Introduction

Confession: the only thing I enjoy less than writing non-fiction is writing non-fiction about writing.

I like making stuff up. I don’t like thinking about how or why made-up stuff works. Especially stuff made up by other people.

My favourite line about anyone, ever, is when art historian Michael Levey said of the painter Paul Cezanne that “his peasant-stubborn secretive nature made him detest theorising talk”. When I read that I thought “yep, me too, Paul”.

Also: when I went back and re-read what I thought were some of my favourite short stories in preparation for writing this piece – stories that I particularly remember being struck by, or moved by, or amazed by; stories that, in some cases, I hadn’t re-read in twenty-five years – I found that I didn’t even like half of them any more.

They were too overwritten, or too obvious, or too flashy, or too dumb, or too clever, or too long, or too specifically written by Raymond Carver.

I didn’t go back and re-read Angela Carter either, but that’s just because she’s already been done to death in this series. Obviously, I adore Angela Carter as much as the next rabid Angela Carter fan – and would, in fact, have been amenable to writing (badly) about Angela Carter’s short stories and nothing else for this piece.

I did go back and read one Ernest Hemingway short story, but only because I’m going to mention him in the context of Joanna Walsh, so I reckon we’ll be okay.

My second favourite line ever, by the way, is when art historian Michael Levey said of the painter Paul Cezanne that “his own efforts to overcome an inherent clumsiness and force himself on in pursuit of the significant made him largely indifferent to the work of others painters”.

I’m not altogether indifferent to the work of other writers, but I am inherently clumsy.

So: discounting the short stories and/or writers I don’t like any more, and mostly discounting the ones I adore but which/who have already been written about extensively in this series (and by better writers than me), I’m left with a bunch of stories about which I don’t have anything theoretical – possibly not even anything interesting– to say.

Certainly I don’t have anything anywhere near as interesting to say as the stories themselves do.

I think somebody once suggested that short stories, in the way that we encounter them, experience them, remember them, even forget them, are like love affairs. Or it might have been that novels are like love affairs, and short stories are more like sexy/exciting/disastrous one-night stands. Or maybe that was poems. I’ve likely mis-remembered the whole thing. It’s possible I made it up just to make a point.

Either way, is there anything potentially more boring than listening to someone tell you about a love affair/one-night stand that they once had?

Yes, there is. It’s listening to someone tell you about twelve love affairs/ one-night stands that they once had.

And so here, in no particular order, are mine.

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