Blind Date

“Blind Date” is the first story in the recent short story collection from Australian author Janette Turner Hospital, Forecast: Turbulence  (Fourth Estate, 2011).

Lachlan’s father left eight years ago but is apparently coming to his daughter’s wedding. Lachlan has heard nothing about his Dad in all those years and is excited by the idea of his return. He knows his mother and sister don’t share these feelings and Lachlan is careful what he says. But as the wedding grows closer all sorts of information comes out. Is Lachlan the only one kept in the dark about his father? But he was just a little kid then and, although he is blind, his memories are infused with smells, sounds and the memory of his father’s last words.

This is a wonderful telling of a child’s perspective on an emotional family situation.  How far can memories carry a relationship of absence?  Will the strong bond Lachlan feels for his father be mirrored when they meet again? Or are his mother and sister the wise ones, remembering disappointment and expecting nothing? What pulls this father back to his children after years of neglect?

You can read this story online at The Monthly, or get the book from the library and explore more of these engrossing stories.

The Monthly

An independent magazine of Australian politics, society, culture and media.

One of the many areas where The Monthly excels is in publishing new stories by some of our best writers. Under Culture: Short Stories you will find excellent recent stories by Cate Kennedy and Sonya Hartnett to name but two. There are many more. The Monthly also has videos of authors reading their own stories, telling stories and in interview. A great resource!

Finding Short Stories

Short stories make excellent supplementary texts for the area of study. But how do you find a good one?

There are many writers who excel in the art of the short story. Look for names like:

Story of the Door by Dave Knapik

Raymond Carver
Robert Drewe
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Peter Goldsworthy
Eva Hornung (Sallis)
Shirley Jackson
Cate Kennedy
Margo Lanagan
Nam Le
Alistair MacLeod
David Malouf
Katherine Mansfield
Alice Munro
Annie Proulx
Mandy Sayer
Carol Shields
William Trevor
John Updike
Tim Winton
…to name just a few.

Anthologies will include some great stories by lesser known writers as well.

Anthologies

Fortunately there are many anthologies published. The best way to find a good story for your purposes is to take one or two collections home and start reading. If a favoured author has published a collection you are a step ahead. Otherwise look for known authors in a mixed anthology or just take pot luck. Consider your core text and themes so as to neither replicate too closely, nor choose something too difficult to link. But also try to find a story you love. You will be living with it for a good many hours, so spending a bit more time reading now may save you pain later.

Journals

Literary journals are often the first to publish the stories from which anthologies are chosen. They offer the added bonus of serving as writing models for those ambitious to improve their creative writing. You will read an edgier range of stories, essays and poetry within a literary journal. Some will be more polished than others and editors will risk some experimental writing.

Journals we receive include Meanjin, Voiceworks and Westerly. Other Australian literary journals which you may find at public libraries or bookshops include Heat, Overland, Southerly and Island.

Online

It is harder to find good quality short stories online amongst so much uncatalogued content, but there are some excellent exceptions.

The first is literary journal sites (such as those linked above) as most of these publish a small amount of original fiction online.

Another would be a site which publishes older material which is copyright free. An example is Classic Shorts, and many sites may publish individual stories in this category.

The New Yorker magazine has been publishing short fiction for decades, much of which is available freely online, as well as their monthly podcast where a current writer chooses to read and discuss a New Yorker story published some time in the past.

A fabulous place to find new stories is Fifty-Two Stories, now in its second year of delivering a new story each week of the year. Presented by publisher Harper Perennial, many of these are from anthologies worth chasing up, although not all are published in Australia.

Another place to get a weekly short story fix is by listening to ABC Radio National at 8.30 am Sunday mornings. Not actually conscious at that time of the week? Subscribe to Sunday Story RSS feed, or check the site from time to time. The audio is available for four weeks after broadcast.

A number of these short story places online have been collected into a custom search engine where you can search the lot. Short Story Finder searches about half a dozen online collections, plus a number of individual stories. It is a fairly ‘dumb’ search as it is just picking up key words in the content of the story, rather than themes, but may help if you want a specific author or specific element. For example, searching for artist, poet or music.

Short Stories

Good quality short stories make for excellent supplementary texts and there are some fine collections around. Here are a few to dip into.

The Penguin Book of the Road (edited by Delia Falconer, 2008): This Australian collection includes both classic and contemporary stories, and excerpts from larger works. In Across the Plains, Over the Mountains and Down to the Sea by Frank Moorhouse, a man recounts to his therapist the memory of a special time spent with a former lover. Landscape is a vital part of this story which evokes a sense of melancholy. Much anthologised, you will also find this story in The Picador Book of the Beach (ed. Drewe, 1995) and The Penguin Book of the Beach (ed. Drewe, 2006). All three collections are easy to find in libraries and offer a wide choice of good stories (the second and third including writers from many countries, including Australia). Across the Plains… featured on ABC RN’s Sunday Story on 2nd August 2009 and will be available as audio for four weeks from then.

The Rip by Robert Drewe (2008): This collection by a master of the form includes The Lap Pool, about a self made man now languishing alone in his luxury Queensland home whilst awaiting trial on tax charges. His wife and children have returned to Sydney. He’s a nice guy so how did he end up in this mess? (Read The Lap Pool online) In The Cartoonist a teenager is working hard to settle in to a new town and school, courtesy of his mother choosing to leave her marriage and run off to the north coast with him in tow. He’s an accommodating kid, but we all have our limits. All the stories in this collection are engaging narratives with ample ideas to relate to belonging and good technique to analyse.

The Boat by Nam Le (2008): This young Vietnamese Australian has had a stunning debut with this book. Each fairly long story is a whole universe unto itself. The title story directly relates to the author’s family experience of escaping Vietnam in the seventies. Others are set in a world of drug lords and violence in Colombia, the countryside beyond Hiroshima just before the atomic bomb hits, and a couple are in modern day New York. Halflead Bay is set in a Victorian seaside town as a teenage boy deals with his mother slowly dying, falling in love for the first time and confronting violence. This is a very assured collection of stories, each very much worth getting your teeth into.

The Turning by Tim Winton (2004): This beautiful collection of  linked stories is a real Winton primer. He has been writing about a Western Australian coastal town called Angelus (or something like it) for many years – from Lockie Leonard days to this year’s Miles Franklin Award winning Breath. Small Mercies is one of my favourites of this collection. It tells of a man who returns to his home town with his young son after the death of his wife. The reader pieces together what is told and what only hinted at about Peter’s past in this town which he thought he had left for good.

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