The short story is a form that appears to be simultaneously neglected and enjoying a renaissance. I was very happy that my book (my first!) The Weather in Kansas was chosen for Read Regional 2016, alongside Carys Davies and her short story collection The Redemption of Galen Pike. My first event, in York in March, was with Carys and it proved a great opportunity for us to discuss the short story form both with each other and the audience. One of the nicest things about all the Read Regional events was the number of people who told me afterwards that they didn’t normally read short stories, but they would now.
There’s a perception that the short story is simply the runt cousin of the novel, which may be one reason that readers with a preference for big books tend to shy away from story collections. But reading short stories is often much more like reading poetry; they can be whizzed through, certainly, but it is better to take some time over the text. I rarely read a poetry collection in one go, cover to cover, but am more likely to pick out individual poems first, read them, put the book down, pick it up again later and read another poem. Short story collections benefit from being read the same way I think, so that the stories don’t blur into one another. I was pleased that my other joint event was with a poet, Andrew Forster with his collection Homecoming, at Durham Clayport Library. On the surface two very different books, they share a preoccupation with place, landscape and home.
It was a privilege to visit different libraries across the North, meeting some very engaged readers and dedicated librarians. Our library services have suffered, and still suffer, severe cutbacks and this was very much in my mind as I travelled around. One of the libraries I visited, the Woodlands library near Doncaster, is open full-time and is volunteer-run. Days before Read Regional launched in February, Darlington Borough Council announced that they would be closing their flagship Crown Street Library; a week or so ago, coincidentally marking the end of Read Regional, that closure has been confirmed, despite active and widespread opposition. It is a salutary reminder that we cannot take our libraries for granted.