Tuesday, 25 August 2015

See the World in a New Way

By Amanda Pearson

Short Stories are often considered a poor cousin to the novel. Viewed as marginal by the literary mainstream short stories are nevertheless consumed by a dedicated following. Paddy O’Reilly and Abigail Ulman set out to change the way we think about such works as they joined Patrick Allington in the session: The World According to Short Stories.

Both O’Reilly and Ulman are masters of the genre and have both recently published anthologies of their short stories. O’Reilly’s Peripheral Vision isa selection of unsettling stories that deal with power and judgement in everyday life. Ulman’s Hot Little Hands looks, with a trained eye and pointed wit, at the secret lives of teenage girls and young women. Both writers are quick to champion short stories and talked of the many positive aspects of the genre.

During the session both writers discussed elements of short story that make it an appealing and thought-provoking form. Both were quick to highlight that short story is far more than a section of a longer work. A chapter of a novel in progress does not cut it. Short stories take work, a keen eye, an economy with words and a lot of perseverance. Where a novel will investigate times, situations and characters, short stories allow you a snapshot into other people’s lives, free from the emotional and time commitments required by novels.

Ulman suggests that short stories involve a particular level of concentration that doesn’t lend itself to the novel. “It’s an intense form. You can’t stay in that sort of intensity.” O’Reilly added that these works will often look at places where people choose not to go and shine a light into hidden or ignored corners of society. This lends the stories an often-unsettling feel.

Short stories are currently undergoing something of a renaissance. Ten years ago there was little interest in publishing these works but there are a currently quite a number of anthologies in the pipeline.

Both writers also championed the role of literary magazines in supporting the short story genre. These outlets offer emerging writers an avenue into mainstream publishing by showcasing their work. O’Reilly and Ulman were therefore critical of the news the Federal Government was cutting funding to many of these publications. Short story competitions are another way for short story writers to exhibit their work.

At the end of the session, the writers were asked how readers could get the most out of short stories. O’Reilly’s answer was charming. Her advice was to read one short story a day before you go to sleep. Just one. Let the story take you over — thrill to the completeness of the tale — then let the story become a part of your dreams. The next day, you will see the world in a slightly different way. You’ll see the world through the eye of the story.

Edited by Anna Brasier

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