Favourite short reads handpicked by top writers

Now sit down, chill out and take your pick from seven of the best bite-sized stories by female authors. Isn't that better already..

favourite short reads

Now sit down, chill out and take your pick from seven of the best bite-sized stories by female authors. Isn't that better already..

I don't know about you but most days I can be found walking into rooms and pondering 'what exactly am I doing here?' I'm not having an existentialist crisis. Not just yet. Just a mild dose of pandemic anxiety. In fact, science boffins say this coronavirus crisis has drastically cut down our attention span. Seems there's no better time, once I remember where I put my specs, to dive into some beautifully-crafted favourite short reads.

A speed read fits neatly into a lunch break or gives a sense of 'OMG, I have achieved SOMETHING today' before passing out on your pillow. So expand your mind with these curated short stories. All selected by fantastically talented writers and this year's judges of the BBC National Short Story Award 2020 and the BBC Young Writers’ Award 

Favourite short reads: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

Picked by Laura Bates, bestselling author and founder of The Everyday Sexism Project

favourite short reads

Laura's verdict: 'This is as deeply revealing and unsettling today as when it was written. At a time when we are confined to small spaces it has a particular resonance. It has never been more relevant to re-examine the emotional torment, psychological coercion and subtle forms of misogyny underpinning so many abusive relationships. Today one deadly pandemic masks another: the ongoing pandemic of domestic abuse that's become part of our own wallpaper.'

Favourite short reads: Girl by Jamaica Kincaid 

Chosen by Irenosen Okojie, AKO Caine Prize-winning British Nigerian writer 

Irenosen says: 'This is an inventive, elliptical piece - only three pages long. Kincaid charts the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter with eye-watering honesty. The brevity, the brutality, the shrewd use of repetition and the killer last sentence make it a subtly unforgettable piece. Kincaid is one of my writing heroines. I can't rave enough about her unique voice.'

Favourite short reads: The Company Of Wolves by Angela Carter 

Picked by Will Hill, a screenwriter, novelist and YA Book Prize 2018 winner 

favourite short reads

Will's verdict: 'This story appears in The Bloody Chamber, one of the best short story collections of all time. Based on Red Riding Hood but far removed from our childhood version. The Company Of Wolves is a dark, blood-red feminist allegory where the wolves are dangerous, uncontrollable and painfully familiar.'

Favourite short reads: In The Tunnel by Mavis Gallant 

Chosen by Chris Power, Guardian short story columnist 

Chris says: 'One of the great coming-of-age stories. Gallant's evocative portrait of southern France, a malfunctioning relationship and a young woman entering adulthood.'

Favourite short reads: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson 

Selected by Muhammad KhanBranford Boase Award-winning YA author 

favourite short reads

Muhammad's verdict: 'This story is a classic. A quick-witted mouse against a host of predators. Then one day he meets the scariest creature of them all. The playful verse is thoroughly entertaining.'

Favourite short reads: Who Will Greet You At Home by Lesley Nneka Arimah 

Picked by Bridget Minamore, poet, critic and journalist 

Bridget says: 'This stunning piece leaves me with a lump in my chest every time. Cleverly describing big concepts such as longing and sadness. It then pivots into a kind of dystopian fairytale. Definitely the greatest living short story writer I can think of.'

Favourite short reads: A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

Chosen by Lucy Caldwell, twice-BBC NSSA shortlisted and Commonwealth Prize winning author

favourite short reads

Lucy's verdict: 'Lucia Berlin writes incredibly close to the bone. With a lightness of touch making it all the more devastating. Pure verve, pure style, pure joy. There's a sense she is freewheeling. It's an impression that should in no way undermine her stories. On a sentence-by-sentence level, she is peerless. Berlin's sentences do things I didn’t think possible. They snap, they pivot, they suddenly address the reader directly.'  

* The shortlist for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University will be announced on Sunday 20 September. More information can be found at bbc.co.uk/nssa and bbc.co.uk/ywa

* The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2020. The shortlist will be announced on Friday 11 September

Maria Coole

Maria Coole is a contributing editor on Marie Claire.

Hello Marie Claire readers – you have reached your daily destination. I really hope you’re enjoying our reads and I'm very interested to know what you shared, liked and didn’t like (gah, it happens) by emailing me at: maria.coole@freelance.ti-media.com

But if you fancy finding out who you’re venting to then let me tell you I’m the one on the team that remembers the Spice Girls the first time round. I confidently predicted they’d be a one-hit wonder in the pages of Bliss magazine where I was deputy editor through the second half of the 90s. Having soundly killed any career ambitions in music journalism I’ve managed to keep myself in glow-boosting moisturisers and theatre tickets with a centuries-spanning career in journalism.

Yes, predating t’internet, when 'I’ll fax you' was grunted down a phone with a cord attached to it; when Glastonbury was still accessible by casually going under or over a flimsy fence; when gatecrashing a Foo Fighters aftershow party was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy and tapping Dave Grohl on the shoulder was... oh sorry I like to ramble.

Originally born and bred in that there Welsh seaside town kindly given a new lease of life by Gavin & Stacey, I started out as a junior writer for the Girl Guides and eventually earned enough Brownie points to move on and have a blast as deputy editor of Bliss, New Woman and editor of People newspaper magazine. I was on the launch team of Look in 2007 - where I stuck around as deputy editor and acting editor for almost ten years - shaping a magazine and website at the forefront of body positivity, mental wellbeing and empowering features. More recently, I’ve been Closer executive editor, assistant editor at the Financial Times’s How To Spend It (yes thanks, no probs with that life skill) and now I’m making my inner fangirl’s dream come true by working on this agenda-setting brand, the one that inspired me to become a journalist when Marie Claire launched back in 1988.

I’m a theatre addict, lover of Marvel franchises, most hard cheeses, all types of trees, half-price Itsu, cats, Dr Who, cherry tomatoes, Curly-Wurly, cats, blueberries, cats, boiled eggs, cats, maxi dresses, cats, Adidas shelltops, cats and their kittens. I’ve never knowingly operated any household white goods and once served Ripples as a main course. And finally, always remember what the late great Nora Ephron said, ‘Everything is copy.’