Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 2: Short stories

When I started this little sub-series, I wondered how to describe it – genres or forms or genres and forms? In the end, I chose “genres” on the assumption that we could define it very loosely to include forms. I hope this works. After all, the content is more important than the name!

I decided to make my second topic Short Stories because it’s around now that the relatively new Australian Short Story Festival has been held. You will see from this post, that the way the forms/genres I discuss in this sub-series are supported vary greatly. Short stories, for example, don’t seem to have a focused organisation supporting them the way genres like historical fiction and crime do. However, they are supported in their own ways.

Short story publishers

Although the scuttlebutt is that publishers do not like short stories, there are some who commit to them in an ongoing way, and these are the ones I’m going to share here. Many publishers, though, do, in fact, publish collections, such as, recently, Laura Elvery’s Ordinary matters (by University of Queensland Press) or Carol Lefevre’s Murmurations (by Spinifex Press, my review).

Black Inc’s Best Australian stories series has been published annually for at least two decades, with each edition edited by significant Australian short story writers like Charlotte Wood (2016) and Maxine Beneba Clarke (2017).

Book cover

Margaret River Press published their short story prize anthologies, annually, from 2012 to 2017. I have reviewed a couple of these anthologies, which included competition winners and commended stories. They announced in 2019 that they were “taking a break”. They may be taking a break from this competition, but they are continuing to publish short story collections. I reviewed one only recently, Emily Paull’s Well-behaved women.

Carmel Bird, Dead aviatrix

The wonderfully named Spineless Wonders describe themselves as “a multi-platform publishing company devoted to short, quality fiction produced by Australian writers”. They support “brief fiction in all its forms – from short short stories to novella” including ‘microlit’ which combines microfiction and prose poetry. Most of their publishing is digital, I believe, and I have reviewed Carmel Bird’s foray into digital publishing, The dead aviatrix: Eight short stories.

Other publishers which support short stories in a significant way include MidnightSun Publishing and Kill Your Darlings, which has now published two annual editions (2019 and 2020) of New Australian fiction.

Short story prizes

Back in 2015, I wrote a Monday Musings on short story awards, so I won’t repeat that here. Please check it out for awards like the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize and the Margaret River Short Story Competition. But, there are some new ones established since then, and genre ones I didn’t mention, that I’d like to share here.

  • Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award: Established in 2018 –  named for Carmel Bird (who has appeared on my blog several times), hosted by Spineless Wonders and supported by the Copyright Agency – this award is for short story collections up to 30,000 words in length. The stories can be in any fiction genre, with all prose forms being acceptable, including non-fiction prose. The award includes cash prizes and world-wide digital publication of the three winning entries. Lisa (ANZLitLovers) has posted on this award.
  • Scarlet Stiletto Awards: Established in 1994 by Sisters in Crime (who will appear again when I focus on crime), this national award is for “short stories, written by Australian women and featuring a strong female protagonist”. Its purpose was “to support and unearth new talent”. Past winners have included writers who have appeared here – Cate Kennedy, Angela Savage – and a young woman who went to school with Daughter Gums, Anna Snoekstra. This award is actually a suite of awards comprising several awards – such as “Best New Writer”, “Best ‘Body in the Library'”, “Best Foreign Linguistics Story”, “Best Story with a Disabled Protagonist”, to name a few.

There is a comprehensive list of short story competitions available in 2020 on the Australian Writers Centre site, which underscores how much support there really is for this oft-maligned form!

Australian Short Story Festival

As I said at the beginning, the reason I chose Short Stories as my second topic for this sub-series is this festival. Founded by Anna Solding (MidnightSun Publishing) and Caroline Wood (Margaret River Press) in 2016, it’s an annual festival celebrating short stories in written and spoken forms. It aims to connect Australian and international short story writers, storytellers, publishers, literary magazine editors, and readers. It’s apparently the first national event to focus exclusively on the short story.

