While writing my own short stories is relatively new to me, I’ve always read short stories. Staring to write short fiction again, I looked again at the writers I had liked over the years, but this time with a more analytical eye – seeing how they get from Point A to Point Q – looking at voice, technique, subject, point of view, and all the other ways these writers worked.
I’d always liked Hemingway’s short stories, but if I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have liked the man behind them. Not that you have to, of course, it’s just what I’m saying. Back in the 1960s I liked Robert Cheever, but I haven’t read any of his for ages. I loved Raymond Carver’s stories, and I’ve enjoyed re-reading them. I admired Katherine Mansfield, of course, and William Trevor, plus the Russians – Chekhov and Turgenev.
Flannery O’Connor was recommended, and he’s been a revelation. Grace Paley knocks me out, from the early ones influenced by her Jewish background to the later ones where it seems she can tackle any subject. And then I found Alice Munro. She’s a very moving writer, and the characters she creates are wholly believable. I can read one of her stories and think, Yes, that’s how it would play out, if this was real life. A wonderfully imaginative and versatile writer. No two stories are the same.
So I’ve got two writers who make me think, I wish I could write as well as that, and they are Raymond Carver and Alice Munro. You’ll notice I didn’t say ‘write like that’ because that wouldn’t be true. I write my own way, and if there are influences in my work, so be it, but I don’t aim to write like anyone else.
To me, the short story is the perfect form for fiction. Some years ago I did attempt to write a novel, but it fizzled out. I recycled some of the themes and feelings into poems, and those turned up in The floorshow at the Mad Yak Café. But I really love writing short fiction, anything from around 800 to 6,000 words.