Forget plot, be honest, read in order
At the Cork Short Story Festival, writers Kevin Barry, Will Boast and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne discuss the form, its limits and its soaring popularity
Why are you drawn to the short story?
Will Boast:“I didn’t know any writers as a kid, so the idea that anyone could write a book was a phenomenal idea to me, and the short story seemed a less intimidating place to start. It was a more democratic form.”
Kevin Barry:“For me, it’s a kind of congenital impatience. You can be in and out quickly with a short story, which can be really satisfying, and even if it doesn’t entirely work, it’s a finished ‘something’.”
Éilís Ní Dhuibhne:“I started off with the short story and I feel much more comfortable with it.”
KB:“I love when writers keep writing them all the way through their careers. It’s such a hard craft – it needs a lifetime of dedication to it. It’s no accident that the best short story writers, like William Trevor, Alice Munro and George Saunders, keep putting out books of stories.”
EnD:“The short story suits people who are halfway between fiction and poetry. It’s a more poetic form. It also has a neatness, and because of its relationship to time is much more manageable.
“What I don’t like about writing a novel is that I change, and by the time I’ve got to the end I’m not interested any more.”
KB:“Well you’re a different person by the time you finish a novel.”
WB:“Frank O’Connor said that a novel requires a character that can sustain your interest over a large number of pages, but the short story can have a semi-hero, or a half-hero.”
Was there a more hospitable environment for the short story in 2012?
KB:“For a while, going into a publisher’s office with a collection of stories was like dragging a corpse in. One reason stories are flourishing again is that there are more places to submit them. Writers respond to platforms for their work.”
WB:“The short story collection is considered ‘the apprentice book’. It’s a shame that it has a stepping stone status.”
KB:“I don’t like the idea of the short story being marketed as a convenience food, being pushed on to people to gobble down on their way to work.
“I react to that idea. It should be read very slowly, you should have to open the window for air.”