Yelena Moskovich (pictured), winner of the Galley Beggar Short Story Prize 2016/17, says she is drawn to writing that feels “alive and dangerous”. Her winning story, “Marlene or Number 16”, is an intriguing and inventive snapshot into the life of a waitress, artfully exploring what Moskovich refers to as “the tension between human poetry, the soul and brutality; between kindness and disgust, romance and repulsion”.
Born in Ukraine in 1984, Moskovich emigrated to the US with her family in 1991. She currently lives in France. Discussing her inspiration for the story, she said: “There is a café I used to go to regularly, in the north of Paris. It has a gawky grace to it, like a secret grievance or wasted wish: the perfect place to suddenly want to recite poetry to remaining customers past midnight. Inside, it’s mainly a bar for old men. I tried out sitting inside with them. And there, on a few occasions, another woman came in, she became my Marlene.”
Moskovich’s story enchanted the judging panel, which comprised Sarah Crown, director of literature at Arts Council England, writers Chris Power and Alex Pheby, and Galley Beggar Press directors Eloise Millar and Sam Jordison. Pheby said her work gave “a brilliant sense of a life lived while also creating a satisfyingly self-contained story”. He added: “The writing was compelling: modern and real and bitter without being callous. Altogether a very sophisticated piece of writing, and the most convincingly brilliant of all this year’s submissions.”
Power added: “As soon as I entered Marlene’s world, an ethnically mixed neighbourhood in northern Paris, I knew it would stay with me. Yelena Moskovich writes intriguingly, sometimes scrappily, but in a way that’s constantly inventive, surprising and addictive.” Moskovich’s début novel The Natashas was published by Serpent’s Tail last year, and she is currently working on her second novel.
The short-story award is open to both published and unpublished writers and offers a prize of £1,000 or 12 months of editorial guidance on a writing project. Moskovich opted for the money, stating: “I already have support and guidance for my current writing: I’m really grateful to my agent, Jane Finigan at Lutyens & Rubinstein, and to have worked with Hannah Westland [publisher] and Nick Sheerin [editor] at Serpent’s Tail. That said, I really admire Galley Beggar Press, its motto, its relationship with text and its author list. It would be a pleasure to work with Galley Beggar in some way in the future.”
Last year’s inaugural prize was won by Rona Judge McCormack for “Backburn”. She has since signed with the Eve White Literary Agency and is currently finishing her first novel.
“Marlene or Number 16” is available to read on the Galley Beggar website priced £1.
The prize effect
Eloise Millar, co-director of Galley Beggar Press, said of the prize: “The prize is among the best things that Galley Beggar has done. As a publisher, it introduces us to many wonderful writers who we might not otherwise come across. the longlists and shortlists are also a small, but hopefully significant way to give writers a platform and showcase their work to both readers and the wider publishing community. We can’t publish 13 books a year—the number of authors on our longlist this year—but we can publish 13 stories and make a good noise about the 13 authors behind them.
“We’ve been delighted to see so many of the longlisted and shortlisted authors from last year’s inaugural prize go on to sign publishing deals. We’re actually bringing out [2015/16 longlistee] Gonzalo C Garcia’s début, We are the End, later this year—it’s superb. In the same way, we hope to continue working with many of the authors on this year’s longlist and shortlist well into the future. They represent some of the best and most ambitious writers out there.”