Why collections of short fiction lead to lively, varied book club discussions, as author Alice Fowler explains!
Good afternoon Scribblers,
Are you part of a book club?
In recent years, I have joined a reading group which exclusively reads work by Black and Brown authors, and they are very inclined towards the political, which I love! The book often prompts much wider discussion about war, corruption, identity and empathy, and I learn about religions and cultures around the world of which I was ignorant before.
Today I’m passing over the newsletter to short fiction author Alice Fowler to talk about her love of book clubs - and the turn in the industry to a love of short form fiction!
Alice Fowler: In her recent, inspiring interview with Love Reading (if you missed it, catch it here), Fly on the Wall publisher Isabelle Kenyon described how more and more book clubs are reading collections of short stories.
That’s certainly been the case for my collection, The Truth Has Arms and Legs. Since publication in July, I’ve had the privilege of listening in as four different book groups discussed my collection.
What I’ve learnt along the way is that short stories are brilliant for sparking conversation. A novel may contain one or two themes for discussion. A short story collection, on the other hand, is likely to explore a much wider variety of topics. My collection, for example, touches on prejudice, aging, marital control, motherhood, love and loss – all subtly and sensitively handled, I hope, but present nonetheless.
Naturally, such a range of subjects strikes different chords in different people. As readers reveal which stories they have enjoyed the most – often advocating passionately for their favourites – discussion comes alight. A sedate book club is suddenly turbo-charged. And if someone has less to say about one story – well, almost certainly, they have plenty to say about the next!
Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that short fiction is excellent for book groups. Here, though, I must make a confession. In the two decades in which I belonged to a thriving book club myself, we never once discussed short stories. What an omission, I lament now! Why did we pick another hefty Russian classic, or American dysfunctional family saga, when we could all have had more fun discussing something short?
In our defence, it seems to me that attitudes to short fiction have changed in intervening years. Wonderful writers like Claire Keegan are proving that very short novels, in which every luminous detail is perfectly conveyed, can say as much – or more – as novels six times as long. Writers such as Wendy Erskine, Saba Sams, Vanessa Onwuemezi and Lucy Caldwell are showing how powerful short fiction can be. And of course, Fly on the Wall Press has its own fine tradition of publishing exciting short fiction writers such as Katie Oliver, Victoria Richards and Tracy Fells, all with collections out this year, and S.J. Bradley to look forward to in 2024.
All these writers create stories that – as you read the final sentence – leave you thinking; and, very often, longing for a fellow reader with whom to compare notes. So, next time your book group is pondering its next choice, why not take a longshot - and treat yourself to something short?
The Truth Has Arms and Legs is available from all international retailers - with lovely French Flaps from our website for £9.99!
Have a lovely weekend Scribblers,