Welsh writer Cynan Jones has won the £15,000 BBC National Short Story Award with BookTrust for his “tenderly devastating exploration of the body”.
The novelist and scriptwriter beat four other nominated writers including three of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists with his story, ‘The Edge of the Shoal’, described as one of the judges, Eimear McBride, as as “perfect a short story as I've ever read”. McBride also revealed she had thought about it “most days” since reading it months ago.
Jones was presented with his £15,000 prize on Tuesday evening (3rd October), at the 12th edition of the awards, by chair of the judges Joanna Trollope at a ceremony at the BBC’s Radio Theatre in London as part of a special edition of BBC Radio 4’s “Front Row”.
Jones’ “poignant, rhythmical and tension-fuelled story” follows a man who sets out to scatter his father’s ashes, leaving a note for his pregnant partner which reads “Pick Salad x”. The writer said he was inspired to write a story “with no definite sense of place where a person is literally cast adrift from place and relationship”.
Jones revealed to The Bookseller that he had almost given up on the short story “many times but something kept calling me back”.
He discussed how the story originally began life as a short novel, The Cove (2016), the second title in his two-book contract for Granta, before being halved for inclusion in The New Yorker and then stripped again for the BBC Radio 4 broadcast edition. “It think it will be a haiku by Christmas,” he said.
Jones revealed he did not read many short stories when he was younger and was often “disappointed” by them but believes the landscape has recently transformed. “But what I feel has happened over the last few years is there is some extraordinary experimentation going on, some brilliant technical work.” He cited Daisy Johnson, Lucy Wood, Kevin Barry, and Claire Keegan as prime examples.
Jones (pictured left) also said he was pleased with the direction on “shorter, slimmer novels” such as Max Porter’s Grief is The Thing with Feathers (Faber) and The End We Start From (Picador) by Megan Hunter. “It was very difficult to get these things through before so this is a very positive thing.”
The four remaining shortlisted writers will each receive £600. The nominations were revealed last month, and included three of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists, Jenni Fagan, Benjamin Markovits and Helen Oyeyemi, as well as critic and novelist Will Eaves.
Jon McGregor, writer and judge, said: “The Edge of the Shoal' does something genuinely thrilling with the confines of the short story: for 6,000 words the reader exists only in the lived present moment, in a mental space where life is stripped to its bare essentials.
“There are simply the raw bleeding details of survival. It's an exhilarating, terrifying, and life-affirming read.”
He described the story as “a stunning achievement and a deserved winner of the prize.’
McBride said: 'I've thought about ‘The Edge of the Shoal’ most days since first reading it, months ago. Not the immaculate construction, or modernising take on the 'man versus nature' tale, but its tenderly devastating exploration of the body as it hangs outside time.”
She added: “It is as perfect a short story as I've ever read and works on the reader like an invasion, as all the best literature should.”
Di Speirs, books editor at BBC Radio 4 and longstanding judge of the prize, praised the story’s “searing immediacy” and described it as a "perfect illustration of the transporting, utterly absorbing power of a great short story".
Jones is based in the west coast of Wales. He is the author of five novels, The Long Dry, Everything I Found on the Beach, The Dig, and Cove (all published by Granta) as well as Bird, Blood, Snow (Seren Books). His short stories have appeared on BBC Radio 4 and in a number of anthologies and publications including Granta Magazine and the New Yorker. He has also scripted an episode of the television crime drama “Hinterland”.
It was also revealed at the ceremony that Elizabeth Ryder from Oxfordshire, 17, won the third BBC Young Writers’ Award for her short story ‘Roses’ about emotional abuse, described as “sophisticated, moving… absolutely faultless” by judge Holly Bourne. The announcement came days after the shortlist was released.
Bourne revealed she “burst into tears” after reading Ryder’s story, which will is available on the Radio 1 website. It will be read by actress “War and Peace” actress Tuppence Middleton on Alice Levine’s show on BBC Radio 1 on Saturday (7th October). Ryder will also receive a personal mentoring session to further develop her writing skills.
It was revealed last week that First Story and the University of Cambridge are the new partners of the BBC’s short story awards, replacing BookTrust, in a three-year collaboration starting in 2018.
Later this month 150, hand-bound letter-press editions of Jones' gothic short story, ‘A Letter from Wales’, published by Welsh independent publisher Gwydir Press. It will feature linecut illustrations and is designed in paper wrappers, to be published on 28th October