May has been Short Story Month. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I’m a real short story fan, so I’ve loved this, and I’ve been popping images of short story collections that I own on Instagram on and off all month. That’s been great fun. At the last count, I have 79 paperback editions of short story collections, and if I add in those on my Kindle, then I’ve got way over a hundred! It won’t come as any great surprise that almost all of them are pretty dark in some way.
I grab them from anywhere: in bookshops, online – even once at a toddler group where they had a second hand bookshelf to raise funds. I remember the very first collection I read. I was ill and in bed as a twelve year old, and I was given a copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. Each of the tattoos on the man tells an individual story. I loved these stories! They told a tale in a confined amount of space, and it made everything about each one really punchy, especially the end. This way of grabbing a moment in time and wringing it for every thought and emotion to create a powerful ending is what fascinated me, as did those which left me with a dark twist or consequence, and left me pondering the rights and wrongs.
As I got older, I became fascinated with the blurred lines of moral and emotional choices in collections by great writers such as Graham Greene, Jean Rhys, Ian McEwan, Carol Joyce Oates and Agatha Christie (who wrote many more short stories than you probably realise. I have 16 collections of her stories!). This blurring, and the inner wrangles of the characters, was the thing that got me totally hooked. People are complex, and those events, thoughts and emotions which lead up to a choice between what is right and wrong can make all the difference to the outcome.
It may well have been this endless collection and devouring of short stories (which I think might be my guilty, addictive pleasure) that has enabled me to be fortunate enough to get short stories published in magazines and anthologies worldwide, and to win several competitions. I even got a trophy once! But when I tried to ‘write to market’ for the women’s magazines, I just couldn’t get it right. Envelopes kept winging their way back and dropping through my letterbox, sometimes with explanatory letters that the stories were too dark for the women’s magazine market, and consequently only one or two were accepted (one of them twice in two different countries, which was pretty great!). I had much more success with the literary magazines and anthologies, where the topics can be much more varied, not to mention darker. This suited me perfectly.
When I began publishing my own work, I always knew that I would continue writing those dark short stories – the ones full of crimes of the heart, of moral and emotional grappling with right and wrong, and those in which ordinary people are driven to the edge and crime spills over into both reality and the dark deeds which follow. This is what I achieved with my first collection, The Reason for Everything. I’m truly proud of that book. There are stories in it that make me well up and give me chills and heart-thumping moments. Even better – if a reader can leave one of my stories thinking, ‘I woudn’t have done it like that. Would I?’, or ‘I totally get why they did that,’ or it leaves them pondering those blurred lines, then that’s what makes me feel I’ve succeeded in telling the story.
Readers have contacted me and told me which are their favourites, and this always fascinates me. For a start, it always makes me thrilled that someone has taken the time to read my work(!). What interests me are the stories that they pick as favourites. There is usually something that has caused that particular reader to identify with the character in the story – although I’ll add a caveat to that: if your favourite story turns out to be ‘The death of Mr Ackworth’ and you identify fully with the main character there, then I’m more than a little concerned about you! 😂
If you’d like to grab yourself a copy of the collection which left me dubbed with the nickname ‘Mistress of Melancholy’ (I really LOVE that description! I’m very proud of it! 😁), then you can find it on your preferred store here. If you’re quick, it might even be priced at 0.99. Or if you’d like to delve a little deeper into my collection, you can read a couple of the stories from it here.
If you’d like to see which short stories – and other stuff – that I’ve been posting on Instagram, you can find me here.