Voting has now closed for this year’s Costa Short Story awards, and the winner will be announced at the end of the month. The three finalists are:
- Dirty Little Fishes
- The Boatman
- The Persistence of Memory.
Though voting is over, you can download them, either to listen to or to read here:
I’d be interested to hear what you think. They are all good, well-written stories, with good characters. But the subject matter in all three, it has to be said, is pretty gloomy. I find this quite striking as writers for the UK magazine market are actively discouraged from taking on gloomy themes. The women’s magazines look for something upbeat (or at least an upbeat ending, even if the themes tackled are sad), and entrants for the Writers’ Forum magazine monthly competition are advised in capital letters that stories “MUST BE ENTERTAINING/RIVETING NOT UNREMITTINGLY BLEAK” and should not rely on themes of death, abuse, etc.
A couple of years ago there was a reader’s letter in Writers Forum about the fact that stories printed in the magazine seemed to focus on the gloomier side of life, and Carl, the Editor, responded by “cracking down on stories that dwell on harsh realities” and so this accounts for the policy and the above instruction. His view was that “We point out time and time again that you have to think of the target market before you start writing, and so it is wrong of us to encourage writing for which there is no other outlet.” This is fair enough, as Writers Forum tends to be aimed at those writing for the domestic magazine market. But often when you read stories which are considered “literary fiction”, the themes are pretty bleak and if there is a move towards a more uplifting ending, it’s very subtle!
So, if we consider our target market, do we conclude that it is considered perfectly acceptable to focus on dark themes when writing “literary” fiction, but if you’re writing for the domestic market, you need to think positive?