Now celebrating its 12th year, the BBC National Short Story Award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and four further shortlisted authors, £600 each. Jenni Fagan, Benjamin Markovits and Helen Oyeyemi, three of Granta’s recent “20 under 40”, have made the shortlist, along with stories by critic and novelist Will Eaves, and Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prizewinner, Cynan Jones.
Selected from over 600 entries, this year’s shortlisted stories are:
- “Murmur” by Will Eaves
- “The Waken” by Jenni Fagan
- “The Edge of the Shoal” by Cynan Jones
- “The Collector” by Benjamin Markovits
- “If a book is locked there’s probably a good reason for that, don’t you think?” by Helen Oyeyemi
Humanity and its enduring spirit, the mystical and mysterious, the known and unknown are all explored in this year’s shortlist – a list that shows how unique the short story form is in allowing the writer true freedom to experiment. Layered and perse in both setting and style, whether it be Jenni Fagan’s mythical Scottish Isle, Helen Oyeyemi’s urban office or Benjamin Markovits’s American border town, this year’s shortlist is a “veritable festival of ideas”: bold, humane and moving.
Life, death and our place within the universe are key themes. In the visceral world of myth and legend in Jenni Fagan’s “The Waken”, the traditions and funeral rites of a small Scottish island are interwoven with the story of a daughter’s revenge on an abusive father. In the lyrical, tension-fuelled fishing trip gone wrong of Cynan Jones’s “The Edge of the Shoal”, the desire to survive and the realisation of loss is paramount. The contemporary office setting of Helen Oyeyemi’s distinct and truthful “If a book is locked there’s probably a good reason for it, don’t you think?” pits office politics and the tribal drive to belong against a silence that protects. Horror of the unknown pervades Benjamin Markovits’s unsettling, melancholic “The Collector”, in which a lonely outsider mourns his wife. Will Eaves’s “Murmur” is a restrained and elegant exploration of cause and effect, and the meaning of life and love, as a gay academic is stripped of his manhood – these are all powerful, memorable stories.
This year’s judges include bestselling novelist and Chair of Judges, Joanna Trollope; Baileys Prize winner Eimear McBride; Booker Prize longlisted writer Jon McGregor; Encore Award winner Sunjeev Sahota; and returning judge Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Radio, and judge of the Award since its launch.
- From Monday 18 to Friday 22 September, five new short stories will be broadcast in the Book at Bedtime slot at 10.45pm on BBC Radio 4, to accompany the shortlist announcement. The first of these is written by last year’s NSSA winner, K J Orr and the remaining four are by Ross Raisin, Tea Obreht, Colin Barrett and Stephanie Victoire.
- Saturday 2 October 4pm: Shortlisted writers Jenni Fagan and Benjamin Markovits join judges Di Speirs, Jon McGregor and Joanna Trollope in conversation at the Small Wonder Charleston Festival. More information and bookings can be found here.
- Tuesday 3 October: The announcement of the BBC National Short Story Award 2017 winner and the Young Writers’ Award winner will be broadcast live from the Award ceremony on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from 7.15pm.
- See the BBC site for more details