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Must-read short stories for aspiring writers

Get inspired with some brilliant short story recommendations from our Write and Submit a Short Story course tutor, Susmita Bhattacharya.

 

What could be better than to curl up on the sofa with a hot brew and a book? There are few greater pleasures in life, I think, than reading a really good book when it’s pouring outside, a cup of strong, milky tea and a chocolate cookie to dip into it. There’s the danger of getting chocolatey fingerprints on the pages, but I don’t lend my books to anyone. So I think I can live with my well-thumbed and crumbed books!

One of my favourite genres to read is the short story. I’ve always loved this form ever since I discovered my grandad’s copy of Guy D Maupassant’s short story collection. ‘The Gift of the Magi’ and ‘The Necklace’ will always have a special place in her heart, because it takes me back to those summer afternoons when I’d balance this heavy, leather-bound book on my tummy and speed read until I got to the twist in the tale. Then there were the short stories by Rabindranath Tagore and the Bengali version of the Arabian Nights that my mother read to my sister and me at bedtime, as we could not read the Bengali script ourselves.

Growing up, I discovered more short story writers – each with their own style and themes. Jhumpa Lahiri was the first writer whose stories I read in English, and it was like a lightbulb moment. Someone who looks like me writes stories, and get them published? And wins the Pulitzer Prize? She’s been my idol ever since. I would recommend her short story collections of course, but my favourite stories are ‘A Temporary Matter’, ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ and the Hema and Kaushik trio of linked stories. Another favourite is Mahesh Rao’s One Point Two Billion, a collection that spans across the different states of India.

I’m not into gothic horror, or anything to do with horror or supernatural. I avoided watching Stranger Things with the family because I knew it would give me sleepless nights! But I do love ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. If you get a chance to listen to these stories, even better! Just don’t do it at midnight while not getting sleep, like I did! Or maybe, if you do enjoy getting goosebumps, midnight is the perfect time to read or listen to these stories.

Alice Munro has been a firm favourite of mine. ‘Free Radicals’ published in The New Yorker magazine and the Juliet trilogy from her collection, Runaway, are great in the way she observes and writes about ordinary, unassuming people. Raymond Carver does the same, and I love his story, ‘Beginners, again’ in The New Yorker. It’s a masterclass for writing dialogue.

If you like experimental stories and magic realism, then Adam Marek, Angela Readman and Irenosen Okojie are the ones to read. All three writers have very distinct styles and themes, and they surely test the boundaries of storytelling.

For stories from different parts of the world, I love reading Catherine Menon’s collection, Subjunctive Moods, set mostly in Malaysia. Also, the Japanese linked story collection What you are Looking for is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama (translated by Alison Watts). For stories set in India and of British Asians in the UK there’s ‘Let Us Look Elsewhere’ by Mona Dash, ‘Mrs Pinto Drives to Happiness’ by Reshma Ruia and ‘Table Manners’ by yours truly. And for a flavour of Nigeria and the American Dream experience, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s collection, The Thing Around Your Neck is a really amazing experience as is Junot Diaz’s Drown, which explore the experiences of immigrants from the Dominican Republic in America.

I hope that you will read some or all of these wonderful writers and enjoy their short stories. There’s so much to learn and enjoy from their craft, their expertise in weaving a good story. So let’s hope for a wet and gloomy Saturday afternoon. Get the fire or heating on, a sleepy dog curled up by your feet and sink into these short stories. A steaming mug of tea and chocolate chip cookies will be such a treat, or in my case, masala chai and custard creams.

 

Our 7-week Write and Submit a Short Story online course with Professional Writing Academy, led by Susmita Bhattacharya, will guide you from an initial idea for a short story through to the submissions process for competitions and journals.

The next course begins on 5 February 2024, with bursary places available to residents of Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland, thanks to funding from North of Tyne Combined Authority. Find out more and sign up here.