November 25, 2008

Serials, continued ….


A couple of people I know have been complaining about the death of the short story in the broadsheets. In the good old days, they say, the Books sections regularly included short stories from new and established writers and — here’s the rub — they weren’t necessarily topical. While it’s tempting to dismiss such talk as utopian nostalgia, it’s hard to recall any fiction published recently in a newspaper that wasn’t to do with current affairs or extracted from a well-known writer’s forthcoming book. As a nice editor at The Independent used to tell me when I worked in publicity and tried to hawk people’s stories to him, “It doesn’t put the ‘news’ in newspaper”.

Shame, that. On the other hand, it’s pleasing to observe the return of the serial novel, which reached its peak with Balzac and Dickens in the 19th century but seemed to have died its final death in the 1940s. The internet has revitalised it: Stephen King was the first to try putting his work on the web, back in 2000 (as this CNN story reminds us) and since then horror and sci-fi sites have popped up all over the place. More literary, Alexander McCall Smith has been writing a novel online for The Telegraph, adding a chapter a day for 20 weeks. It’s now at chapter 51, and you can read from the beginning here. The Guardian pre-empted them, publishing a weekly serial by Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, AM Homes and Jackie Kay. On her website, Winterson says, “We will swap weeks and we aren’t saying who is when….”