The first festivals were held in Perth – I watched the social media campaigns with great envy! In 2019 it was held in Melbourne. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the 2020 festival, scheduled for Adelaide, was cancelled because they felt that “online festival experiences can never quite replicate the immediacy of the face-to-face festival”. This is a festival I plan to attend one day.

Book cover

For those of you interested in short story recommendations, check out my reviews of short stories or look at Readings blog post on Short Stories (written to align with the 2019 Australian Short Story Festival). One of the books recommended is Chris Womersley’s A lovely and terrible thing, which I’ve reviewed here, so I’ll conclude this little post with it!

Do you like short stories? Why or why not?

29 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 2: Short stories

  1. Love short stories and many thanks for this collection of information
    Why do I like short stories?
    Short story writers can nuance in one line that might take another writer (novelist) one page.
    Amy Witting wrote six stories in her collection “Marriages”. It was a delight to read!

  2. As you know WG, I love short stories. Perhaps we will meet – you and I – at the Australian Short Story Festival one day. That would be fun. I had forgotten about the Scarlet Stiletto Awards (which has featured some absolute rippers). I always look forward to the Margaret River anthology as there are often writers I have never heard of producing magnificent stories.

  3. Thank you for posting on the beloved genre of the short story. I have been welded on to the form since studying it in high school where the first authors encountered were Katherine Mansfield and Ambrose Bierce.

    • A pleasure of course Carmel. They are truly great. One of my first loves was Guy de Maupassant, but I think my true introduction, if I dare admit it, was Enid Blyton’s bedtime stories when I was preteen. Blyton did something good, though I couldn’t bear to read her to my kids. What I had loved as a child I came to see as too formulaic, too gendered.

  4. hi Sue. I do read some short story collections, but not many. I guess I’ve always been a long haul sort of person, and I often feel that I’ve just connected with the characters and then it’s all over. I want to go on a longer journey – maybe that’s why I write novels instead of short stories. That said, short stories are an amazing art form and I often read them for the clever honed writing and structure. I feel a bit intimidated about writing them myself. I think I’m scared of not having the space to play. But then, maybe I just need to learn to play in a different way …

    • Thanks so much Karen! I have realised that for some readers that is exactly it. I can understand it. I wonder if it comes down partly to the deepest reasons for why or how we read, reasons that perhaps are hard to properly express but that may have something to do with whether your first call is to characters or ideas? I love characters who engage, and particularly who warm or move me, but my mind is always I think engaged in the ideas and what the writer is wanting to do, to tell us. Short stories are so intriguing in this regard, which is not to say that novels aren’t but just to think that this is probably why I also love short stories so much!

    • BTW this doesn’t mean you need to play a different way, Karen. Does a poet need also to be a novelist? Does a novelist need also to be a short story writer? No, do what you love and are good at!

  5. I recently insulted Carmel Bird to a degree that should’ve been beyond measure by being unaware of her literary credentials ! Talk about an ignorant old fart ..
    She was totally unfussed.
    Wotta gal !

  6. Hi Sue, I am a fan of short stories. At the moment I have three collections of short stories from the library. I don’t read all the stories at once. I break them up with a novel. Some of my favourite collections of Australian short stories are by Cate Kennedy, Jennifer Down, Ceridwen Dovey, and a new author for me is Sean O’Beirne. His short stories, A Couple of Things Before the End are well worth the read.

    • Thanks Meg. There have been so many short story collections published in the last few years haven’t there. I’ve read a few, but not the ones you have! However I want to read those authors you name too. I have only vaguely heard of Sean O’Beirne, but will add him to the list.

  7. I’m not into short stories – have I said that before? – you’re just getting engaged and they end. As I worked today, I was thinking about the history of short stories, they seem to be relatively recent, perhaps growing out of pieces written for newspapers. I think Cranford (Gaskell) was originally slices of village life for Dickens’ paper. Can you think of any Australian short stories prior to the Bulletin? Maybe Henry Lawson’s stories published by Louisa Lawson were the first Australian collection. After him Baynton and Rudd.

