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At Comma we are excited to publish the BBC National Short Story Award 2018 shortlist. The all-female shortlist boasts writings from previous winner Sarah Hall, composer Kerry Andrew and newcomers Kiare Ladner, Ingrid Persaud and Nell Stevens.

The BBC NSSA with Cambridge University is back for the 13th year with editor and publisher of The Times Literary Supplement Stig Abell chairing the judging panel for the 2018 award.

The award is extremely prestigious for a single short story, where the winner receives £15,000 and the shortlists receive £600 each.

Last year’s winner of the BBC NSSA was Cynan Jones for his ‘exhilarating, terrifying and life-affirming’ story ‘The Edge of the Shoal’.

Stig spoke to Comma about his experience working with his fellow judges and shortlisting the many stories nominated for the prize.

Did you enjoy being a judge for the BBC NSSA 2018? What was the best or most enlightening part of that experience?

I very much enjoyed it. It was a real privilege to observe the forensic and demanding way in which my fellow judges analysed the texts.

In your Introduction to the BBC NSSA 2018, you mention that the judges ‘demanded more than emotion’ from the entries this year. What were you and your fellow judges looking for? What made you put a story to the top of the pile and another to one side?

I think my fellow judges were huge advocates of consistency, that ability to sustain a voice or point of view so that it remains credible throughout the whole piece. In the end, there were several stories that were well-written and well-conceived, but a clarity of approach won the day for the final five.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during that process? For example, were there any disagreements among the judges about which stories should be shortlisted?

We were quite an amicable bunch, actually. There were no thrown sandwiches. I think there was not an obvious, one stand-out winner from the beginning. So selecting a final five was not entirely straightforward, as cases could be made for several.

There are common themes running through the shortlisted stories; loss, grief, rehabilitation. Are there any topics you’d like to see writers out there covering more of or less?

I was struck by that plangent note, which echoed across stories. Perhaps grief is a profound universal, and therefore especially present in the mind of a writer seeking a connection. I think a stand-out comic story, one that makes the judges all laugh out loud, would be a striking and welcome thing in future.

You have mentioned you are a ‘late convert to short stories’, what do you like most about them? Are you able to tell us about some of your favourite short story writers and their work?

I do think the force of compression – the sense of selecting the best words in the best order, as Coleridge said about poetry – is apparent in short stories, which are less prone to flabbiness and excess. There is also the challenge inherent in the form of finding succinct completeness: how does the writer introduce us to some folk, make us care about them, and then do something with them, in the space of a few pages?

As well as the classics, (such as Maugham or Hemingway, perhaps), I am hugely fond stories of Annie Proulx’s short stories: hardscrabble tales of tough folk from the Midwest, in which both the desperate sadness of precarious existence appears, but also the force of the landscape that creates it.  And she writes characters with names like Gay Brawls and Jerky Baum, which make me oddly happy.

 

ORDER YOUR COPY AT: https://commapress.co.uk/books/the-bbc-national-short-story-award-2018

The shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University was announced on Friday 14th September at 7.45pm.

KEY DATES:

  • Readings of the shortlisted stories will broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from Monday 17th to Friday 21st September and interviews with the shortlisted writers will air from Friday 14th September 2018 on Front Row.
  • The announcement of the winner will be broadcast live from the Award ceremony in Cambridge on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from 7.15pm on Tuesday 2nd October 2018.

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