Friday, 12 January 2018

BOOK CLUB: A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

“Calcutta ... Our Star in the East. We’d built this city ... where previously there had only been jungle and thatch. We’d paid our price in blood and now, we proclaimed, Calcutta was a British city. Five minutes here would tell you it was no such thing. But that didn’t mean it was Indian.”

A Rising Man is grounded in a very specific time and place: Calcutta, 1919. This is a time, in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, when the “Quit India” movement was beginning to gain momentum. When calls for violent uprising were clashing with Gandhi’s approach of non-violent noncooperation. When the British were doubling down on their control with an oppressive set of laws called the Rowlatt Acts.

And in the midst of this, a senior British civil servant is found murdered in the ‘wrong’ part of town, with piece of paper stuffed in his mouth inscribed with a subversive slogan.

A Rising Man is the first book in a planned series and Mukerjee introduces two main characters: Captain Sam Wyndham, scarred from his experiences in the trenches and the death of his wife, and newly arrived in India and Detective Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee, known (because British tongues can’t manage anything too complicated) as Surrender-Not.

Here Gillian E Hamer, JJ Marsh and Catriona Troth talk about how the book affected them. Please join in in the comments section below!



How do these two characters work as a pairing? And what do you think of Mukherjee’s choice to make the outsider, Sam, his point of view character?

(GEH) I loved both characters! In a kind of Morse and Lewis vibe they worked off each other really well, with touches of humour and subtle sarcasm as they grew to know each other. Both were professional, and yet the reader knew early on that Banerjee was always going to be the unsung hero that saved the day. I think Wyndham knew that Banerjee was going to be a life-long partner, and that his local knowledge and expertise would always make an outsider’s job easier.

I think having Wyndham as the central character worked really well because we saw Calcutta through his eyes, and the highs and lows of the city resonated with us from his British perspective which we understand as Westerners ourselves.

(JJ) They are the classic team. Initially awkward, rubbing each other up the wrong way on occasion but both have much to offer and by dint of mutual respect - one assumed, one earned - they achieve a harmony and understanding I would happily read and enjoy as it develops.

Sam as POV is vital to my own appreciation of this book and this time. He's cognisant but not comfortable with the assumption of British superiority and challenges the status quo as who might have been a 'modern man' for the times.

(CT) I fell in love with both of these characters at first sight, and that affection has only deepened with reading the second book in the series (A Necessary Evil). Surrender-not's wry sense of humour and his patient tolerance of Sam is irresistible. He's one of those apparently secondary characters that actually give the book its heart and soul.

I think that Mukherjee's choice of Sam as the point of view character firstly gives him an 'all access pass' that simply wouldn't be possible for Surrender-not, given the restriction imposed by social hierarchies. Sam will also notice things that a local would simply take for granted, which gives us a eyes and ears in this unfamiliar world.

Mukherjee takes you down into the streets of Calcutta, from the stinking gullees of Black Town and the opium dens of Tiretta Bazaar, to the poky guesthouses for the itinerant British, where “the mores of Bengal were exported to the heat of Bengal,” the maroon-painted colonial neo-classic buildings of the Imperial civil service and the exclusive clubs of the rich.

Does Mukherjee successfully evoke Calcutta in the early 20th C for you? Any descriptions that particularly strike you?

(GEH) Yes, I thought the sense of location was excellent. I loved how we discovered the city through an outsider’s eyes as Wyndham was clearly unprepared for Calcutta. I thought it was a very clever tool to use Annie Grant as our guide to the city, and I particularly liked the descriptions of the glitz and glamour of the bars and hotels they frequented being next door to some of the poorest slums. The contrast is meant to shock us and it does. And yet her explanation of how these stark differences were normal to the locals and how the different colours and castes were treated within the complicated layers of society was well researched by the author but came across very naturally.

(JJ) 100%. Not that I'd know, but his sense of alienation, endangerment and sheer confusion at this indescribable city thrusts the reader right into the middle of the heat, traffic and politics. The opium den is a curtain drawn back on a twilight environment, but I found dinners at the boarding house grimly familiar and entertaining in a gritted-teeth fashion.

(CT) I thought the detail was extraordinary, without ever being heavy handed. I had a film playing in my head the whole time I was reading - in full technicolour and surround-sound.


This is a world of strict hierarchies, where everyone is kept firmly in their place. How did Mukherjee convey the manners of the period?

