Here are four short stories, selected by me from well over a hundred submissions. You can read them in any order; you can read them over four days or four years. You might want to read a paragraph and then eat a cheeseburger and then read more. You can flick between the stories and Twitter. No-one’s watching you, except maybe ASIO. Just say a friendly hello into your webcam and hope that they’re getting something out of what you’re reading.
Putting together this collection was time-consuming and difficult, but reading the submissions and working with the authors was the opposite of a burden. Selection was the burden. I narrowed it down to fifteen, then seven stand-outs. I did all the usual things: lying awake in the wee small hours, annoying my partner, comforting myself with clichés. You can’t please all of the people, et cetera. Then I got over myself long enough to choose four.
Before I say anything about the stories, I’m giving you the chance to form your thoughts before reading mine. Or as we say on the internet, here be spoilers.
Place links this collection together. Specifically, wastelands: the skyscraper forests of Russia in Katherine Brabon’s ‘Concrete Kids’, the impoverished corners of early Brisbane in Ariella van Luyn’s ‘The Cunning Folk’, the earthquake-flattened Iranian city in Amirreza Esmaily’s ‘The Purple Debris’, and the flat brown Australian suburb in Laura Stortenbeker’s ‘Yards’.
The stories are also linked by what they achieve. Each one provides a glimpse into a whole world. The characters are alive because they have histories and memories, they love and fear and hate, they came from somewhere and they’re going somewhere. ‘Concrete Kids’ may be the most hopeful story, but none are devoid of hope; no life is devoid of hope, whatever the characters believe at this time in their lives.
But enough about similarities. I went for diversity in terms of style, perspective, gender and culture. This fits with my values and that of Overland – and of course, a story collection that lacks diversity would be just plain boring.
Right down at the bottom of it, of course, is the strong preference I have for these particular stories. I can’t help it. Each one turned a key in my mind and opened a secret passageway. While reading Katherine Brabon’s ‘Concrete Kids’, I kept going over and over her descriptions of Primorsky, feeling as though she’d transported me there, and also feeling as though I’d taken up residence in the mind of her young male narrator. In ‘The Cunning Folk’, by Ariella van Luyn, an abusive yet tender relationship between father and sons is beautifully captured, and there are moments I’ll never forget: a baby floating free from a mother drowned in a water tank, a father feeding wriggling insects to his starving children, a haunting turned inside-out, and many more. I read Amirreza Esmaily’s ‘The Purple Debris’ with my heart in my throat; by the end my hands felt cut and bruised, I was sure I could smell gas, and I was glad to be marooned in the shadow of the narrator’s uncertainty. When I reached this sentence in Laura Stortenbeker’s ‘Yards’, ‘Her blood felt too hot and too thick to stay inside her,’ I was hooked to the dark suburban fairytale of a young woman’s tragedy.
I hope you find or have found your own ways to relate to these excellent pieces of short fiction. And I hope the authors all continue to write and to seek publication. Working with them was my favourite part of this process.
Read the summer fiction issue:
‘Concrete kids’, by Katherine Brabon
‘The cunning folk’, by Ariella Van Luyn
‘The purple debris’, by Amirreza Esmaily
‘Yards’, by Laura Stortenbeker