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  • Alistair Braidwood

Never mind the width, feel the quality…

There’s a new collection of Janice Galloway short stories on the bookshelves at the moment which collects the stories from Blood (1991) and Where You Find It (1996). Whether you have read Galloway before or not this is a great collection of work, and again it gives me an excuse to bang the drum for the short story as a literary form as I believe it is so often ignored.

Some of the most interesting work from some of our greatest writers is to be found in their short stories. Ali Smith, James Kelman and Alasdair Gray are all masters of the form, in fact some claim, including Glasgow’s poet laureate Liz Lochhead, that Kelman’s best work is to be found in his short story collections such as Not Not While the Giro (1983), The Burn (1991) and The Good Times (1998). The form suits his style as the reader arrives in the middle of the protagonists life, occasionally in the middle of his thoughts, and then leaves again just as abruptly. Because short stories are rarely little contained stories but snapshots of lives in passing, with only a few clues as to what went before or is to come. Surprisingly few writers even attempt to publish short stories, and even fewer do so successfully, so when you discover someone who does they should be cherished. I have already spoken about Agnes Owen’s underrated contribution to Scottish literature (In praise of: Agnes Owens ) and the perfect place to discover her is through the short stories.

Perhaps the best short story writer at work today is A.L. Kennedy. I’ve got a copy of her collection from earlier this year, What Becomes, at the top of the pile of books on my bedside table at the moment, and that position speaks volumes for how good it is. But her previous collections are also worth checking out, and considering how prolific she is it’s amazing that the standard is so consistently high. If you want recommendations then her debut Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains (1990)is a must, and also 1997’s Original Bliss, but it’s all good, and they can be picked up on Amazon for literally pennies.

I won’t say that they are better than Kennedy’s longer fiction as I think her last two novels Paradise (2004) and Day (2007) are masterpieces, the formers’ depiction of a woman’s struggle with her alcoholism being particularly powerful, but her short stories are great to go to if you fancy a quick bite of quality fiction. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that less means less, with short stories there is often much more.


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