    • Haha, yes you have, but I’m glad of course that you’ve documented it here too! I’ve commented on the “you just get engaged” idea in my response to Karen above. I understand it’s how many readers feel.

      Good question re Australian short stories. I have a book called The Oxford book of Australian short stories, and it starts with Marcus Clarke who died in 1881 (so just after The Bulletin started). He apparently wrote 40 short stories. The intro to the book says that it was a popular early form in Australia partly because of the challenge of getting books published here, but it doesn’t give any dates to help us. However, I realise, from your question that I forgot to mention that database (To be continued … remiss of me) on stories from Australian newspapers – To be continued. I think there are many pre-Bulletin stories in that database.

      As for collections, I believe from my Oxford book that Marcus Clarke had collections published in the 1870s.

  8. I love short stories when they’re well done, but I know anyone with a computer thinks they can produce a short tale. I think that’s why so many people get frustrated with short stories — a lot of them are not good. There are a few small-press publishers in the U.S. that only print short stories and novellas, and I make sure to support those places.

    • that could be part of it Melanie, but I think there are many readers here who stand reading pre-the mass computer era who aren’t fans. But you’ve fimnded me that while I’ve always loved them I never read those in women’s magazines because I felt that overall they were formulaic.

  9. Publishers: In one of Peter De Vries’s novels, a publisher who expected the manuscript of a novel and received in its place a collection of short stories turned pale, ashen even, as if he saw behind the collection of short stories every publisher’s greatest fear, a volume of poetry. (Quoted from memory–why didn’t I write it down?)

    I like many short stories. In the US, The New Yorker at one point perfected a style of short story that I, and not only I, found it hard to take an interest in. (I read it seldom, and don’t know whether they’ve published such stories these thirty-five years.) Still, there writers who do very well in short stories.

    • Oh, I love that memory from that novel George. Makes me laugh.

      I seem to remember reading at one stage some short stories from, as I recollect, The New Yorker, but many of them seemed to be excerpts from coming novels rather than “real” short stories. That was probably 10-20 years ago. Does that ring a bell with you?

      • I believe that authors have often enough published as short stories chapters from novels in progress. I know that Flannery O’Connor did, for she mentions this in her letters. To my eye, at least one chapter of Nabokov’s Pnin looks as if it is framed for publication as a short story. J.F. Powers got a National Book Award for Morte D’Urban, most of which I think must have appeared as short stories.

        Whether this is the best way to work, I don’t know. On the other hand, it shows a homely attention to economy, as when one cooks in such a way to use the day’s cooking to provide some of the makings of the next day’s meal.

        • Thanks George. Interestingly I feel ok when the author writes a short story that then inspires a novel but somehow cheated if it’s the other way around. But your cooking analogy makes me feel that’s unreasonable! I’ll rethink my position!

  10. You know I love short stories. I’m trying to think of some Australian writers whose short stories I’ve enjoyed but I’m afraid there are more English writers coming to mind (and I tend to read more Canadian and indigenous short stories than writers across the ponds). Elizabeth Jolley though. And some Christina Stead. I’ve just finished a new collection by Walter Mosley (who’s best known for writing mysteries but writes literary fiction and non-fiction too). I don’t think it’s very common nowadays to find the stories in TNY are excerpted from a longer work; it seems like there are more dedicated short story writers in their pages. If anyone wants to try one/some, they have a podcast in which the authors read their own stories. It’s well done. And nice company when one’s doing the washing up.

    • Thanks Buried. I’m glad you’ve read some Aussies, and am not surprised you have, given your love of the form.

      That’s great to hear about TNY. I’ll try to check out the podcast. That sounds great, though I don’t listen to podcasts much. Somehow I don’t get much listening times it seems, and when I do I seem to feel like I need peace!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s