(GEH) I may have touched on this a little in the previous answer as Annie Grant was a very clever character as she saw things from both sides, and understood how these barriers worked. She was mixed race and gave a no nonsense account of how it had become accepted that English men brought over to run the country would consort with local women, but how the children of those unions were never fully accepted into society. The author showed through Annie his real feelings about society at that time, but didn’t shy away from the brutal manner of the period in either tone or language. We also saw the complex hierarchies of the police and military and who has the power and makes the decisions. I found this extremely interesting and liked the fact that the central characters did their best to stay true to their values.

(JJ) That is one element of the book which made me continually uncomfortable. The privilege and entitlement of the British colonials made my toes curl, even with the historical perspective. Mukherjee uses his brush lightly, embedding the appalling injustice and arrogance as part of the scenery. The caste system also has a walk-on role, but is still significant. I found the social strictures artificial and outdated yet evidently functional.

(CT) I agree with Jill that it can make for very uncomfortable reading - and so it should! To give just one excruciating example, Surrender-not  - a police sergeant - is forced to wait outside a club when Sam goes inside to interview someone because of a sign that declares ‘No dogs or Indians beyond this point.'

We tend to view this period from the point of view of the British Raj (through stories such as The Far Pavilions or The Jewel in the Crown). Was there anything about the different slant that Mukherjee brings to the story that surprised you or made you change your view of the British role in India?

(GEH) Yes, you’re right. Anything I’ve read or watched on TV has always been from an English perspective, along with a rallying cry for the might of the empire! Here the author makes you think about the real people of India, who watched as their city exploded into a kind of London suburb before their eyes. Some, like Banerjee, were able to find a foothold within the new regime, whereas many were simply left behind and forgotten. I think the treatment of these people by the British, particularly the police and military, was the most shocking for me.

(JJ) The articulate, wholly justified and determined rebellion against British rule from a complex and divided society is something I appreciated learning more about, especially the nuances of political and geographical reactions. Mukherjee keeps our attention on the plot narrative while providing an informed and opposite-of-airbrushed context. Learning by stealth.

(CT) I knew a little bit about the later stages of India's struggle for independence, but this early period was new territory for me. The sheer brutality used in suppressing the Free India movement  and the contempt shown for the legitimate aspirations of the Indian people was a sharp jolt to the conscience.


For all the seriousness of the underlying themes, A Rising Man is rich with humour (particularly in the relationship between Sam and Surrender-not). What was your favourite moment of humour?

(GEH)   I think it was the subtle sarcasm and the way Banerjee gently mocked Wyndham without him even sometimes being aware he was the centre of attention. Along with the mutual respect, I liked the fact there was often a glint in the eye of one or other of the characters. One moment that sticks in my mind was how Banerjee tried to protect his boss when they were forced to visit the local brothel in the course of their enquiries.

(JJ) Sam and Surrender-Not have so many whipsmart interactions but the one that stuck with me is when Surrender-Not explains his nickname. It's a moment which encapsulates the whole book for me. Intelligence, underestimation, gentle criticism, humour and yet still the nickname sticks.

(CT) There is such a warm humour in the interaction between Sam and Surrender-not that it's hard to pick out individual moments. Also, it's a while since I read A Rising Man, and it was a library copy, so I can't refer back! I do know that my absolutely favourite interaction between Sam and Surrender-not came in A Necessary Evil. (You can read about it in my interview with Abir Mukherjee.)


Is Mukerjee successful in blending the Crime and Historical Fiction genres? Is Crime Fiction a good way of exploring a less-well-known time and place like this?

(GEH) I thought it was a perfect blend to be honest, but then I am a fan of mixed genre books – particularly crime and historical which I’ve written myself. You have the excitement of the murder enquiry, and yet learn so much about the period, and in this case the country, where the story is located. It adds another level of interest for me, as I love reading both genres anyway. This is the first book I’ve read in the series, or by this author in fact, but I’m already looking forward to rejoining Sam and Banerjee on another case in the future.

(JJ) This blend is a new one for me and I confess I tend to study periods of history and politics without the distraction of narrative. However, I found this book a compelling read for the tension of plot and drama, whilst absorbing the hintergrund as think-about-that-later. That said, the time and place, not to mention characters, have stuck in my mind far more powerfully than the story. I'll be reading much more Mukherjee in future.

(CT) I think it works extremely well. What better way to examine any society than through the often cynical eyes of a policemen? And having the main plot of the book revolve around solving a crime distracts us from the fact that we are actually absorbing a fascinating history lesson!

