'Short story not dead'

AMANDA ELLIS
Man Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood rates the short story

Every so often, a book captures a reader's imagination and takes on the quality of a stolen moment. Australian Love Stories is one of those gems, allowing readers the secret pleasure of a story at a time.

In some senses, short-story collections are passe. However Love Stories, with its slow build from short-shorts to stand-out tales from authors such as WA Premier's Book Awards short-lister Sally-Ann Jones, proves just why such collections exist in the first place.

Love Stories is edited by Cate Kennedy and published by Inkerman&Blunt, Melbourne-based publisher Donna Ward's outfit. There's a joy in the collection which is attractively designed as a companion to its I&B predecessor Australian Love Poems.

Love Stories is being launched across Australia, with the local event Love in the Orient taking place next week. At the launch will be the four WA-based authors who feature in the Love Stories collection - Jones, whose Cottesloe-set tale Stella's Sea attracted an emerging writers award at this year's Premier's Book Awards, novelist and Scrivener creative-writing software coach Natasha Lester, writer and editor Susan Midalia and Trove journal editor-in-chief Danielle McGee.

Each author has set out to achieve something specific with her story, sharing their approach ahead of the launch.

In Hammer Orchid, Jones has produced a mesmerising romance of an indigenous man and a farm station owner's daughter. Bill Ware and Susan Clark's union takes more than 40 years to eventuate after the pair meet as children, and acknowledge but not act on their chemistry in a series of encounters over the years.

"I thought it would be a more powerful story if they had to wait a long time for their relationship to come to fruition, and that they would fully appreciate each other if they had had other life experiences before then," Jones says.

The characters are hard to let go and worthy of longer treatment. Lucky the author has recycled them in a semi-autobiographical novel she has tentatively titled Between Heaven and Hell and presented to a publisher who previously expressed interest.

Lester, who has already produced two novels on the theme love changes after marriage, stays on track with the tale of the unnamed parents of newborn Georgia. The wife grapples with resentment for her expensively suited husband and his bathroom habits but her return to piano laying evokes a transformation as the couple rediscover its lost language.

The author says she wanted to write of the possibility of a couple finding their way back to each other.

"I think that's one of the great things about love - it can alter its shape and its meaning and its expression but it can still be love," she says.

Midalia's tale of an infertile couple who grapple with baby-yearning into their 50s is decidedly not autobiographical.

"This is in fact one of the main reasons I write fiction, it's the challenge and the pleasure of trying to imagine what it might be like to be someone who is very different from me," she says.

Midalia will run a number of short-story workshops next year at Peter Cowan Writers' Centre, with the first, on Valentine's Day, to focus on short-story writing as the art of suggestion.

McGee has produced an assumption-

twisting tale of an awkward eventual romance between two school pals. She says she wanted to write about love in its "nerve-wracking glory".

"I think half the pleasure of reading lies in the reader constructing their own ideas about what a piece offers," she says.