Before human intellect had developed enough to create a written language that could be understood by a reader as well as a writer, our ancestors would sit around a fire and tell each other stories. It was the most effective way of communicating narratives, news and information. Over millennia, as mankind’s intelligence slowly increased, these verbal lineal tales were eventually recorded and many of these surviving works of writing are usually in what we refer to today as ‘poem’ form. They are as extensive in plot as they are precise in description. Beowulf, for example, is the oldest surviving poem in the English language and the earliest piece of vernacular European literature. It is the account of fearless Scandinavian hero Beowulf, and his story is enriched with bold descriptions and an enthralling plot. Yet although historical elements run through the poem both the hero and the story are fiction. What a night round the fire that must have been! To hear tales of great warriors and conquerors would have been spell binding in an age when life was so much shorter and harder than we could imagine. And when the time came that these stories could not only be written down but also read by others, a whole new world was created. No longer would our early ancestors have to rely upon a storyteller - they could finally read and write for themselves. Stories, narratives, tales - call them what you will, became recorded - finally written down - and those were our first Anthologies.
Whizz forward several thousand years and it’s not that much different in today’s fast-paced world: we all still love to be told a story or hear a bit of news - it’s in our blood. To snatch five or ten minutes to read a story that makes us think or simply feel good can only be a good thing, and that is why the ‘short story collection’ is so important still, whether compiled by a single author or a compilation of many authors. Recent technological advancements mean that we can all publish anything at the drop of an old-fashioned hat. We can create a book of separate stories for anyone to read, either on paper or digitally, and now anthologies have never been so popular. It’s story telling for the modern age, somehow connecting us to our past.
So when next browsing for a book or ebook, consider the lowly anthology. It’ll make you feel closer to your ancestors than you think!
Tips for creating a good anthology
1 If you’re writing everything in it yourself, make your stories short but not necessarily sweet. Observations from situations or incidents around you make a good read, and are easy for the reader to relate to. In the dentists’ waiting room or sat in a traffic jam observing other drivers, for example. (Just what is that man in the dark glasses doing... and why is he doing it in his car?!)
2 If compiling an anthology with other writers’ work, again, keep it short. And varied. And don’t be afraid to say No.
3 Which is the most cost effective? Paper or Digital? We know the answer to that one, so go digital first.
4 To theme or not to theme? You decide. What would you read? But remember, a compilation of Christmas stories is only likely to sell once a year..
5 Get A Decent Cover! Odd, isn’t it, that after all these thousands of years of and reading and writing, us humans still judge a book by its cover - so make it a good one.
Jacci Gooding is a member of the Bardstown Writers’ Group, based in Stratford upon Avon in the UK, a town famous as the place where Shakespeare was born and grew-up. Bardstown Writers have just published their first anthology: 60 pages of stories, flash fiction, non-fiction and poetry, available through the website link below.