Sunday, 12 January 2014

Five thousand lads a year

I read a lot of American fiction. And I'm going to be writing a lot about American short stories here: I'm currently half way through Amy Hempel's collected short stories and in a kind of writerly swoon about how wonderful they are. BUT. Though a small portion of my heart will forever belong in southern California, I now live in the north of England. And I do want to be reading stories that reflect where I'm from, how I live right now, that render my experience, my life, or something like it, as art. If that doesn't sound too poncey.

So. It encourages me no end that the short story has some advocates this side of the Atlantic. People like Tania Hershman who tirelessly champion the form. Tania, whose volume of flash fiction My Mother Is An Upright Piano I reviewed a while back does a great job on Twitter (@taniahershman @shortstopsUK, #shortstorysunday #shortstory ) to fly the flag for short stories. Check out Short Stops, a listings website she's set up to promote and celebrate short story writing in the UK and Ireland. Anyway, through #shortstorysunday on Twitter, Tania flagged up Jenn Ashworth's short story 'Five Thousand Lads A Year' .

I'm so glad I was whiling away my afternoon on Twitter, otherwise I wouldn't have heard this great short story about a prison writer-in-residence. I love the way that Jenn (@jennashworth) subtly undermines the confident voice of the writer when he meets a lad he can't reach with his patter, his pamphlet or his poems. The writer reminds us throughout of his achievements - the numerous hits on his website, his (surely somewhat inflated) earning power; the way he is rapturously received at corporate gigs. He's very impressed with himself, and his 'rebellious' long hair, which his wife apparently adores. I recognised the type, the sly send up, and it made me smile.

This story is broadcast as part of BBC Radio 4's Friday Firsts season, it's only on the iPlayer until 17th January, and hasn't been published yet - so listen quick before it's gone.

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