Writers On Writing / The short story as a pouch-sized epic, with Eugen Bacon


“I adore that the short story allows an incompleteness that is self-sufficient, a lightness that carries heft, an accessibility that is complex yet eloquent.” We spoke to award-winning author Eugen Bacon on the short story form.


What is it that draws you to the short story form?

I adore that the short story allows an incompleteness that is self-sufficient, a lightness that carries heft, an accessibility that is complex yet eloquent. As author Paul March-Russell fondly posited, and readers of my fiction mostly suspect, I like to think of the short story as a literary fragment, a pouch-sized epic that leaves meaning to be uncovered.

What are some of your favourite works of short fiction?

I’m so random yet selective! I have a penchant for authors whose writing is metaphoric, has potential for poetry: Ray Bradbury, Sheree Renée Thomas, Lisa L. Hannett, Kathe Koja, Anthony Doerr, Andrew Hook (literary strange), Kaaron Warren, Jeffrey Ford… I love locating writers in new and old collections or anthologies, which give immense diversity in the breadth of storytelling.

In black speculative fiction there’s Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora by Sheree Renee Thomas (ed), Incomplete Solutions by Wole Talabi—sensitive and perceptive in a form that transforms you. Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora by Zelda Knight(ed) speaks for itself in its range of magical realism, existential crises, pre-colonial pasts, post-apocalyptic warnings. Coming soon is AfroSF4, in the tradition of AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, AfroSFv2, AfroSFv3… this time climate-themed in the near future.

I’m currently reading New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Colour by Nisi Shawl (ed) and Nalo Hopkinson’s Skin Folk.

What is the key element that makes a compelling short story?

Oxford defines the short story as a very brief story with immediate point. Collins defines it as a prose narrative of shorter length than the novel, esp. one that concentrates on a single theme. A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory says, when it comes to classification this is one of the most elusive forms … One is confronted with the question: how long (or short) is short?

Speculative fiction with its longer short and novelette tosses out expectations of a short story. 

One writer Paul Ariss says it best, what makes compelling short stories—they come to visit for a while, take you somewhere you didn’t expect, then put you back where you started, before you even realise you were gone.

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Eugen Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing. She’s the author of Claiming T-Mo by Meerkat Press and Writing Speculative Fiction by Red Globe Press, Macmillan. Eugen’s work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards, Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Australian Shadows Awards, Ditmar Awards and Nommo Award for Speculative Fiction by Africans. In 2021 she released Speculate by Meerkat Press—a prose poetry collaboration with Dominique Hecq.
Website: eugenbacon.com
Twitter: @EugenBacon

Join Eugen Bacon for her online course, Online Feedback: Short Stories, 13 September to 26 November.

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