I am in Ullapool right now, a beautiful town surrounded by hills on the edge of Loch Broom in the north west of Scotland. At the book festival here I was asked if stories make a difference. I said something bland like that I hoped that my stories might hold up a mirror to the reader's life but that I thought writers were deluded if they thought stories could make a difference to the world we live in. Then a woman came up to me later and said, “Your stories made a difference to me.” She had suffered a brain injury and had only just been able to start reading again, and found that the short story form was something she could contain. My stories were the first things she'd been able to read after five years of not reading.
The short story is such a fascinating hybrid form. It shares the poet's particular love of image or lyricism, of not wasting a single word, with the novel's wide narrative lens. It takes people often at a moment of change or trauma and distils and invests that moment with something wider, something that in turn helps, by the narrowing of focus, to understand the wider world. It is wide open. It has stretched across the continent. It is the perfect form for our time. It can be carried around in the head, the whole story. You should be able to lay it down on a vast plain and it would still glow.
We were inspired this year by the range of subject matters in the Caine Prize short-listed stories, the different approaches to this pioneering and inventive form. During our judges meeting we returned again and again to what made a story work for us and what stories made a difference. Was it because we believed the character's voice? Was it the style and tone? Was it the structure of the story? Was it because the story can be philosophical? What is it we were looking for in the stories? We were looking for different stories. Fresh, inventive, surprising. We were looking for stories that make a difference.