What is it that you love about the short story?
For a few years now I’ve been writing in author bios that I had a crush on the short story, that I was madly in love with the short story, that I was still in love… I guess I love everything about short stories. I love the way you can read a story in an evening and how it can vividly take you into an entire world. A great story is a kick to the guts, an electric shock, a pure pulse of adrenalin. So much can be done within a short story, from uproarious comedy to captivating suspense. The short story can deal with multiple narratives like film does, or hone in on one character, one life. They don’t take years to write like novels do and you can have a number of stories on the go at once, in different stages of development. If you can get it right, then every sentence, every word contributes to the story’s impact.
Who are some of your favourite short story writers?
They’re all covered in this course – it’s impossible to write good short stories without also reading them. The best book of short stories I’ve read recently is Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning, Olive Kitteridge. Olive is the Maths teacher from a small town in Maine who stars in some stories, while in others she only briefly appears, simply waving to the jazz pianist in one story. We’ll read other giants of the contemporary short story like Raymond Carver, Jhumpa Lahiri and Alice Munro. I discovered Claire Keegan while touring Ireland last year – a young writer whose stories are raw, poetic and powerful. And a not very well-known Australian who is superb, John Murray.
You have been teaching creative writing for a number of years now – what makes you successful with students?
I’ve probably done more workshopping than most people and students tell me that I’m good at saying, “this is what works, this is what doesn’t work, and this is how you can fix it.” Often people simply need to write more, they need to more fully imagine the character and the scene, they need to drive themselves beyond what is comfortable and comes readily. That’s easy to say and much harder to do. Writing is often a struggle for me, so I know how hard it is to produce good work. It takes time to write something publishable, which is why this course is spread over twelve weeks – there’s more time for the work to develop and mature. This is my dream course to teach, drawing on what is happening in the contemporary short story around the world and working with a group of people who are writing stories.
What avenues are there for the short story writer to get their work out there?
Getting published is difficult, it’s a rat race, let’s not pretend otherwise. Apart from literary magazines, there a number of annual Australian anthologies of short fiction produced by Sleepers Publishing, Spineless Wonders and Black Inc. UQP, Spineless Wonders and Affirm Press have published a number of single author collections in the past few years. And then there’s a huge range of options overseas. Miles Franklin, Jean Devanny and a whole host of Australian writers last century depended on overseas publication to get their work out there. It’s so much easier to do this today with email, but the first thing to do is make the story as perfect as possible. That’s what this course is designed to do.
Andy Kissane will be teaching Writing Short Stories – Small, Good Things over six Thursday evenings, commencing 9 May.