Monday 4 April 2022

Tom Conaghan (ed.), "Reverse Engineering"

By Tom Conaghan, publisher of Scratch Books

About Reverse Engineering

It’s easy to get obsessive about short stories. Done well they’re near perfect, done badly they’re a little insulting. Maybe, in such a contained space, the stakes are just naturally higher. 

I’ve been the fiction editor at Bandit Fiction for a few years now. I also judge submissions at US magazine The Story, and for The Word Factory’s Apprenticeship Award. In all these organisations, we were declining a great deal more writing than we accepted. All the time, I was reading incredible stories in The New Yorker, Granta, The White Review, Electric Literature and others. What was it that these successful writers doing that so many others weren’t? 

The question prompted me to start a series of interviews at The Word Factory, asking amazing authors how did you write that? Their answers were eye-opening in many ways: Chris Power rewrote his ending to ‘The Crossing’ fifty times; Mahreen Sohail’s first draft she calls draft zero; present-day Jon McGregor would like to teach his younger self that what he thought was ambiguity was just prevarication.

But, above all this, what came through was how various their craft was. Bringing together their principles did not point towards a single perfect story; as I wrote in the introduction to the book (available to read in 3am Magazine), there is no single state of short storydom – it is a perennial Newfoundland. 

As a consequence, I found that talking to brilliant authors didn’t show me how to write a great story, but – like a great short story – it did help me formulate better questions. And, ultimately, the one thing I did understand about the short story is that its endless permutations mean that, for me, it will stay an obsession.

You can see more details about Reverse Engineering on the publisher's website here. You can receive a 15% discount when you buy Reverse Engineering online with the special discount code: Leicester15

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