Friday, 22 December 2017

Finding That Perfect Read

by CP Lesley

One advantage of the current publishing climate is that a reader has no shortage of books from which to choose. Free and low-cost books are everywhere, including through subscription services like Amazon.com’s Kindle Unlimited.

But finding a good book is not so easy. Reviews offer some insight, but many good books fail to attract reviews for various reasons. Book bloggers soon acquire more titles than they can ever have time to read, never mind write about.

Readers too soon become overwhelmed by demands on their time. And not all reviews are what they seem: ethical writers, including myself, refuse to pay for book reviews, but some desperate souls give way to temptation.

So what’s a reader to do?

One approach, adopted by more than a few GoodReads friends I know, is to limit oneself to commercially published books. There readers can trust that books have gone through editing, typesetting, and proofreading, received professional covers—and, yes, that any reviews they receive reflect the honest opinion of the reviewer. But trade books are expensive, at $9.99–$12.99 or more even for an e-book. For the average voracious reader, they represent at best a partial solution, although public libraries can help.

But that approach also ignores the many good books published outside the commercial houses. And commercial publishing is just that: books have to sell millions of copies in today’s market to make a trade publisher’s investment worthwhile. If your taste runs to more unconventional fare, you’re out of luck.

That’s where small presses and coop publishers (a variant on small presses) come in. A coop like Triskele Books or my own Five Directions Press exerts the quality control of a traditional publishing house but can charge less, especially for e-books, because the coop authors can break even at a much lower number of copies sold. No one guarantees that if you love one author’s gritty historical fantasy, you will love another’s sparkling contemporary romance, but you can count on each book having received extensive critique and suggestions for improvement followed by professional editing, typesetting, proofreading, e-book production, and cover design. We guarantee one another’s work.

We also cooperate to get the word out, which means that we publish quarterly newsletters featuring other authors and news about our forthcoming titles, regular lists of book recommendations—Triskele’s BookMuse,  Five Directions Press’s Books We Loved posts—and blog posts, many of which feature writers and/or their books. I host an interview channel, New Books in Historical Fiction,  where I interview other authors and read excerpts from their books. Another Five Directions Press author, Gabrielle Mathieu, does the same for fantasy and adventure novels.

So you see, there are tools out there to help you navigate the independent publishing ocean. Take a chance! You never know what magical island may be hiding right over that cloudy horizon.

C. P. Lesley is the author of seven novels, including Legends of the Five Directions (The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, The Swan Princess, and The Vermilion Bird), a historical fiction series set in 1530s Russia, during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible.

 

Find out more about CP Lesley on her website

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Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Big 5 Competition 2018!


Win a year's mentoring from Triskele Books!


It's back!

Our first mentorship competition launched in 2016.
It's proved such a success, we're doing it again.



Five experienced author-publishers from Triskele Books are ready and willing to support you from manuscript to publication, sharing our skills and expertise to give your book the best possible start.

Here's what last year's winner had to say about her prize:

The mentoring from the Triskele team has been exceptional on every level: friendly, enthusiastic, professional, and above all, so brilliantly skilful that after working on Catriona’s editorial advice, I started pitching to literary agents. Within three days of sending the novel out I received (and accepted) an offer of representation. Forever grateful. - Sophie Wellstood
If you want to get your book to its ideal readers in its best possible shape, this is an opportunity to work with a successful team, beside you every step of the way.  

Our range of skills and services are at the winner's disposal to pick and choose according to what suits them best.

We want to help you achieve your publishing goals and we have the tools to take you from first draft to publication ready in twelve months.

And meet our amazing judge!  

Roz Morris, author, book doctor and best-selling ghostwriter will read the shortlisted entries and make a final decision on the winner.

How to enter and what's on offer? CLICK HERE

Good luck!

http://jdsmith.moonfruit.com/the-big-five-competition/4591904791

Friday, 8 December 2017

Triskele's Best of the Year!


The Triskele team look back at 2017 and select some of our highlights ...

Gillian Hamer

Best book of the year?

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon - wonderful unique voice and clever storytelling.

Best literary discovery?

Bit late to the party but revisiting Daphne Du Maurier this year has been a real joy.

Top personal achievement?

Publishing Sacred Lake - third book in The Gold Detective series.

Catriona Troth

Best book of the year?

