The invitation to choose twelve short stories immediately triggers a questioning of the genre itself, and its limits. I have tried to choose examples of the not-exactly, the unintentional, the could-have-been or might-be. But some acknowledged instances of the genre creep into my list, usually through some relation – of similarity, derivation, anticipation or reversal – to a selected pseudo-story.
A short story is not always short, though Penelope Lively found that was the fixed conviction of those signed up to her workshop, who declared that it is a piece of prose three thousand words long, no more and no less. But it is indeed typically in prose; it encompasses one action; has fictional human protagonists; is not purely philosophical and certainly not a chunk of history; is self-contained; and is a comparatively modern invention – a classical myth, a Hellenistic romance, is not a short story. Most of my picks break one or other of these rules.

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