Back in February of this year I signed a contract with Cultured Llama for my next short story collection, Dip Flash. One of the clauses of that deal stipulated that I was to provide them with a complete manuscript by the 1st of December. So it’s probably about time that I got this thing into some kind of order, right?
A collection of short stories – or indeed poems – should be more than the sum of the parts. There should be some kind of logic and flow to it. When I was sequencing Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff, for example, (still available, by the way – I’m told it’s rather good) I grouped poems with a similar theme together, but I also tried to manage the movements in tone throughout the collection, so that there wasn’t a sudden clunking gear shift from sad to funny. The choice of poems to open and close the collection was also important. I went through a similar process with Dot Dash (also still available), although I was also constrained there by my structural high concept of short stories interleaved with very short ones.
Dip Flash, despite its related title, doesn’t share the same structure as Dot Dash. For one thing, I haven’t got as many very short ones lying around – mainly because I lost enthusiasm for that kind of thing. There are a few, however, which begs the question as to where I put them without jolting the reader. As far as opening and closing is concerned, I know which story is going first and which one is going last – in fact, I’ve know about the latter since I started planning Dip Flash back in 2011 (or to put it another way, as soon as Dot Dash was put to bed).
As for the rest, I’m almost certainly going to stick to stories that have already been published in magazines or have been listed in competitions, as I did with Dot Dash (and indeed most of Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff). I do this purely and simply because I don’t trust my own judgement. Anything I put in a collection needs to have found its way past at least one gatekeeper in order for it to justify its presence there. It’s not enough for me to like it. Someone else has to.Which is a shame, because some of my favourite stories are still trying to find a home even as I write. I guess they’ll have to wait until the third collection comes along in 2024.
But is it any good, I hear you ask? Is it better than Dot Dash? Well, I’d like to think so. There are certainly one or two stories in there that I’m quite proud of. But I’m far too close to the thing to be 100% sure, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
[Edited to add: Of course, all of this is contingent on my publishers actually approving my selection…]