Trinidadian writer Ingrid Persaud has won the £15,000 BBC National Short Story Award for her tale about a man reunited with his absent father through the power of chocolate.
"The Sweet Sop" is Persaud’s first short story and it also took the Commonwealth Short Story Prize last year. National Short Story Award judge K J Orr described it as “tender and ebullient, heartbreaking and full of humour”.
Persaud was presented with the prize of £15,000 on Tuesday evening (2nd October) by the chair of the judges, TLS editor Stig Abell, at a ceremony held at Cambridge University. The news was announced live on BBC Radio 4’s “Front Row”, during a special programme celebrating the short story.
“The judges were unanimous in their praise for a story which keeps a consistency of voice without smoothing over the reality of genuine conflict," Abell said. "The relationship between Victor and Reggie, estranged father and son, who find solace in chocolate, is an utterly convincing and memorable one, a clever inversion of normal parental process."
Persaud's story beat off competition from four other women writers: three-time shortlistee and 2013 winner Sarah Hall with "Sudden Traveller", Kiare Ladner with "Van Rensburg’s Card", creative writing lecturer and Bleaker House author Nell Stevens for "The Minutes", and composer and novelist Kerry Andrew for "To Belong To". The runners-up will each receive £600. Meanwhile 17-year-old Davina Bacon, took the 2018 BBC Young Writers' Award for "Under A Deep Blue Sky".
Born in Trinidad and now based between Barbados and London, Persaud came to writing later in life, following academic roles at King’s College London and Goldsmith College Central. She also trained as a visual artist at St Martins and has worked as a project manager. Her debut novel, If I Never Went Home (Blue China Press) was published in 2014 and her work has appeared in Granta, Prospect and Pree magazines. She is believed to be working on her second novel.
Persaud has “always been preoccupied with the power of words, both in her academic work and as a fine artist where she explored text as art, and she fell in love with the short story form after reading William Trevor”, according to the award organisers.
She told The Bookseller: "I'm delighted to have won. It means a great deal to have this endorsement from the premier short story competition.
"I'm grateful to be able to share a different voice at a time when the world is increasingly divided"
This year’s judging panel was chaired by Abell and included last year's award winner, K J Orr, as well one of last year’s shortlisted writers, Benjamin Markovits BBC Radio books editor Di Speirs and poet Sarah Howe.
This year marks the 30th year of the BBC National Short Story Award and the first year of the BBC Student Critics’ Award with charity First Story and Cambridge University, a new initiative that saw 16 – 18 year olds from 40 schools across the UK, reading, discussing and critiquing the five shortlisted NSSA stories in advance of the winner’s announcement.
Mónica Parle, executive director of First Story, said: “We send our deepest congratulations to Ingrid Persaud, whose story ‘The Sweet Sop’ will illustrate to the students so many of the qualities of writing that we hold dear at First Story: freshness of voice, concrete detail and a keen sense of community and family. This bittersweet story, which crackles with sharp dialogue and dark humour will provide a wonderfully rich reading experience.”
Last year's prize went to Welsh writer Cynan Jones for ‘The Edge of the Shoal’.
"The Sweet Sop’" is available to listen to on the BBC website, read by Leemore Marrett Junior.