Celebrating the publication of her wickedly-funny, deliciously dark book of short stories, Bad Romance, Emily Hill shares her edit of the best anthologies to read right now.
How to work out if your book will be a success even before it’s been published? There’s a sure-fire way to gauge public interest in your work – and that’s crowdfunding. This forward-thinking approach to publishing is typical of whip-smart writer Emily Hill – a sharp young journo who’s turned her hand to reviving the art of the short story, with her debut: Bad Romance. Publishers seem to have favoured memoirs of late, but honestly – who wants to re-read a memoir? Exactly. A brilliant book of short stories – like the dark, funny tales you’ll find in Bad Romance – is something you’re sure to return to again and again.
The short story also seems wonderfully apposite for right now – in our swipe-scroll-like times. Perfect for a quick read mid-commute, speed-skim over your lunch break or the perusal of a page or three in the bath. Bad Romance picks up where Bridget Jones left off – but with an unexpectedly delicious, dark twist. If you’ve ever been single, you need to read these. So, um, yes – that’s pretty much all of you! Read on to discover Emily’s edit of the very best books of short stories…
I am obsessed with long-dead Russians – no one writes like them. This compendium switched me onto all sorts of tales I did not know. From Dostoevsky’s brilliant Bobok (where a man drinks so much in a graveyard he starts to hear all the arguments the dead are carrying on in their tombs) to Shalamov’s poetic excavations of a life buried in the Gulag, with Berries and Through the Snow. But for me, best of all, here was Mikhail Zoshchenko. He wrote skaz – oral narratives which exposed how wretched it was living in the Soviet Union, that sold by the million. I tried to copy such tactics with my book Bad Romance – which is a cacophony of female voices explaining how shit it is to be perpetually single in London.
I plucked Self Help off a random shelf in a book shop and was hooked from the very first sentence, ‘Meet in expensive beige raincoats, on a pea-soupy night.’ I knew I had to have it and devoured it all when I got home. And usually I don’t get on with modern fiction at all. Published in 1985, this is Moore’s first book and I’m adamant that the first story, How to be an Other Woman remains her best – because it’s written so peculiarly. I worship every line but most especially: ‘After four movies, three concerts, and two-and-a-half museums, you sleep with him. It seems the right number of cultural events.’ That beats the hell out of the three date rule, no?
I love black humour and unexpected twists so I cackle, above all, at Saki, the Edwardian master of the English short story. He’s a hero I have in common with author of The Power, Naomi Alderman who explained, ‘Saki’s mother was killed by a cow when he was a child. If that doesn’t turn you into a writer with a morbid fascination with, and deep-seated fear of, the natural world nothing will.’ Even the titles of his tales are delicious. My desert island selection would include The Unrest-Cure, Sredni Vashtar*, Tobermory, The Schartz-Metterklume Method, Mrs Packletide’s Tiger and The Stampeding of Lady Bastable. (*To be saved from the waves if I’m only allowed one, Kirsty…)
There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is now regarded as Russia’s greatest living author but her own story has been as punctuated by suffering as any of these darkly magical tales. Born in 1938, at the height of Stalin’s purges, her father abandoned the family and her mother had to place her in an orphanage. “By the time I was ten,” she has said, “I felt I’d been through all the circles of hell.” The ‘scary fairy tales’ published here in this – the first translation of her work into English – include tales that will haunt me forever. The one that most resounds in my mind is ‘The God Poseidon’ – the tale of a woman ‘who’d never even had decent underwear’ who is now married and lives in a mansion. (But, of course, all such happy endings are deceptive…)
Rewriting fairytales isn’t new. But try telling yourself that after reading Angela Carter – it’s as if she invented the very idea! First published in 1979, this slim volume of disconcerting riffs on every story that once lulled you to sleep – from Sleeping Beauty to Little Red Riding Hood – will keep you wide awake. Particularly inspiring, for me, was the title story, The Bloody Chamber, Carter’s unforgettable take on Bluebeard. If you race through The Bloody Chamber and want more, then it’s worth investing also in Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales – to hear old fables you might not have heard but should get to know, such as the English tale of Mr Fox…