Lucy Caldwell has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award for the third time, in a year dominated by new voices.
Now in its 16th year and run with Cambridge University, the award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000 and four further shortlisted authors £600 each.
Caldwell, nominated for "All the People Were Mean and Bad", is joined on the shortlist by Dublin-born novelist, playwright and screenwriter Rory Gleeson with "The Body Audit", Orange Prize-shortlisted writer Georgina Harding's "Night Train", former postal worker and creative writing lecturer Danny Rhodes with "Toadstone" and journalist, novelist and Mastermind finalist Richard Smyth's "Maykopsky District, Adyghe Oblast".
The stories are "shaped by writing about kindness, compassion, journeys and writing during lockdown", organisers said, with judges praising the submissions for their themes of humanity, compassion and hope. The list was announced on 10th September during BBC Radio 4's "Front Row" programme.
All five stories will be broadcast on Radio 4 and BBC Sounds and published in an anthology produced by indie publisher Comma Press. The winner will be announced live on "Front Row" on 19th October.
James Runcie, chair of the judging panel, said: “The short story is a precise, demanding and sometimes elusive art form. The narrative has to be more concentrated than a novel and more elastic than a poem. It has to be true and of itself; specific, controlled and naturally the right length. It has been a privilege to evaluate and celebrate works of fiction that increase our understanding of ourselves and each other.
"All these stories cast a discerning eye over what it is to be human and what it means to be vulnerable. From the shores of County Mayo to the steppes of Russia, on planes, trains and where toads cross a road, these stories take us in so many different directions. But what they have in common is their shared understanding of the power of the imagination to define what it means to be alive now, here, today.”
Runcie is joined on this year’s judging panel by Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Fiona Mozley, Desmond Elliott Prize-winner Derek Owusu, short story writer Donal Ryan and returning judge Di Speirs, books editor at BBC Audio.
Speirs said: “In a year when so many of us have been isolated and apart, the joy of these stories in which strangers offer comfort, and sometimes love, was notable. This year radio has played its part in providing companionship; these tales of unexpected encounters and kindnesses remind us of the importance of connection. Whether you hear them brought to life by the impressive cast of actors, or read them on the page, they serve as a reminder of the power of short fiction not only to entertain, but to enhance life and to widen horizons.”
The 2020 winner of the BBC National Short Story Award was Sarah Hall who won with "The Grotesques".
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