Graham Swift’s novels are legendary. Who can forget the Booker Prize-winning Last Orders or his atmospheric celebration of the Fens In Waterland? Yet Swift began his career as a short story writer. “Somehow I got into writing novels, always with the expectation that at some point I would return to short stories,” he explains. His first collection – Learning To Swim – was published in 1982. By then he had already published two novels. Now, many novels later, he has his wish, with the publication of England And Other Stories.

“A couple of years ago I found myself writing stories again, and they were coming thick and fast,” he recalls “It was a real thrill to know I was still a short story writer.”

His new book – he doesn’t want to call it a collection – comprises twenty- five stories written in a comparatively short space of time. He did not set out with a particular agenda. The common thread, he says, is “this territory called England.” And, unlike so many collections by other writers, each story is new. But there is an element of irony in the title. It is essentially, he explains, a book of stories about people who happen to live in England, although many have their origins outside.

He grew up in south London, attending Dulwich College before going to Cambridge. South London has formed the background to several novels, and is obviously the place where he feels most at home. He is essentially an urban writer, and still lives within a few miles of the area where he grew up.

In publishing his first book of stories for over thirty years, he feels he is returning to his roots – and loves it. “It is terribly exciting and refreshing to enter different worlds with each story and to move from one to another so quickly.”

Does he have another novel in mind? “I don’t know what will come next,” he says. “You can’t predict. Things just happen. It could go either way. One learns to live with the unpredictable nature of writing.”

He feels that writing is half about discipline and half about lack of discipline. “No one day is like the last,” he says. “But storytelling answers to something deep and fundamental in human nature.”

In America, of course, short stories have always been valued and he is delighted that the form is making a come-back in England. He senses a definite change in the air, although he thinks it was a myth to say that publishers didn’t like short fiction. It is heartening that Alice Munro and other practitioners are taking major international prizes, he says.

Does he have a routine when writing? He thinks for a moment before replying: “You can’t push it. You have to wait for it to come.” This, of course, is what happened two years ago when he suddenly discovered that stories were literally pouring from his keyboard – or from his Waterman pen, as he prefers to write in longhand, early in the morning.

In a sense it is hardly surprising that Graham Swift loves the short form. His novels have always defied categorisation. Each one is different. Short stories enable him to exploit the desire for change.

At Charleston’s Small Wonder festival Swift will read one of his stories and explain to both his audience and chair Susie Nicklin, former director of literature at the British Council, about his “joyful” return to this most demanding, yet evocative, art form.

Small Wonder: Graham Swift: England And Other Stories
Charleston, Firle, near Lewes, Friday, September 26

Starts 6pm, tickets £10/£9. Call 01273 709709.