The christening of a particular date as being ‘National [insert name here] Day’ is always a bit of a cheesy, cringe-worthy affair. After all, you don’t need a licence to declare a day National anything, and just recently, what might have been fun in the beginning is now getting quite tiresome – I mean, come on, National Hug Your Boss Day? Or even more ridiculous, National Vanilla Ice Cream Day? Not that ice cream isn’t awesome but there’s really no need for the entire British population to give a platform to a frozen dessert. Or hug their boss.
That said, sometimes there is a precedence for these events, and in December 2010 Comma Press decided to start up a little project of our own which we called ‘National Short Story Day’. It was held on the 21st of the month to coincide with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Clever, eh?
So if the ‘National this’ and ‘National that’ business is all a bit redundant, why did we decide to do it? Well to start with, Comma is the most prolific hard copy publisher of short fiction in the UK, and aside from the odd poetry collection here and there we do nothing else but short stories. And secondly, there is actually a deep-rooted tradition in Britain of story-telling at winter time. Dickens himself edited a weekly magazine called Household Words during the 1850s, which as well as the serialisations of novels, also consisted of Christmas-themed stories which were published in the seasonal issues. This idea continued with MR James and his Christmas Eve ghost story ‘entertainments’ in the early twentieth century, where he would read his work aloud to friends in one of the rooms at King’s College, Cambridge, probably in front of a fireplace. This performative element – the delivery to a room full of listeners – carried forth Poe’s vision of the short story and what was so good about it – that it could be read in a ‘single sitting’. These performances eventually transcended to the BBC with TV adaptations and dramatised readings throughout the 70s, 80s, and a revival in the noughties which featured usual suspect Christopher Lee in a candle-lit room reading selected James stories.
But – the main reason behind the National Short Story Day project was simply to offer a non-commercial alternative to the pre-Christmas chaos; to persuade people to drop the stress of shopping and wrapping and decorating, (and the anxiety over what to buy that aunt you see once a year but who’s coming for dinner on the 25th so you best have a present ready) – just for a moment, and do something different. Something that doesn’t require your money; just your appreciation.
Initially, it started small. 2010 saw three events held in Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. In 2011, we didn’t hold any events but we ran an all-day social media campaign on our SSD Facebook page and through the @ShortStoryDay Twitter account using the hashtag #nssd, promoting the new website at www.nationalshortstoryday.co.uk. The site, which has grown in terms of content since its launch, contained video footage of short story readings, recommendations (we now have over 200) from editors, publishers, authors, translators and others who work with literature, and a vast range of links to short story resources including organisations and groups, public domain audiobooks and podcasts, apps, publications etc… We also ran a ‘tweet a story in 10 words or less’ competition which proves to be increasingly popular every year (Timothy Spall and his wife Shane even tweeted at us from their barge!), and gave free Comma books as prizes to the top five entries.
In June 2012, we went global. Riding on the high of London 2012, and the BBC Short Story Award becoming the International Short Story Award that year for the first time ever to coincide with the Olympics, we decided to have two short story days – one in winter (shortest day) and the other in summer on the shortest night of the year, usually the 20th or 21st June. It was our most successful project to date. Reaching out to our already established contacts in the UK and in Europe (colleagues and friends of Jim Hinks, Translation Editor here at Comma and co-founder of the European Short Story Network) and sourcing out new ones, we managed to get so many people involved that 20 events took place all over the world on the 20th June, plus three more organised by us personally in Manchester, London and Glasgow. There are too many collaborative partners to name here, but the response was truly touching, with friends and strangers alike running their own short story themed events in Leeds, Nottingham, Sheffield, Cardiff, Minneapolis, New York, Zadar, Belgrade, Cape Town, Botswana, and Johannesburg. We also received an influx of short story reading recommendations for the website from international writers, so the list expanded into something far more culturally diverse, championing our long-held belief that the short form is an international one. Our hashtag #issd even climbed to the top of the twitter trends, beating #justinbieber (we did it again in December 2012 with #nssd surpassing #mayans).
This year, on 21st December, we’re returning to the national focus (the international celebrations now take place in the summer). As well as our usual Twitter competition and book giveaways, Comma is marking the release of our first ever non-fiction title, Morphologies, a book of essays by contemporary short story authors on past masters of the form, plus the release of the brand new version of Gimbal, our free iPhone app which lets you escape the boredom of your daily commute by exploring foreign cities through short fiction. There are also events from Nottingham Writers’ Studio and Parthian Books, details of which are available here.
We welcome everyone and anyone to get involved with National Short Story Day in any way you wish. Discover a new author, re-read an old favourite, recommend a story to a friend, or even create your own!
Just keep the short story love alive.