Luan Goldie is both a talented novelist and short story writer. In this blog post, she writes about her love for both genres, whilst sharing her favourite short stories.
“My career was launched by a short story. I love them, to both read and write. However, I’m no purist, because for me, short stories are what happens between novels so, whenever I read a great short story, there’s a little part of me that wishes it were a full-length novel.
I feel this way about most of the stories in Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s short story collection, The Thing Around your Neck. Years on I still think of the two women hiding from a riot in an abandoned shop. Adiche’s writing is so tangible that you can feel the pain in the woman’s nipples from nursing her baby and smell the metallic water she runs to wash herself. When I think of this story, it’s like reliving a trauma from a past life. A Private Experience completely stands out, though if each of the stories in the collection where made into novels I would happily buy them all.
Recently I found myself thinking about another favourite – about a woman who suffers a head injury while isolated in a hunting cabin with her two young sons. I could see a little boy patting his mum’s bleeding head with soggy kitchen roll and hear racoons running along a tin roof. But I couldn’t recall what novel or film it was from. For the most part, short stories don’t really get talked about much, they don’t line our bookshelves or have posters at tube stations, so while they stay with me, I can’t always remember their title or author. Later, I realised it was one of the stories from Florida by Lauren Groff. The Midnight Zone is incredible writing. It’s suspenseful and gentle, full of horror and heart and it’s just a few thousand words. How did Groff achieve this? It feels effortless and moreover, she’s written an entire collection of equally brilliant stories.
Some writers make outstanding short stories a habit, like my favourite novelists Zadie Smith and Jeffrey Eugenides. Truthfully, as a reader, I’d rather they didn’t leave such huge gaps between their novels, but as a writer I love to study how they put a short story together, particularly how they create these fascinating characters. In Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets, Smith takes us on a journey with a complex queen in need of a new corset. Miss Adele’s story is like one of those brilliant Netflix series you binge on for hours, it unspools her whole life, her motivation, her history. From her “don’t panic it’s organic” suburban brother to the disappointment of her parents who wanted a preacher for a son but ended up with high cheek boned showgirl.
If you’ve read Eugenides’s epic novels it’s hard to imagine him replicating a similar thing in short story form, but he absolutely can. Early Music is especially entertaining. I love the dynamic between stiff, mathematical Rodney who alphabetises manuals for household appliances and his wife Rebecca who makes fabric mice which can be warmed in the microwave to emit pleasant smells.
Ian McEwan’s another one, his stand-alone short My Purple Scented Novel is a condensed version of everything which makes him one of the best. No one does moral dilemmas and posh people behaving terribly as well as him. The same with Sally Rooney’s Colour and Light, which is perfect in how it uses awkwardness and distance in what is essentially a romance. Exactly what we want and expect from Rooney.
The stories I’ve mentioned here are so good, and of course they stand up alone. But it’s hard to read them and not want more, to question why the writer didn’t just squeeze out another eighty thousand words of the same. But this is of course the point of a great short story, it’s not that I see them as a lesser form in any way nor is it that they are lacking. It’s that they leave you wanting more.”
Luan Goldie is a Glasgow born short story writer, author and primary school teacher who grew up in East London. In 2018 she won the Costa Short Story Award. Her stories have also been long and short listed by Spread the Word and the Grazia/Women’s Prize First Chapter competition. Her stories have been published in HELLO! Magazine, Sunday Express and The Good Journal.
Luan also featured in the Comma Press anthology Resist, which pairs writers with historians. Her debut novel Nightingale Point was longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. It was also a BBC Radio 2 Jo Whiley Book Club Pick.
Her second novel Homecoming was released by HarperCollins in 2020.
Published 8 January 2021