The Godfather: Peter Corris on the short story story
As an undergraduate I wrote self-regarding verses (I can’t dignify them as poems), which I submitted to student magazine editors who rightly rejected them. As a postgraduate I tried writing short stories. They were derivative of Hemingway and Maugham and were also rejected. I was discouraged and didn’t try a short story again until I’d abandoned academia and embarked on journalism.
By then I had acquired some facility, had something real to write about and tailored the fiction to the market. My breakthrough story, ‘The Port-Drinking Champion of North Queensland’, based on a South Sea islander I’d met during my doctoral research, was published by Westerly; ‘A Thousand Words by the 25th’, about book reviewing, of which I was doing a lot, was published by Southerly; ‘After the Bell’, about boxing in the Depression, which sprang from the research for my history of boxing in Australia, Lords of the Ring (1980), was published by Overland. By the time I was literary editor of the National Times I was virtually able, in the silly season, to publish my own stories in the paper and (cheekily and selfishly) did so on a few occasions. They were light-hearted vignettes of no significance – holiday reading in one of the very best newspapers this country has seen.
After the first few Cliff Hardy books were released in the early 1980s, I was in demand from magazines – Penthouse, Playboy, the Bulletin, even Quadrant, and others. Penthouse and Playboy paid well, from memory around $1500 and $2000 respectively, according to length.
Like many writers, I had a lust for print as well as a need for money. Short stories were in vogue at the time, particularly crime stories, and writers like Garry Disher, Robert Hood and Stuart Coupe edited anthologies to which I was invited to contribute. I could turn out a Hardy story in a week. I also wrote some one-offs – a science-fiction effort and a horror story.
When there were enough Cliff Hardy stories out there, my obliging publishers were happy to release them in book form, and five or six of the Hardy books are short story collections. I was double-dipping.
My greatest coup as a short-fiction writer came around the end of the 1990s when Colleen Ryan, then editing a section of the Financial Review over the holiday period, invited me to write some Hardy stories with a business flavour. I wrote three pieces and was paid a low five-figure amount for each. This was quite a lot at the time and unthinkable now except, perhaps, for Tim Winton or Helen Garner. The three quite long stories were published in book form along with a few others as Taking Care of Business (2004), which sold particularly well – possibly, I suspect, because some bookshops put it in the business section.
After the market for stories dried up, I continued to write them occasionally and they were taken by niche publishers and online magazines. The very last story I wrote was published last year in an online magazine and I was paid $50.00. It was a breezy Hardy story, almost a clue-puzzle – the only one I ever wrote – and I was happy to sign off on that note.