Welsh writer Jo Lloyd has unanimously won the £15,000 BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University 2019 for her story inspired by a real-life 18th century woman who claimed to be friends with an invisible family living in an invisible mansion.
Lloyd based her story, “The Invisible” on the life of Martha, who lived in Carnarvonshire, Wales, after chancing upon the account in the online Dictionary of Welsh Biography. “Set in a close-knit community, the story is both timeless and universal, and resonates profoundly in an age where fear of outsiders and social division is rife,” prize organisers said. Lloyd is the 14th winner of the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University 2019 (NSSA).
Lloyd was presented with the prize of £15,000 on Tuesday evening (1st October) by the 2019 chair of judges Nikki Bedi at a ceremony held at BBC Broadcasting House. The news was announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, during a special programme celebrating the short story.
The Welsh writer triumphed over four other shortlistees: playwright and author Lucy Caldwell who had been nominated last month for "The Children" (andwice shortlisted for prize previously), former Waterstones bookseller Lynda Clark for "Ghillie’s Mum", charity worker Jacqueline Crooks for "Silver Fish in the Midnight Sea" and civil servant Tamsin Grey for "My Beautiful Millennial". The shortlisted writers will each receive £600.
Bedi said: “‘The Invisible’ was the unanimous winner and we all found many and different things to love and admire in it. The story moves us emotionally and intellectually, it works on many levels structurally, and linguistically it’s deft and accomplished. Unusually, it’s written in the first-person plural and there’s brilliance and beauty in its ability to conjure the landscape and slip in time.”
Judge and 2017 BBC NSSA winner Cynan Jones added: “Our winner paints a timelessly relevant picture of how we obsess for access to worlds we cannot have. It is also a story about story itself; our need for them, to allow us to see beyond ourselves, and how the stories we buy into can bring us together or push us apart.”
Fellow judge and author Richard Beard said of the prize-winning story: “Our winner is a finely-tuned allegory lyrically rooted in the physical world that succeeds in reaching between the seen and unseen to raise profound questions about class, the countryside, myth, time. Much bigger than it looks, it rebounds and reflects its own ideas in deep layers that both entertain and intrigue the reader, leaving much to contemplate and return to.”
Lloyd grew up in South Wales and has recently returned to live there. Her stories have appeared in mulple publications and her short story, "The Earth, Thy Great Exchequer, Ready Lies" featured in The O Henry Prize Stories 2018, widely regarded as the most prestigious awards for short fiction in the US. Lloyd has also previously won an Asham Award, the Willesden Herald International Short Story Prize, and a McGinnis-Ritchie Award.
The five shortlisted stories are available to listen to on BBC Sounds. They will also be featured in the BBC National Short Story Award 2019 anthology, published by Comma Press.