An almost impossible choice in a year of so many great books – from Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien to Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo Lodge. But I am going to plump for something that won’t be on many people’s radar on this side of the Atlantic: The Break by Canadian Metis author Katherena Vermette. This is a tender exploration of the impact of sexual assault on an extended family, and of the resilience of indigenous women. The women have a strength forged by a lifetime of tough experience, and the bonds of love between them are warm and tangible. They have made their lives and homes in the city, supporting their families while their men, for the most part, have retreated to the bush. Between them, their voices draw us, not just into this one tragic event but into a family history that encapsulates the experience of Métis women. A story that will stay with you long after you have closed the final page.

Best literary discovery?

2017 saw the inaugural award of the Jhalak Prize, and I was lucky enough to be able to read all the books on the shortlist before attending the prize giving in March. It introduced me to so many incredible books and authors that I probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, and I can’t wait to see what is on the shortlist for 2018.

Top personal achievement?

In August this year, I placed a bid in the Authors for Grenfell auction and won a workshop with the amazing Sunny Singh. Singh is a Creative Writing tutor at London Metropolitan University. A lot of the work she does with her diverse student body is to make them aware of the way they inhabit the world and to allow that to inform their character building. I came away from the workshop feeling my mind had been stretched in at least five dimensions – and I had a huge amount of work ahead of me, but that I’d been energised to tackle it.

Liza Perrat

Best book of the year?

Zoli by Colum McCann

Best literary discovery?

Psychological thrillers, eg Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant, Why Did you Lie by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, The Stranger in My Home by Adele Parks.

Top personal achievement?

My top achievement would be struggling through the breast cancer treatment. And getting the idea for Book 2 in the Aussie 70s trilogy. Working title: Swimming with Seagulls.

Jane Dixon Smith

Best book of the year?

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Best lit discovery? 

Erm ... 24 Hovrs in Ancient Rome - really worth reading for anyone remotely interested in every day life of the Romans.

Top personal achievement? 

Starting book 5 in the Overlord series

JJ Marsh

Best book of the year?

I'm currently preoccupied by politics and the patterns of history. So I'd pick Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis or Munich by Robert Harris.

Best literary discovery?


Our wonderful mentee, Sophie Wellstood. Having won our Big 5 Mentorship competition, Sophie responded with intelligence and hard work to feedback from super-editor Catriona. She rewrote and improved her novel as a result. Then when she was ready, she snagged an agent in a matter of hours! We are all absolutely delighted for her.

Top personal achievement?

Getting my head around advertising and finding a huge and friendly readership in the US. So much so, I've caved to demand. Beatrice Stubbs Book Seven is on its way.




Here's to many more successes in 2018!









Friday, 24 November 2017

Ian Rankin and the future of the crime novel?


UPDATE: Since publishing this piece, originally titled 'Death of the Crime Novel', we've been alerted to the fact Ian Rankin was misquoted in the Daily Record. Rather than predicting its demise, Rankin was acknowledging current world events might affect its future, leading readers to opt for a different kind of crime novel.

His original interview can be read here.

We are huge fans of Ian Rankin here at Triskele Books. Really, we are. So his latest interview sparked an interesting discussion between the crime writers among us.


Ian Rankin

"I think this may happen -- a move away from serial killers and bleak dystopian crime fiction towards something with a more comforting message," Rankin tells AFP. "Maybe good will be seen to triumph and ordinary people will overcome crises in psychological crime novels," he adds.



Let's hear from our two resident in-house crime authors JJ Marsh and Gill Hamer.

Ladies, over to you …
Latest novel from Gill Hamer


(GH) I think Jill and myself may be on opposite sides on the fence on this one, but I’ll put my penny-worth in first! I think a thriller is a thriller no matter what goes on in the real world. People will always seek escapism and not everyone wants to escape into a cuddly, idyllic world. Choice is vital.

(JJ) Yes, I'd stand right by that statement: choice IS vital. Crime novels offer an opportunity to experience scary situations vicariously and hopefully see the status quo restored at the end. I think people read crime for different reasons, much like picking up a newspaper. If you want to stare brutality in the face, you can read the headlines (eg, a Karin Slaughter novel). Or if you're in the mood to analyse what brought us to such a point, the politics pages (eg, more like a Robert Harris). Then again, you might just be in the mood for stretching the little grey cells with a crossword puzzle.

(GH) There will always, always be a thirst for good versus evil, goodies versus baddies, and for me there's even more need for that when times are tough. People want to believe good conquers all, crime fiction puts readers into the driving seat and sends them off on all kinds of adventures. I don't think that will ever change.

