A Tweetathon To Save The Short Story
I love short stories. I grew up on them, and the stories that had an effect on me are now encoded into my DNA. Shirley Jackson's "One Ordinary Day With Peanuts" and "The Lottery". Saki's "Sredni Vashtar". WW Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw". Kipling's "The Gardener". There are heaps of them, and it's love all the way.
For a working writer, this is a silly sort of love. You should write novels. Short stories sell for the price of a good dinner, if you're lucky (and the magazines and anthologies that used to buy them are themselves fading away or gone completely). When they get reprinted they won't cover the taxi fare to get to the dinner. I'm lucky, and have collected my short stories into books that sell well for short-story collections, but still only a fraction of the number that my novels sell.
But short stories are the best place for young writers to learn their craft: to try out different voices and techniques, to experiment, to learn. And they're a wonderful place for old writers, when you have an idea that wouldn't make it to novel length, one simple, elegant thing that needs to be said. People like reading short stories. And they like listening to short stories.
For years, Radio 4 has supported the short story. Ten-minute stories, professionally read, give writers young and old a chance to make a professional sale. Full disclosure: I wrote a short story, "Jerusalem", for them a few years ago, and grew up listening to short stories on Radio 4 and dreaming that one day I'd have a story on there.
Now the station's support for the short story is waning. The Tweetathon we're doing to bring attention to this (each Wednesday for the next five weeks, in association with the Society of Authors, a writer will tweet the first line of a story and tweeters will add the next four sentences to create a short story in 670 characters) may or may not produce great stories: hive minds are excellent news-gatherers and commentators but tend not to produce great art.
All I'm hoping is that it reminds people how much pleasure readers, and listeners, get from short stories, and how much we learn from writing them. If we produce another "The Monkey's Paw" that'll be a bonus.