Welcome to the website of A Personal Anthology, which also exists as a weekly TinyLetter. Each week a guest is invited to pick and introduce twelve of their favourite short stories and, where possible, link to them online. You can browse guest editors and featured authors in the sidebar, or just start reading below. Click here to sign up for the mailout.
‘Margo’ is my go-to story for people who say they don’t read / don’t get / don’t like flash fiction (generally categorised as stories up to 1000 words). If ‘Cat Person’ by Kirsten Roupenian tapped into conversations about sexual consent and power in relationships, ‘Margo’ stripped those conversations right back to its beginnings. The title says it all, we did all know about a girl like Margot, someone we knew only by reputation, usually because of the way she looked as much as the actions she chose (or in this case did not choose) to take. I find it hard to read and recommend depictions of sexual assault in fiction but I make an exception for ‘Margo’. I urge you to read it, if nothing else on this list.
first published by Smokelong Quarterly, September 2018 and available to read online here
This is a restrained story – we follow a woman biting her tongue as she copes with uprooting her life (along with her new baby and mute child) in order to support her husband’s artistry. But in the gothic tradition, what is repressed finds a way out, and we are invited into the woman’s internal thoughts – “the port is nothing like she’d expected”, “it starts to bawl again, a screech that causes her skin to prickle,” and the glorious brutal honesty of “He paints shit. He paints like shit. He is shit.”
Tension continually builds throughout the story, both through the strained relationships and through a supernatural (or perhaps not) element. It has been said that short stories should leave us with more questions than answers, and in ‘Jutland’, McKnight Hardy leaves us in no doubt of this. The final piece of dialogue is a brutal, haunting, question repeated with a clarity and simplicity that belies the horror behind the words.
first published by NightJar Press, March 2019
It’s autumn, and all the dead girls are kneeling in the yard.
So begins the story of a group of horror movie ‘final girls’, trapped in a never-ending purgatory where they repeat their deaths again and again. Throughout the story the girls first try to survive, then turn on each other whilst a strange marble angel oversees the nightly carnage, forcing them to re-live their murders every night and repent their sins every day. A self-aware mix of postmodern commentary on slasher films, the limits of organised religion and a genuinely scary story in itself, ‘If We Survive the Night’ is like nothing I’ve read before or since.
first published by The Dark Magazine, March 2017 and available to read online here
This story consists of a rambling inner monologue about the merits of certain sandwiches – who gets to decide which is best, why is there so much lettuce in them, what is lettuce anyway? “You get mad at sandwiches because you think maybe that will make a difference even though it doesn’t, even thought it can’t.” And gradually, as we are told where the bickering couple are queuing, why they are focusing on sandwiches, we come to understand. For me ‘The Sandwich Judge’ is a really genuine portrait of someone falling apart – that urge to focus on the minute things that you can control, when utter tragedy comes into your life.
first published by The Forge Literary Magazine, December 2018 and available to read online here
I love Fisher’s collection because it is deceptively simple. A series of very short pieces on light and darkness that uses plain language to navigate contemporary issues and human relationships. It’s a brilliant collection, often funny and relatable but then the hard-hitting stories hit so much more. When I first read ‘The Other Lady of the Night’ I had to physically stop and put the book down to cry. Even after the hopelessness and brutality experienced by the Lady, the light still tries to get in: I fixed my eye on the light until it grew to fill me. I didn’t know what I’d find there, but hope sparked all over my body.
first published in How the Light Gets In, Influx Press, 2018
This is a deeply disturbing story that brings to mind Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino and Twin Peaks. A rural community clashes with a small group of outsiders – with good reason. The title of this piece sums up the attitudes perfectly – the characters are frequently unwilling or unable to speak about the horrors in their community. “More you stir the shit, more it stinks was what everyone said.” But who needs words, when you have actions? ‘The Less Said’ is a brilliantly told story of hurt and revenge, that weaves a whole community consciousness into just a few hundred words.
first published by New Orleans Review, May 2018. Available to read online here
I’m a huge fan of Jordan’s writing – he creates worlds and characters with such ease that you feel you’ve slipped inside their lives and are observing up close rather than reading about them. This story from his debut collection is a great example of that – I looked up from the book surprised to find myself at home and not, in fact, seated at the diner that the story’s action rotates around. Not much happens in terms of narrative action – people working end of season holiday jobs come and go. They flirt, they talk, they argue a little. There’s no escaping these lives, no escaping the choices they’ve made. Reminiscent of Cannery Row, this story and its characters just got under my skin and stayed there.
First published in What Lies Beneath: A Selection of Short Stories from Kingston Writing School selected by Hilary Mantel and Bonnie Greer, 2015, Kingston University Press. Also in Calls to Distant Places, Kingston University Press, 2019 and available to read online here.