Get a crowd of readers and writers in a room and the love of books starts to feel palpable. At least, that was the feeling in the room at the launch of Lost Boy, an anthology in which my short story ‘Glory Season’ is published.
I am truly grateful to Margaret River Press for its ongoing support of the short story, a form that writers love to write but publishers find difficult to sell.
At the Lost Boy launch, we were incredibly fortunate to have a terrific launcher in the form of author, Erin Gough, a fiction writer whose short stories have been published in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best Australian Stories, The Age, Overland, Southerly and Going Down Swinging. Her novel for young adults, The Flywheel, won the Ampersand Prize and was published by Hardie Grant Egmont in February.
I’m so grateful that Erin has allowed me to re-print, here, the beautiful speech she delivered in launching the collection.
‘It is an honour to be here today to launch ‘Lost Boy and Other Stories’ for Margaret River Press, and exciting to have another stellar collection of short stories from some terrific talent out in the world.
I have a deep love of the short story. I feel the short story raised me as a writer, is still raising me as a writer. The short story lets me play with different forms and voices in ways that may not be sustainable in a longer work of fiction. It allows me to tell stories that cannot be told in any other way.
And as a reader of short stories, Stella Duffy’s words ring true to me: ‘[the short story] offers a clarity of moment,’ she writes. ‘At their best, [short stories] are a whole world in miniature, they are like perfect small gifts.’
Or this description from American short story writer, Lorrie Moore: ‘A story can be like a mad, lovely visitor, with whom you spend a rather exciting weekend.’
Short stories have gained quite a bit of attention in the last few years, with a string of writers gaining recognition for their work in the short form: the most notable of these being short story writer Lydia Davis, who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2013, and Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
But I must say, observing the so-called ‘rise’ of the form in recent years, I’ve been acting a bit like that annoying friend who claims to have known about the chart-topping band before they were famous, who saw them at the Vanguard before they were selling out the Entertainment Centre. Of course short stories are awesome, I hear myself telling anyone who’ll listen. I’ve been reading them for years.
Lost Boy and Other Stories is further proof of this fact, and I want to congratulate everyone who was involved in putting this book together – the judges, Laurie Steed and Richard Rossiter; the editor of the collection, the fabulous Estelle Tang; Caroline Wood and the Margaret River Press whose commitment to publishing short stories continues to contribute so richly to Australian literature.
And of course, the writers themselves. One thing that struck me when reading this collection was how well these stories speak to each other. Each story I read seemed to resonate with and illuminate the one that had come before. One of the most fascinating things about working with the short story form is how its brevity, in an almost contradictory way, provides a space for the reader to imagine all the things that aren’t being said, all the things that loom beyond the words. We don’t expect a short story to document and catalogue a world, as we might expect from a novel, and so, in a sense, ideas are given the chance to breathe, to grow.
This collection is packed with ideas that breathe. It is alive with the things that can’t be pinned down, or easily answered. It is crowded with loss and with absence, as its title suggests. Lost partners and lost parents, such as in Susan McCreery’s ‘The Uninvited’ and Cassie Hamer’s ‘Glory Season’. Lost children, lost youth, lost opportunities. In Julie Davis’s Baby Talk, ‘It isn’t just for the loss of my baby that I’m grieving,’ says her narrator. ‘It’s for the mother I could have been.’ ‘This is a country,’ writes Beverley Lello in Scenes From a Disappearance, ‘where things might easily be lost.’
In reading these stories we are drawn to remember those things we’ve had in our own lives, which are now missing. The absent becomes present again, just as in Alison Martin’s Before the Bloom ‘[t]he fresh hard-packed damp of the sand thr[o]w[s] up the stench of long-dead fossils.’ When, in Jane Downing’s ‘An Undelivered Letter to the Future’ Claudia remembers what she had written, suddenly ‘she was holding Jacob again’. We learn to find humour in facing our losses. Consider, for example, Carol McDowall’s Bringing Home the Ashes: ‘Mum and Nana Betty weren’t on good terms with death, but Poppy Jay and I had it sorted. He told me, before he assumed room temperature […] to sift through his ashes and find his gold tooth.’
There is solace in these stories, there is understanding, and finally, there is recognition. As Rosemary Allan writes in What Has to Be Done: ‘somewhere underneath my longing, I knew.’
There are questions, too, that will never be answered; this after all is part of the human condition.
From Melanie Napthine’s Lost Boy: ‘They’d all assumed that that would be the beginning of the end to the mystery; instead at every stage of the investigation, every time Gio opened his mouth, the questions had continued to multiply.’
Which is just as well. For us writers, it means there is always more to write. For us readers, there is always more to read. And for those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Lost Boy and Other Stories, I commend it to you. Buy one this afternoon. Buy two. Enjoy a new story, by a writer you might have read before, or by a writer that is new to you. You won’t regret it. These are storytellers full of passion and ideas, even the ones you haven’t heard of yet. And when, in a few years time, they’re packing out the Entertainment Centre, you’ll be able to say, I saw them when they were still playing the Vanguard.
I hereby launch Lost Boy and Other Stories.’
*For more information about Erin’s book, The Flywheel, or to purchase the book, visit Hardie Grant Egmont