Latest novel from JJ Marsh
(JJ) He has a point in that the world is sometimes grimmer and more depressing than fiction because we have no assurance it's all going to turn out well in the end. But I agree with you, Gilly, the appetite for crime novels in all their guises doesn't seem satiated.

(GH) No matter how bad the world gets, I’ll never turn to romance or science fiction as my choice of escapism! The cold war didn’t stop spy novels. And Trump and terrorism won’t stop people enjoying the thrill of the chase and the excitement of finding out 'whodunnit'.

(JJ) Although I don't think I could write one - they're harder than they look - I do read 'chick-lit' as escapism. I am also keen to read contemporary crime novels which manage to encompass the modern world. But I have never enjoyed an excess of violence and that's unlikely to change.

(GH) There’s such a wide variety of crime fiction out there. I'm not all about the violence and gore. From cosy crime to noir, there's surely something for everyone. I love Agatha Raisin books – you could go so far as call them feel-good novels. Let's not forget the brilliant Beatrice Stubbs too! And I love The Killing, Rebus, Cormoran Strike. I think readers can choose what suits them across the board and there are enough different options out there.

(JJ) Thank you! I think perhaps there's an age factor here. Many of my readers tend to be at the older end of the spectrum, so prefer a little less bloodshed. Whereas I imagine your readership is maybe broader. You're right though, the Gold Detectives series is not all blood and gore. My favourite elements are the locations, the historical connections and the character relationships. Overall, there are trends that ebb and flow but I can't see any visible decrease in the enthusiasm for well-written crime fiction.

(GH) Well, nope, I'm not swayed either. Crime fiction has been a huge part of my life and always with me.











































Friday, 17 November 2017

The Big 5 Diary #2

The latest instalment from Sophie Wellstood, winner of a year's mentorship with Triskele Books, in which she shares some exciting news!


Sophie, it’s almost a year since The Sky is a Blue Bowl was chosen as the winning entry and you’re fast approaching the end of your mentorship! How has the year worked out for you so far? 

It’s been a pretty damn wonderful year in terms of writing. I’ve had a story included in the Best British Short Stories 2017 (pub. Salt) and another is forthcoming in a second volume of Stories for Homes, an anthology supporting Shelter. But it’s the novel that’s been more or less all-consuming.

Winning the mentorship was a fundamental part of me gaining more confidence in and energy for the book. I know how good the other Big 5 entries would have been, and how close the final decision was, and I did not want to mess up this incredible opportunity to benefit from the skills and experience of the Triskele team. Be careful what you wish for!

Catriona’s forensic dissection and appraisal of the ms left me daunted, thrilled, and overwhelmed in equal measure. There was a lot to fix and I knew it would take me months rather than weeks. I am a very, very slow writer, which still surprises me because the ideas seem to come at the speed of light sometimes. 
Sophie and the Triskele Team

Tell us the truth, has it been hard graft or good fun?


Both. Although maybe ‘fun’ doesn’t quite describe some of the emotions I’ve been through! Definitely hard, hard graft. I remember pacing around my flat, holding Catriona’s editorial report, muttering what? what? really? no way! Oh God she’s right. Yes, yes, she’s right. But if I change that then I have to … re-write … the entire book … ok … So I re-wrote the whole book. Of course it’s still the same story, same themes, same characters etc, but this time I went into every single paragraph with a very different head on me. I started the novel seven years ago without a clue about what I was doing. I was writing it simply to challenge myself. Now it was time to get tough, and to get better. I felt like Catriona’s editorial gave me permission to cut the crap, to give the novel a stronger spine. And once deep into the re-write, I absolutely loved it. My sentences felt 100% punchier, the pace steadier but swifter. I added new scenes, new twists, more jeopardy, more edge, cut the waffle, cut (some of!) the puerile humour, made the tragic more tragic, made the stakes much higher. And made the happy bits very happy. I actually made myself cry with one scene, which told me I’d freshened it up enough to start feeling it properly again. (And that I’m extremely sentimental, no surprises there).

Now you’re happy with the final draft, are you ready for the next steps? This is where the whole team start working in parallel. You’ll get two full copyedits from Gilly and Liza, while briefing Jane on cover design and myself regarding blurb, strapline, etc, plus all our know-how in terms of marketing, metadata and platform.

I’m very happy with the final draft, and have been excited about the next steps – definitely needing the copy edits, and imagining gorgeous covers etc. And I know absolutely nothing about marketing, metadata and platforms, so have been looking forward to learning about this new world. Then two weeks ago things took an unexpected turn.

