2016 sucked didn’t it? The EU vote, Jo Cox,Trump, Syria, celebrity deaths, the whole world took a beating. The future, as they say, is uncertain. As we approach the end of the year I’m feeling reflective. At the beginning of 2016, I had completed a collection of short stories about fame (Fifteen Minutes) but had no agent or publisher in sight. I half-heartedly tried a couple of small presses and agents and barely got a reply. Short stories don’t sell, they’re just not popular, blah blah blah. This year’s Man Booker Prize had a book of short stories on it, All That Man Is by David Szalay. It’s a great collection. They pretended it was a novel but it wasn’t, it was even less of a novel than the Pulitzer prize-winning A Visit From The Goon Squad, having only the merest connection in the first and last stories and nowhere else. The stories are about men at various stages of life but that’s a pretty broad theme in my view. In addition to the obvious collection of short stories, six of the thirteen short-listed authors had previously published short story collections. I’m telling you this because in 2016 I was continually frustrated by the lack of credit given to short fiction writers and their books. I’ve ranted about this before so I won’t again, but personally it felt like I was having to jump through a lot more hoops to get an agent to look at my work than most other writers do, simply because of the form I am compelled to work in.
February offered a solution, a friend told me about the crowd-funding publisher Unbound. I submitted my collection and by March it had been selected for publication. You can find out about my crowd-funding journey in previous blog posts, suffice to say it was hard work but it wasn’t as hard as getting an agent to read my manuscript. By the end of June I was fully funded, some of the people pledging support were complete strangers, so short stories can’t that unpopular after all.
I find myself thinking about other achievements. This year I co-directed a writers’ conference with The Beach Hut Writing Academy called Write By The Beach and it was so successful we’re doing it again next year. In fact you can buy early bird tickets now. I’m going to be hosting a panel discussion about alternative publishing methods with Sarah Rayner Unbound, Bookoutre and Urbane Publishing.
The Brighton Prize, of which I am a co-director, doubled its number of entries and opened to flash fiction and international writers.
I vastly cut down on the number of submissions I made, selecting only a handful of writing competitions and was shortlisted in three out of four, achieving my long-held ambition of being included on The Manchester Fiction Prize shortlist.
I had articles published on writing method and crowd-funding tips and even found a home for my story Sourdough which, after being short-listed for The Writers & Artists Yearbook Award, failed to get a publisher for nearly five years.
I applied for two jobs, was interviewed for both, and failed to get the posts. It was very, very close they said. I’m still mentoring writers though, through Creative Future and privately, and this is very, very rewarding.
Fifteen Minutes has been through a professional editing process with Unbound and has now been submitted for a copy edit. Soon I’ll have a cover and then it will be published. I never dreamed I’d be able to say that at the beginning of the year.
I went to America on a family road trip, pre-election, when we thought there might still be a chance that Trump would fail, and managed to visit the places I had planned to put in my next collection (I’m calling it a novel by the way so let’s see what happens).
I’ve done so much personally and yet I feel a bit flat, a bit disappointed. I wonder if it’s because there’s very little financial reward for what I’m doing, and if this makes me feel like it isn’t important? I wonder if it’s because the contempt with which short fiction writers are regarded by the UK publishing industry is getting me down? Or if it’s a more general disconnect from a world that can vote for Brexit and Trump? It feels like I’m tantalisingly close to something that then moves away again. I’ll snap out of it.
My wish for next year is that the form I have chosen to work in gets the credit it deserves and that publishers stop repeating the mantra that short story collections don’t sell and try selling them instead. That and world peace, trains that run on time, an end to this selfish right wing nonsense that seems to have engulfed the world, some gin and a box of chocolates – it’s not much to ask, is it? Happy Christmas everyone!