Short Story September Week One

The BBC National Short Story Award is the biggest prize of its kind in the world.  £15,000 for a single short story.  Last year’s shortlist of 5 have been handily anthologised into this slim volume and together they make for a diverse and entertaining read.

Richard Beard’s story deals with an immoral politician whose dishonesties are catching up on him.  Highly contemporary given current events in the UK.  The format is skillful – journal entries over the course of a week during which an unnamed, yet allseeing narrator, offers initially sincere, increasingly sardonic and cynical advice  to said politician.  Just desserts are served as he continues on his own path.

Fans of Jane Gardam’s Old Filth will enjoy the second story in which Old Filth attends a tea party.  Unfortunately the guest of honour fails to appear.  This story, which was the runner-up last year, demonstrates the strength of a short story in dealing with negative space, in this case, a non-event.  For that reason it is gentler than the other stories in this volume but no less effective for all that.

Canadian Erin Soros’s story Surge has a centre piece  that is truly terrifying.  My heart beat is rising now as I think of it!  Soros, previously unknown to me, is a short story superstar;  The Moon, The Cat and The Donkey won the 2006 Commonwealth Short Story prize.  It’s a harrowing tale of a logger’s cruel death.  At 1.5 pages, it’s really “a short short” although it won’t feel that way.  So vivid is its distress.  You can read it here.

Had I been the judge last year, I would have awarded my prize to Adam Thorpe, whose depiction of a wartime barbarity, framed within contemporary action, reminded me of the structure of my beloved nineteenth-century German novellas.  It also contained my favourite sentence in the book.  It’s the linguist in me, you see.

She had dark, shining eyes and long straight brown hair that fell into natural curls like springs over her ears, and a mouth that only French women can possess, the lips shaped by the language to a permanent, teasing pout that can look either vain or inviting, and which reminds me of a bird in flight.

Clare Wigfall’s winning story, The Numbers, conjures a remote Scottish island community.  Written in semi-Scots (i.e much easier to understand than the Scots of Louis Grassic Gibbon) to intensity the atmosphere and perhaps the strangeness of life on the island, tension builds until released in the inevitable tragedy.

This volume was a good start to my Short Story September with an average score per story of 1/2.

The BBC Short Story Award has existed for three years.  You can read Clare Wigfall’s winning story online at the dedicated website.  Also James Lasdun’s 2006 winning  An Anxious Man which demonstrates everything that the author recently attributed to a successful short story.  If  it’s indicative of the quality of his recently published collection, It’s Beginning to Hurt, then I’m in for a real treat!

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