Writing Crumbs: Short Stories

… from the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Short Fiction: Anneliese Mackintosh [AM], Colin Barrett [CB], and Graham Swift [GS]

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Young-Skins

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Any Other Mouth is ‘A viciously funny and heart-breaking collection of semi-autobiographical short stories from one of the UK’s most exciting new voices.’

‘This is the best thing I’ve read in years. Brutally honest and exquisitely crafted, this is a book that breaks your heart, slowly rebuilds it, only to smash it to pieces again. I’m seething with envy.’ Doug Johnstone

AM‘s collection is gathered around death – a fierce, raw, brutally honest, heart-rending collection of stories that spilled out after her father died. She said his death released her to write what she wanted to write, both physically (an inheritance allowed her time to write) and emotionally (poured out things which she’d always held back from telling). Memoir refashioned into highly original prose. Broke my heart to listen:

  • highly personal; intense
  • punctured with black humour and irony
  • collection isn’t ordered chronologically, but has its own order through the emotional arc
  • 3 months to write a first draft; 2 years to rework them

CB‘s collection is a ‘biography of a small town’ [fictional town named ‘Glanbeigh’ and surrounding area of County Mayo ]:  “My town … is nowhere you have been, but you know its ilk.”  A shy, unassuming writer who surprised me with the emotional maturity and sly humour of ‘The Clancy Kid’; the story he read.

Young Skins is a collection of “stories … set in a familiar emotional landscape, but they give us endings that are new. What seems to be about sorrow and foreboding turns into an adventure, instead, in the tender art of the unexpected.”– Anne Enright

  • paired characters; mostly young men
  • in the tradition of Joyce and Beckett who energised writing about small towns: small town fictions, big ideas
  • reveals the mindset of the place through a timeless representation of those who stay behind
  • four years to write it; edited as he wrote
  • advises writing stuff you don’t publish – write out your experiences
  • read; keep reading new things

GS‘s collection is ‘elegant, humble and humane’: James Kidd. I read the short story called ‘Fusilli’ on the way to the event, and nearly cried on a packed train because of the restrained way it unfolds a story of loss and longing.

‘We are the people of England and we haven’t spoken yet’ – ‘The Secret People’, G. K. Chesterton

  • began his career with short fiction and moved to novels. This is his first collection of short stories for over 30 years – why? short stories ‘departed him’ until 2 years ago and then they ‘happened to come’: ‘a joy’
  • carefully constructed collection: read from first to last, in order, to get the best sense of how it fits together
  • collection of stories ‘about how people who happen to live in England and, through the universal in the local, about the ‘greater republic of humanity’
  • one of the functions of fiction is to tell the stories that don’t get told
  • title has a hint of irony: suggests England is a kind of story – made from the stories we spin for ourselves
  • doesn’t write from his own experience
  • loves the idea that something formed out of nothing, in isolation, forms stories in the reader’s imagination which they read in isolation: the shared connection of storytelling
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