a satisfying, unexpected twist at the end.
Despite the attractions of short stories, I later came to discover that publishers avoid them because they don’t sell. Readers buy novels and non-fiction, went the received wisdom, and it was only a rare few authors who could generate much excitement from short form fiction.
Knowing this, you may wonder why I wrote my collection of ‘Bedtime Buddha’ stories, The Astral Traveler’s Handbook & Other Tales, published recently. The simple answer is that I didn’t. At least not consciously. I didn’t sit down one day thinking, “I know. I’m going to go against the collective wisdom of the publishing world and write a book of short stories that proves them all wrong!”
What happened, rather, is that I sat down to work on an idea, and the idea seemed punchier and more engaging as a short story than as the novel I had imagined it was going to become.
By the time I’d ended up with the finished short story, a few other short story ideas had sparked in my mind. One thing led to another. I found myself in a flurry of writing – I wrote most of one story – The Island of Jewels – on an airplane trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. It felt not so much a case of me choosing to write stories, as me being chosen to write them!
Towards the end of this process, I came to the reluctant recognition that I had probably invested more time than I should in a work of limited interest to readers. It was at this time that I stumbled on an article in The Times (UK) about a revival in short stories.
Apparently, sales of the genre in Britain jumped 45 per cent last year, driven by collections from Tom Hanks, Alice Munro and Jojo Moyes. The viral success of Cat Person, published in the New Yorker has also apparently brought home how short stories can appeal to people who may very rarely read entire novels.
Jason Arthur of Penguin Random House was quoted as saying “If a novel is something that you can lose yourself in, get comfortable in and spend weeks reading, a short story will give you a blast like a cold shower.”
Podcasts have been credited with helping revive the genre (on which subject, you can access two short story audio downloads by going to the Free Stuff button on my website and providing an email address where I can send them to you. Don’t worry, you can Unsubscribe at any time). What the publishing cognoscenti seem to agree is that the revival of short stories shouldn’t be attributed merely to limited attention spans or being time poor.
Have I unexpectedly caught the start of a rising wave of renewed interest in short stories? Do they have a particular place in the mind/body/spirit genre, given the power of parables? Isn’t it high time that bedtime stories were offered to grown-ups? As the Dalai Lama’s Cat – who contributes the Foreword to the new book – might ask: what do you think, dear reader?
Please do let me have your comments in the box below. I’m genuinely interested to know what you think.
And if you haven’t already snagged your copy of The Astral Traveler’s Handbook & Other Tales, for a very limited, introductory period it’s available in ebook formats for an unbeatable US$2.99
If, on the other hand, you have already bought a copy, I’d be very grateful for a rating on amazon. I only recently discovered that only 1% of readers post amazon reviews. But ratings are crucially important in giving confidence to possible new readers. You’ll find links to the relevant amazon pages below.
Onwards and star-wards!
(Photo-credit: Featured image courtesy of Brent Gorwin on unsplash)
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