Reading Short Stories

Every year Dahlia Publishing hosts two students from the University of Leicester for a 10 week placement. The scheme run by the university provides students with an opportunity to gain work experience in a small press to enhance their learning. Students often work remotely and are supported by editor Farhana Shaikh to pursue a personal project – something where they can channel their interests and make a difference. During the 2018/19 academic year we were joined by Amira Richards who had an interest in editing. Following our Short Story September project we were inviting short stories to read and Amira was keen to work on this. Our meetings were joyous – filled with passionate response for the work we’d pondered over, and often found ourselves battling with the question: what makes a short story?  Here’s Amira on what she learnt during the process… 

Writing short stories can be hard and surprisingly reading them can require the same kind of effort. From a personal perspective, knowing what to look for, what works about a story and what doesn’t is a process that one must discover for themselves. Everyone reads differently.

For my placement I have had the opportunity to read many submissions for Short Story September. I have really enjoyed learning what people like to write about and what urges them to produce a piece of work that will be read by other people. I have learnt that people like to write about the mundane but also the extraordinary and the little things in between. There are stories that captured my attention straight away, and others that left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

However, the most important thing I have learnt is that stories – especially short ones – need a purpose. They need to illustrate a clear message to the reader, which doesn’t have to be personal but nevertheless allows the reader to understand why the story was written. I found that the stories with a clear aim and purpose were the ones that were the most pleasant to read. I understood why the writer decided to send the story in and what they were trying to convey through each carefully formulated sentence.

“The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something that feels important to the reader.” ~ John Steinbeck

So when you write a short story, think about what you want to convey. I would love to see stories that not only show me something but also make me question myself as a reader. And while short stories can lack the detail and intricate backstories of longer works, in my opinion, a good ending makes a short story. Think about how you want to end your story and how it relates to the content as a whole. After all, they are short for a reason. But short doesn’t mean lesser just as long doesn’t guarantee better. I look forward to reading more short stories in the future and urge writers to never stop practising.

Amira Richards is currently reading English at University of Leicester. 

Dahlia Publishing is currently inviting submissions to the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2019 until 15th April 2019.

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Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2019

We’re delighted to announce the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2019 is now open for entries.

We’re looking for new and original fiction under 3000 words.

Stories can be any length (up to 3000 words) style, or subject. There is no set theme.

£7 per story. Max three entries per person.

Writers submitting from within Leicestershire can submit for a discounted fee of £3. Free entry for current students at De Montfort University, Loughborough University and University of Leicester.

PRIZES

1st Prize   – £100 and a bundle of books

2nd Prize – £50 and a bundle of books

3rd Prize – A bundle of books

A longlist of a maximum of 20 stories will be published in an anthology. A shortlist will be selected by our esteemed judging panel, including writers Rebecca Burns, Jonathan Taylor and Susmita Bhattacharya.

Deadline:  15th April 2019

For more details on how to enter and our prize terms please visit our website.

Subjunctive Moods: How I put my first collection together

Dahlia Publishing is delighted to be publishing CG Menon’s short story collection, Subjunctive Moods. Catherine won two competitions hosted by us, The Asian Writer Short Story Prize in 2014 and the inaugural Leicester Writes Short Story Prize last year. It was after this second win, about a year ago, that I spoke to Catherine about the possibility of putting together a collection. In this short blog, CG Menon introduces her debut short story collection, Subjunctive Moods and shares her experience of the process.

When Dahlia Publishing approached me about putting a short story collection together, at first, I thought the hard work was over. Once I’d got that far, surely it would simply be a process of picking out the best stories and stapling them into a book. To cut a long story short: it wasn’t. Putting together individual stories into a consistent and cohesive collection was an intricate journey, and along the way I learnt a lot about the stories themselves and exactly why they worked.

Like many people, I write short stories without having a particular theme or common thread in mind. A lot of my pieces draw on my family history: my father is Malaysian Indian, and much of our family “folklore” comes from rural Pahang. However, there’s an equally strong pull from the other side of my family, who originate in Yorkshire. Both Pahang and Yorkshire are places with a very strong tradition of oral storytelling. They mix myth up with real, mundane events. They’re the sort of places where ghosts always appear when you’re doing the washing-up, and your first thought when a fairy walks in is whether you’ve mopped the floor.

Because of this, there were strong common threads between stories which were superficially quite different. I’ve never felt that I identify solely as an Asian writer, or solely as a white writer, and having a mix of the two was very important to me. In the process of choosing stories I noticed several resonances that I hadn’t at the time of writing. One of these was the role of children in myth and folklore, and the ways in which they grow up. My stories set in both England and Malaysia attempt to depict the way growing up really happens: in a series of jumps, that you don’t even notice until you look back.

It was also important to me to include stories which varied the pacing. Literary fiction has a habit of sticking too close to the contemplative, reflective side of life and ignoring plot. Dahlia Publishing worked with me to order the stories so that every so often the reader’s grabbed by an unmistakeable, immediate happening.

Of course, not everybody reads a collection from start to finish in order. I certainly don’t! I think it’s important for a collection to have a strong start and finish, but beyond that, the selection of which stories to read will always be up to the reader. This collection is bookended by two of my very favourite stories: one which was written recently and one which is the first story I ever wrote. I certainly hadn’t planned to lay the collection out in chronological order, but these two stories finish on hopeful, forward-looking notes that, to me, summed up my writing journey.

ABOUT SUBJUNCTIVE MOODS

In Malaysia, a young girl discovers the seeds of friendship turning into love. A ghostly aunt causes more trouble than she’s worth, and a sea-monster yearns for her poolside home. Family secrets confound two widows in Northumberland, and a third turns to the sea for comfort.

The stories in Subjunctive Moods are based around those tiny moments of missed connection and of realisation: the heartbeats by which we all grow up.

Featuring CG Menon’s prize-winning writing alongside her most recent stories, Subjunctive Moods is a collection exploring the complexities of human relationships, cultural identity, and finding your way back home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CG Menon has won the Bare Fiction Prize, the Leicester Writes Prize, The Short Story Award, the Asian Writer Prize, The TBL Short Story Award and the Winchester Writers Festival award. She’s been shortlisted for the Fish short story prize, the Short Fiction Journal awards, as well as the Willesden Herald, Rubery and WriteIdea prizes and the Fiction Desk Newcomer award. Her work has been published in a number of anthologies and broadcast on radio. She is currently studying for a creative writing MA at City University and working on her first novel. She blogs at https://cgmenon.wordpress.com/

LAUNCH EVENT

Come and meet prize-winning author, CG Menon as she celebrates the launch of her debut short story collection, Subjunctive Moods at Waterstones Islington on 5th July 2018.

HOW TO ORDER

You can order your copy of Subjunctive Moods directly from the publisher.