Alison Moore: Writing short stories

It’s great to have Alison Moore back on the blog today talking about short stories. Alison’s first novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Awards (New Writer of the Year), winning the McKitterick Prize. Both The Lighthouse and her second novel, He Wants, were Observer Books of the Year. A third novel, Death and the Seaside, is out now. You can read our interview with her about this book here. Her short fiction has been included in Best British Short Stories and​ Best British Horror anthologies, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra and collected in The Pre-War House and Other Stories​. Her first book for children, Sunny and the Ghosts, will be published in 2018.

Alison is also the judge for the 2017 RW Short Story Prize.

Alison, one of the things that struck me when reading Pre-War House was how very different your characters, settings and POVs are in all of the stories. How does your short story writing process usually work – is it the situation, the premise or the character that arrives first; and how do you then develop it?

My stories have various origins although I would say that character and situation often arrive together, one informing the other, e.g. the woman in The Pre-War House, who is pregnant when she returns to her childhood home, and the elderly husband in Static who is mending a radio. Stories have been prompted by things heard or seen or experienced or by exploring my anxieties, or in one case by a title coming to mind, requiring me to find the story attached to it. I develop a story by feeling my way through it, trying to discover it. I love Michelangelo’s idea of chipping away at a lump of rock to find the sculpture within it.

What have been some of the most memorable characters that you’ve come across in short stories and why have they struck a chord with you?

Flannery O’Connor agonises me with her characters – the grandmother in A Good Man is Hard to Find, the men in The Geranium and The Barber. Although the nature and scale of their fall or loss differs greatly, each one haunts me.

When reading the shortlisted entries in the RW Short Story Prize, what will make a story really stand out for you?

I want to be immersed in the world of the story, to see it vividly, to feel that I’ve experienced something. The most effective stories resonate beyond the reading; you keep thinking about them.

What advice can you give to writers looking to improve their short story writing?

It’s a cliche for a reason: read. When people are interested in writing short stories but aren’t yet reading them, I recommend Salt’s Best British Short Stories. When you’ve written your story, read it through very carefully; put it away so that you can read it again with a fresh eye – poor grammar and typos jolt the reader out of the world of the story but they’re easy to fix.


Many thanks, Alison, for your insights into reading and writing short stories.

The 2017 RW Short Story Prize closes for entries on 29th October. You can see the results of the 2016 prizes here and the anthology of winning stories will be published in September.

There are also Quarterly Themed Flash competitions running with cash prizes and online publication for the winner and two runners-up. Get the info on that here.

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