by Neil Ayres
I've a theory about short stories that I touched on in the editorial for issue 1, but I thought I would expand on it a bit here. I think that the reason they're not in demand, is that not that many people know about them. The only places adults can find them, other than in the literary press (which is, even to a seasoned browser of that particular special interest shelf in Borders, somewhat bewildering), is at the end of magazines for women of a certain age, or in rare collections from best-selling authors, which are likely to be bought and read by hardcore readers, the ones browsing that same shelf in Borders.
When was I first exposed to short stories? Probably in childhood comics published by DC Thompson, and, like many people, in ten minute Tom & Jerry cartoons. A time when the world is wide open, when we know we don't know everything, but when everything we know we take as fact, like the main character in Patrick Samphire's Uncle Vernon's Lie.
It seems forgetting about the pleasure of short stories goes hand-in-hand with forgetting the pleasures of childhood. Do all children make up stories? I think so. Do the majority of Western adults? No, they've forgotten to take time out, rarely having fun that doesn't involve two bottles of wine or six pints of lager. In my opinion, someone needs to tell these soulless lives that there is more out there.
For me, storytelling isn't escapism, it's living. The same can be said for a truly immersive reading, watching or listening experience. The great thing with good short stories is that they're so immersive. As soon as you're in, the writer is relying on you, the reader, to do an awful lot of the work for them, so, unlike with a lot of novels, where the reader is more of a voyeur, in a short story, the reader is almost a co-narrator, not so much filling in the cracks and colour left by a novelist, but painting in entire segments of the picture. Imagining. Having fun. There's no argument from me that a great novel can't offer this same reward, but the amount of effort and investment on the part of the reader can easily result in frustration or boredom. (Interestingly I can think of one example fulfilling both these experiences: Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual provides intricate details of everything he writes about, whilst leaving vacuums of space for the reader to paint until his or her heart is content.)
I think magical realism is a great tool for awakening that inner child. It uses the adult part of our brain, tackling the same subjects as those of the dourest of realists, but restores a sense of wonder. So maybe Serendipity can provide a platform for some exceptional authors who understand a little about what it is to have that infant aptitude for fun, and together make a little headway towards awakening a little bit of the child that's in all of us.
Story Copyright © 2007 by Neil Ayres. All rights reserved.
About the author
The quintessential jack-of-all-trades and master of none, Neil can put up a wonky shelf, write a half-decent story, train a dog to do a higgledy-piggledy send-away and order a meal in Spanish with minimal use of hand gestures and pointing.
Originally from East London, guv, he now lives halfway between the Capital and the south coast. He hasn't been to a university in Cambridge, Oxford or anywhere else for that matter.