The first books I read as a child were collections and treasuries of fairy stories, folk tales, myths and legends from across the world. They were short stories, perfectly formed, each very different and enthralling, and I loved them. Somewhere along the line, I began reading chapter books, and then quickly moved onto novels. I think the same is true for lots of kids, but not all.
There are lots of teenagers who only read what they have to read for English at school. They often don't have the time or the inclination to read novels for pleasure. I am aware of a few schools where kids are not allowed to bring in their own books to read in school. The school prescribes what they can read for pleasure - in one particular school books are pre-loaded onto kindles and those are the only books the kids are allowed to read. They don't have a choice. Part of the pleasure in reading is surely in being able to have some say over what you read for pleasure - even for kids!
I read lots of short stories - and I enjoy writing them too. Short stories are similar to novels in some ways, but they have their own identity. Edgar Allan Poe, in his essay "The Philosophy of Composition," said that a short story should be read in one sitting, anywhere from a half hour to two hours. Short stories developed from the traditional art of oral story-telling from fables and anecdotes, which are present in every culture, so by definition they have to be short. Modern short stories often focus on a pivotal moment or emotion or mood, whereas in the past they were more rooted in parables and ethics with the stories having a beginning, middle and end, but both usually focus on one main character with one central theme. There is also more experimentation in the prose and style of a short story, which may not work in a novel.
I have always read short stories, and I have wondered why there were so few anthologies for teenagers. Well, I have been involved in a project that brings a new anthology into schools.
Apart from being a member of the amazing Scattered Authors Society, I also belong to a small collective of teen writers. There are eight of us: me, Sara Grant, Dave Cousins, Miriam Halahmy, Keren David, Katie Dale, Paula Rawsthorne and Bryony Pearce, and we all write edgy fiction for teens and young adults. We call ourselves The Edge. We blog together, and often do school and library events together, and last year we decided to write an anthology together.
It has been an interesting process. Our only remits were that the stories should be up to five thousand words and be suitable for teens and young adults. Because we all write edgy fiction, we knew the stories would all have an edge to them - and they do. They range from stories about doping in sport, online grooming, racism, gender, terrorism, grief and loss, love and life, to name some of the themes in the stories.
What we're hoping for is that the stories inspire reading and discussion and debate amongst teens and young adults. To aid teachers and school librarians, we've also written discussion guides with suggested topics for discussion and creative writing exercises.
My short story for the anthology is called Aladdin's Lamp. It's a story about a sixteen year old Indian girl called Priti who doesn't want her best friend to leave India and doesn't want to be married and settled. Her parents have other ideas and so a suitor comes to the house. Priti wishes she had an Aladdin's lamp so that she could wish the suitors to go away, but in the story she finds out that you have to be careful what you wish for...
I will tell you no more so I don't spoil the story for you!
The stories in the anthology are accessible, diverse and thought-provoking, and that's the wonderful thing about an anthology - you can dip into it and find something different each time. I hope our teen readers will dip into the anthology and find something they like, a story, an author, or just some pleasure from reading something different.
“The short story is a very powerful weapon in the hands of a librarian or teacher . . . I guarantee that these stories will leave readers gasping for more. But most importantly they will get teen readers thinking and talking.” — Joy Court, Chair: CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals; Reviews Editor: The School Librarian