Please note that no middle-class English people called Victoria or Jeremy were harmed in the making of this article.
As a reader, I fell in love with the short story many years ago. To me, a well written short story is an immensely more satisfying read than a novel. All the usual distractions of a novel are absent: there’s no white noise from the back-story buzzing in your mind, for instance, and no large cast of characters to constantly visualise. With the excess flesh removed, you’re left with the bones and sinew of the story to focus on, to absorb, to savour the words.
As an occasional writer, I penned the odd short story over the years. Some I submitted to magazines or into competitions, with little success, but most I consigned to a drawer to gather dust. It was only when I retired from business several years ago that I began to write them in earnest. I think it was Hemingway who advised, “Write what you know.” That’s what I did. I wrote about growing up in my little home town in Scotland in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I wrote about real characters and true events from that place and that era. The stories spilled out of me. Some were funny, others dramatic, many sad, but they were all distinctly Scottish and all unashamedly about working-class life.
I had no desire to make any money from publication of the stories, but I did want the world to read and appreciate my carefully crafted efforts. I discovered a plethora of websites which invited writers to submit their work for others to read, comment on and rate. So I registered with and uploaded my stories on some of the larger sites. Sadly, the stories proved not to be popular; people didn’t seem to “get” them, to understand the “Scottishness” of them.
When I looked more closely at the websites, I could discern a pattern. The most applauded stories all appeared to be set in a cosy tweeland that could have been anywhere, but more often than not was Middle England. They were usually populated by impossibly beautiful characters called Victoria and Jeremy (or were those the names of the authors?). And invariably their endings contained impossibly clever twists. Needless to say, I abandoned those sites, leaving the Victorias and Jeremies to inhabit the middle-class lovefest that was their world.
It occurred to me that I was surely not alone, that other Scottish writers, perhaps many of them, were experiencing the same frustrations. That’s when I said to myself: Why not set up an outlet for yourself and those other frustrated writers, something with a distinctive Scots flavour? Hence, McStorytellers was born, a website (http://mcstorytellers.weebly.com) dedicated to showcasing the work of Scottish-connected short story writers. It is fun, it is irreverent and it cocks a snook at those tweeland sites.
Since its inception in October 2010, McStorytellers has published some 250 stories by close to 50 writers, or McStorytellers, many of whom are regular contributors. Some of the contributors are well established authors. Others are skilful writers who usually hide their lights under bushels. Yet others are novices who hopefully are receiving a helping hand from McStorytellers to climb the writing ladder. With the exception of the license fee for the website, not a penny exchanges hands. And it’s all done without a Victoria or a Jeremy in sight!
Brendan Gisby is ‘Mr McStoryteller’ and the force behind the short story slot at 11.15 each morning. Visit his festival page. He also appears in the festival in Beyond Fiction (Aug 24)