Where to begin? The challenge of fulfilling this anthology’s remit – choose twelve short stories that have ‘marked you as a reader, and marked your course through life’ – seemed impossible at first. I would, of course, have to leave many out; make compromises with favourite writers (how to choose between Dylan Thomas’s ‘One Warm Saturday’ and ‘The Peaches’?) It seemed logical to begin at the beginning, with stories I read in childhood or early adolescence, and then work up to the present moment. But this method proved too schematic in the end, too constricting. Some great stories don’t exactly mark your course through life, yet are nevertheless impossible to forget. Some just make you bitter with envy as a fellow writer, while some – the best – make you see the world, and your own life, through a startlingly fresh lens. Better, then, to come up with six contemporary short stories, and six classic stories, that have all had this effect on me. While my intention has been to largely stay away from stories already chosen in previous anthologies, many of the authors below have been featured before. And with good reason. They are all past – or contemporary – masters of fiction’s most challenging form.