At the beginning of the month I sent the new version to a few select agents, just to test the waters, fully expecting to hear nothing until after Christmas. However. One of the agents emailed me within three hours of getting the first chapters, asking for the full ms. Stunned, and assuming she must be intoxicated or otherwise completely mad, I sent it to her the next day, and 48 hours later – the Friday afternoon - she called me to say she absolutely loved it and wanted to offer me representation. The evening was spent in a state of complete disbelief mixed with a small drop of gin.

I met with her last week, and was relieved to discover she’s neither mad nor intoxicated but is absolutely passionate about my story and keen to get it out to editors as is. No further work needed. At the time of writing, I’m about to sign with her.

It’s taking a while to sink in. From submission to an offer of representation in four days? I’ve literally not been able to think of anything else. I’ve been dreaming about it. I’m trying to be measured, trying to be realistic – pessimistic even - but am actually deeply, deeply happy.

That I was able to re-shape the novel into this new form is entirely due to Catriona’s editorial skills, her insights and the effort she put into identifying the heart of what I was trying to get at but was struggling with. I will never be able to say thank you loudly or often enough, but thank you - to the whole team. Thank you!

That is wonderful news! How do you want to proceed?


It’s bittersweet. I really do feel torn, and in a way disloyal to Triskele for probably not now taking up the whole offer because it’s such a generous and life-altering prize, and going by the skills of the editorial team, I’ve no doubt the rest of the package would be equally as professional and the finished product would be of the highest quality. But I have always wanted agent representation, for better or worse, and this is a chance I cannot pass by.

We understand completely and we're all thrilled for you! So would you recommend the mentorship to other writers?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Last question, what have you learned from working with Triskele Books?

Writing is work. Sometimes it’s a twelve-hour shift. Writing is a craft, but sometimes the beauty is out of reach. When the beauty is out of reach, revert to the work. Put in another twelve hour shift. The beauty is never far away.

Take criticism seriously. Take your writing seriously. Don’t take yourself seriously.

I’ve learned – or I should say I’ve had it confirmed again and again – that writers are generally the most wonderful people. The Triskele team are up there with the very best: skilled, professional, supportive, creative, passionate. It’s been a life-changing experience to be a part of this and I will never, ever stop being thankful.


Thank you Sophie and it's been a pleasure to work with you. Good luck and come back soon to let us know how you get on. Congratulations!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Why Read Short Stories by Vanessa Couchman

I’ve always been an avid reader of novels, but I first became aware of the short story as a different but equally inspiring form when a teacher read E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops to our class. The story is set in a far-off but credible future. People depend on the now failing Machine to survive, but they have discarded their humanity somewhere along the line.

I was hooked. I read more of Forster’s stories and then sought out other authors who had written them. The list is long and distinguished: Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Katharine Mansfield, Alice Munro and Helen Dunmore, to name a few in no particular order.

What was it that captivated me? I didn’t analyse it then but, having now written short stories myself, I can offer some thoughts.

A good short story sucks you in immediately, absorbs you and engages your emotions. It presents the main character with a dilemma that must be resolved by the end and tells you something about the human condition. A story can be particularly effective if it finishes with an unexpected twist.

Okay, but a novel does that too. Isn’t a short story an easy option?

Not in the least. I find short stories more difficult to write than novels, although they don’t require as much stamina! In a short story, every single word and your overriding premise have to count; in a novel you can elaborate and introduce more characters and ideas. You can afford to have weaker bits in a novel; you can’t in a short story.

Think of a novel as a treasure chest in which some of the jewels sparkle more than others. A short story is like a single gem that is cut and polished to perfection. 
 For readers, an advantage of a short story is that you can read it, or listen to it, at one sitting. They are perfect for relieving a tedious commute, taking your mind off work during a coffee break or whiling away an hour on a rainy day.

You can also try out other genres you might not normally read. For example, I don’t generally read sci-fi, but I’ve enjoyed short stories by John Wyndham and Ray Bradbury.

So, while the teetering TBR pile on my bedside table is largely composed of novels, short stories are usually lurking in there somewhere.


Vanessa Couchman is a British novelist and short story writer who has lived in Southwest France since 1997. She has written two novels, The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow, and is working on a third. Her short stories have been placed in competitions and published in anthologies. French Collection, her collection of short stories set in France, was published on 9th November.