Sarah Hall has been shortlisted for the £15,000 BBC National Short Story Award for the fourth time, after winning the prize in 2013.
Hall, who has written five novels and was nominated twice for the Booker Prize, is joined by photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson, James Tait Black Prize-winner Eley Williams, poet Jack Houston, and the 2019 EU Prize for Literature for Ireland winner Jan Carson.
Hall's story "The Grotesques" explores toxic mother and child relationships, set against the backdrop of privilege and equality in a university town, and was described as "brilliantly observed" by the judging panel. Meanwhile Nelson's "Pray" explores fear, injustice race and masculinity in a story set in south-east London, following young black men as they navigate a world that "wasn't built with [them] in mind".
Carson's "In The Car With the Rain Coming Down" is inspired by the author's upbringing in Protestant Northen Ireland and weaves together family politics and community rivalries at an ill-fated picnic. "Come Down Heavy" by Houston, is an "unsettling and disorientating story" which has been likened to work by Kae Tempest and Irvine Welsh. Completing the shortlist is Williams' "Scrimshaw", a "fresh, funny" take on Millennial relationships and modern communication.
The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (BBC NSSA) shortlist was announced on Friday 11th September during BBC Radio 4’s "Front Row".
All five stories will be broadcast on Radio 4 and on BBC Sounds from 14th September, and published in an anthology produced by Comma Press. The readers of this year’s stories are actor Anne-Marie Duff, who reads "Come Down Heavy", actor and rapper Ben Bailey-Smith reading "Pray" and Laura Donnelly reading "In The Car With the Rain Coming Down". Lydia Wilson, whose television credits include "Requiem" and "Flack", reads "The Grotesques", with "Call the Midwife" and "Fresh Meat" actor and singer-songwriter Charlotte Ritchie completing the line-up with "Scrimshaw".
Journalist Jonathan Freedland, chair of the judges, said: "In a strange, perplexing year, we five judges were privileged to be taken away to worlds both far away and near, rendered by five brilliant writers. These stories deal with the timeless human preoccupations – family, love, loss, longing – but with freshness, energy and great skill. Any reader picking up the collection or tuning into them on air has a variety of delights to look forward to and – luckier than us – they'll be free of the painful task of picking a winner."
Freedland is joined on the panel by Commonwealth Prize-winner Lucy Caldwell, who was shortlisted for both the 2012 and 2019 BBC NSSA, Irenosen Okojie, Betty Trask and Caine Prize-winner, Edge Hill Prize shortlistee and Guardian short story columnist Chris Power and returning judge Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Audio.
Speirs said: "I am inordinately proud of this year’s shortlist – it’s sharp, relevant, sometimes heart-rending, sometimes funny! If we set out 15 years ago to help save the short story, what this year’s writers prove is that in 2020 it is in rude health and more versatile and flexible than ever. From what is practically but perfectly miniaturised flash fiction, to the fully literary and layered, via bold new voices tackling tough realities and incisive humour within domestic tensions, this list reflects a generation of writers playing with form, range and the freedom of short fiction. Do listen to or read them."
The 2019 winner was Jo Lloyd, who won for "The Invisible". The 2020 winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s "Front Row" on 6th October.
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