For a fifth time, an all-female shortlist has been unveiled for the £15,000 BBC National Short Story Award, including a nod for 2013 winner Sarah Hall [pictured above].
Hall, the author of several novels with Faber, previously won the award for "Mrs Fox" and is this year shortlisted for "Sudden Traveller".Also shortlisted is Bleaker House (Picador) author Nell Stevens, nominated for "The Minutes", and Swansong (Cape) author Kerry Andrew, nominated for "To Belong To."
Newcomers Kiare Ladner and Ingrid Persaud are shortlisted for "Van Rensburg's Card" and "The Sweet Sop" respectively.
The shortlist of five stories was announced on Friday (14th September) during BBC Radio 4’s “Front Row”.
A spokesperson for the prize told The Bookseller there had been a steady increase in entries year-on-year, with 788 entries this year up from 615 in 2017.
Now in its 13th year, the award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and the four further shortlisted authors £600 each. The stories are also broadcast on air and the writers interviewed on “Front Row”, as part of BBC Radio 4’s short story season in September.
Simple acts of kindness and the meaning of home and community are key themes this year, a spokesperson for the award revealed. Stories of loss - of life or community - and renewal dominate, with many of the stories inspired by world events: Brexit, immigration and urban gentrification. The stories span settings from Andrew’s remote Scottish Isle to Ingrid Persaud’s Trinidad and Ladner’s South African shopping mall .
Previously run with literary charity Book Trust, the award now runs with new partners First Story and the University of Cambridge as part of a three-year collaboration which started earlier this year.
Stig Abell, TLS editor and the award’s chair of judges, is joined on this year’s judging panel by short story writer and 2016's winner K J Orr, and one of last year’s shortlisted writers, Benjamin Markovits, as well as returning judge Di Speirs, books editor at BBC Radio, and poet Sarah Howe.
“My fellow judges were fierce and forensic in their reading, and we ended up with a shortlist of tales that – I think – are arresting, moving and sometimes surprising. It was a pleasure to bear witness to this talent,” Abell said.
Speirs said: “While many of this year’s record number of entries tackled pressing issues head on, the stories that rose to the top all approach modern life and loss more tangentially and are unified by their humanity and compassion. The kindness of strangers and the need to ‘only connect’ are central tenets set against a sometimes fractured world and I defy listeners not to be both moved and amused by beautifully drawn characters and stories that will linger in the mind.”
Alongside this year’s award there is new initiative, the BBC Student Critics’ Award, also run with First Story and Cambridge University, which will see teenagers from 40 schools across the UK critiquing the five shortlisted NSSA stories in advance of the winner’s announcement.
Meanwhile the fourth BBC Young Writers’ Award shortlist will announced on 23rd September, organised by the same partners. Open to 14 to 18 year-olds, the aim is to inspire and encourage the next generation of short story writers and is a cross-network collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and Radio 1.
The winner of the BBC NSSA and Young Writers’ Award will both be announced on 2nd October on "Front Row".
Last year's prize went to Welsh writer Cynan Jones for his “tenderly devastating exploration of the body” ‘The Edge of the Shoal’.