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Short Story September

It is officially Short Story September, and with the 2020 BBC National Short Story Award around the corner, there’s no better time to celebrate prose. Cleverly crafted writing that authors weave together to form plot, character and development in a short space, here are our top recommendations to sink your teeth into:

Carrying Fire and Water by Deirdre Shanahan

Carrying Fire and Water is a new collection which truly captures the essence of short story writing. Each tale is created with such magnificent specificity: the characters, the location and the unlocking of events. Shanahan skilfully enables the reader to feel as if they are an observer, a bystander in the scene, through her rich language and poignant prose. Each aspect grips the reader, not only because of the beautifully constructed detail but because of what is purposefully left out; acknowledging the right of the reader to apply their own experience and emotion to each and every story.

Shanahan selects stories with a degree of intimacy, exploring relationships between lovers and spouses, fathers and daughters and adults reflecting on their childhood abuse. We regularly bear witness to the old adage ‘nothing is what it seems’ as Shanahan reminds us that cracks can easily appear in even the most solid relationships. In the title story, we are introduced to a beautiful, rustic location where the “afternoon air had been light and the colour of honey”. A husband and wife are enjoying a holiday together, indulging in fresh fruit and relaxed evening meals. Everything seems perfect. However, we come to understand that the wife has endured a heartbreak – something unconfirmed – that is impacting her greatly. With her husband’s response as a catalyst, she recounts a surprising revelation and Shanahan expertly reminds us that whilst a relationship may look solid and strong, there can often be hairline fractures causing undue pressure, weakening that which seems secure.

The stories left me with a desire to close my eyes and imagine the next part of the protagonist’s journey, to hope that they found the happiness they so desperately sought, even though I had only known them for ten short pages. Despite being distinct, the stories are interwoven with tales of loss, morality and abandonment as each character looks for a way to exit their loneliness or to gain the compassion of a second chance.

Choosing a favourite story just isn’t possible – this anthology finds its success in bringing together the individual elements of each story, of fusing pain with hope and fragility with strength.

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Color and Light by Sally Rooney (The New Yorker)

If you devoured Normal People and Conversations With Friends, you'll be glad to know that Rooney's talents extend to the short form. Color and Light provides the magic and familiarity of Rooney's writing in just a few short pages. The characters of Aiden and Pauline are as vivid as the Rooney characters we know and love as we get a glimpse into a fascinating relationship dynamic.

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy Edited by Ameriie

Because You Love to Hate Me is an action-packed anthology featuring short stories by 13 beloved YA authors. Each of the stories focus around deconstructing classic fairy tale villain origin stories. A unique aspect of this collection is the way that it brought creators together to comment on one another’s work. For every author’s story, a popular BookTuber has written an introduction.

Comma Press’ ‘Reading The City’ Series

Comma Press’ ‘Reading The City’ series consists of short story collections that narrate a city, such as The Book of Newcastle and The Book of Shanghai. The short stories in each collection bring the cities to life, whether you know them well or not at all. Don’t worry about missing out on travelling this year, because Comma have you covered - grab your suitcase, you’re going on a trip.

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

What is Not Yours is Not Yours is a collection of nine loosely interlocked tales, which on the surface seem strange and surreal, are also thought-provoking as Oyeyemi seduces you with her literary magic. Including a wide cast of characters, each story navigates violence, desire, and fairy-tale fantasy. Centring on the motif of a lock and a key, this collection will undoubtedly stick in your mind post-read.

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

In The Progress of Love, Alice Munro crafts solid stories of love that encapsulate its genesis in our lives and its progression through generations without judgement or cynicism. She artfully presents, allowing the reader to observe alongside her the conflict, love and devotion presented in her stories. This is a gentle, heartfelt collection that you can sit and take your time with.


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