Sarah Hall has become the first author to win the BBC National Short Story Award twice in its 15-year history.
Hall scooped the £15,000 award for "The Grotesques", described as a "timeless and unsettling story" set against a backdrop of inequality in a university town. The judges praised Hall for her "extraordinary", "layered" and "masterful" writing and cited her second time win as "recognition of her standing as the country’s foremost writer of short stories". The story, exploring themes of powerlessness and privilege, dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships, covert control, identity and scapegoating, is available to listen to on BBC Sounds and appears in Hall’s latest collection, Sudden Traveller, published by Faber in 2019. Its titular story was also shortlisted for the award in 2018.
This years’ judging panel was chaired by journalist and author Jonathan Freedland and included Commonwealth Prize winner Lucy Caldwell, who was shortlisted for both the 2012 and 2019 BBC NSSA, author Irenosen Okojie, a 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. The news was announced live on BBC Radio Four's "Front Row" programme today (6th October).
Freedland said: "In perhaps the strongest field in the history of the BBC National Short Story Award, Sarah Hall’s story still stood out. A timeless, unsettling story rendered in exquisite prose, 'The Grotesques' yields more with each reading, offering layer upon layer of meaning. It is the work of a writer who is not only devotedly committed to the short story genre but, has become a master of it. Sarah Hall has now won this award twice, recognition of her standing as this country’s foremost writer of short stories.”
Twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and a previous winner of the BBC National Short Story Award in 2013, Hall beat off stiff competition from a shortlist that included established and new voices. Among these was 26-year-old writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson, James Tait Black Prize winner Eley Williams, poet Jack Houston and EU Prize for Literature for Ireland 2019 winner Jan Carson. All four shortlisted writers will receive £600.
Speirs said: “There are few writers who make even the shortlist more than once. In one way this reflects the wealth of talent writing in the UK; in another it shows how very hard it is to consistently write new original short fiction and make it different, entertaining, gripping, provocative, again and again. Fifteen years ago, we began this award hoping to reward the writers who—against the odds and fashion and publishers’ preference for a novel—not only persisted but revelled in taking up the particular challenges of short fiction. To keep writing really excellent short stories requires audacity, invention and practice. So I’m particularly delighted that, from a brilliant shortlist, Sarah Hall, a virtuoso in this field, sees her long service in the short story game recognised again.”