You are here

How short is a short story?

How short is a short story?


With the clock ticking on the Man Booker International Prize shortlist announcement (12th April), a former winner, Lydia Davies (2013), recently gave a reading of some of her new short stories. Some are very short indeed. Here is one in its entirety: “All my life I had been trying to improve my German. At last my German is better, but now I am an old woman.” She also discussed the importance and the timescale of ending a story: “Endings are very difficult as I’m sure everyone knows,” she said. “And usually the answer is to wait – to try something and come back to it a week or two later again and again. But sometimes it takes a couple of years.” She didn't say though how long the second and final sentence of her learning German story took to come up with.



One of this year's Man Booker judges, Val McDermid, was recently asked which book she has never been able to finish. Worryingly for all prospective Man Booker nominees, she is strict: “It goes against my Scottish Presbyterian upbringing, but life is too short to waste on books that don’t engage my heart or mind,” she said. “So I regularly transfer books to the charity shop pile because they haven’t earned a place on my shelves.” The news is likely to send fretting authors scrabbling to the charity shops in a five-mile radius around McDermid's house looking to see if they have been “stiffed” by the crime-writing judge.



Hilary Mantel, Man Booker heroine and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, is to receive another accolade. She hasn't produced a new book and sneaked it out under the radar but rather will pick up the Helmerich Award, presented by the Tulsa Library Trust and the Tulsa City-County Library, for her existing work. It is not to be sniffed at either, being worth $40,000 and comes with an engraved crystal book to decorate her mantelpiece too. Mantel is not the first Man Booker author to receive Tulsa's largesse: Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Thomas Keneally and Margaret Atwood have all donned black tie or killer frock to pick up the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award.



Ishiguro is to garner another honour of his own. The city assembly of Nagasaki has just unanimously passed a bill to make the Man Booker and Nobel laureate an honorary citizen. The mayor, Tomihisa Taue, noted that Ishiguro is the first person from the city to become a Nobel laureate in literature. Ishiguro will be invited to attend the annual peace memorial ceremony on 9th August. Ishiguro, of course, was born in Nagasaki in 1954 and moved to England with his family at the age of five when his father got a job as an oceanographer in, of all places, landlocked Guildford.



Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Man Booker winner in 2014, is following innumerable MB books and heading for the screen – the small screen in this instance. The Australian film company FremantleMedia is working with Flanagan to adapt his novel for a television series. Flanagan professes himself to be “delighted” that his book will be adapted “in this age of great television drama”. His hopes seem well-founded; FreemantleMedia is responsible for a remake of the classic film Picnic at Hanging Rock but also a television version of Man Booker International nominee Elena Ferrate's My Brilliant Friend.