BBC National Short Story Award 2012

Latest update 'Submissions for the 2017 Award are now closed'

In 2012, the Award was known as the BBC International Short Story Award

The winner

Bulgarian author Miroslav Penkov has won the £15,000 BBC International Short Story Award for his story 'East of the West'. The announcement was made live on Radio 4's Front Row from a ceremony at the Free Word Centre in London. South African Henrietta Rose-Innes was the runner-up, winning £2,500 for her story 'Sanctuary'.

Penkov emerged victorious from a strong global shortlist that included stories from Man Booker-shortlisted Deborah Levy as well as previous winner Julian Gough and M J Hyland, who was shortlisted in 2011.

Set in Bulgaria during and after the Cold War, 'East of the West' explores the difficulties of love, relationships and identity in a region ridden with conflict and sectarian violence. The narrator takes us from his childhood through to present day, ruminating on the loves and losses which both constrain and define his life.

 

Read an exclusive interview with Miroslav

Penkov on his winning story:

'I wanted to write a story about those Bulgarians who, at the will of the Great Powers, were severed from our country, and who inevitably will lose, if they haven't already, their sense of being Bulgarian. At the same time, I wanted to write a story about myself, abroad in America and in many ways alone, with a huge body of water between me and the people I love.

'I think that 'East of the West' is the only story I've ever written in which I've posed myself a question and tried to answer it. I believe that at the end Nose is liberated - from his family, nationality, country - that he is ready to begin a new life, in freedom. A kind of freedom, which he has earned through loss. While writing the story I wanted to be like Nose, and yet I was terrified of such a possibility. I lack the strength to lose, let go and carry on - and in the comfort of my cowardice all I could do was imagine - a river where there is none, a drowned church, two lovers who will never reunite. But even if I myself lack the courage to break the chains, through this story a part of me now roams the dirt roads of Bulgaria, already free.'

Henrietta Rose-Innes said of her story:

'I find the idea of a landscape haunted by an invisible threat - the missing lion - a very evocative one. Also, I've done a fair bit of opening and closing of farm gates in my time, and the image has stayed with me.'

Ross Raisin, judge, said:

'What I like about this piece is its understatedness. It is rich in historical detail, and imagery, without over-reaching for these effects, and as a result the story manages well the conveyance of epic with the building of interest in the individual struggle of the narrator.'

Miro Penkov will appear at the Cheltenham Literature Festival at 8pm on Sunday 7 October, in an event and chaired by judge Michèle Roberts and featuring last year's winner D W Wilson. More details are available on the Cheltenham Literature Festival website

We asked Miro and Henrietta for their thoughts on the short story in a digital age. This is what they said…

Miro: 'Yes, very suited when it comes to delivering it to the reader. You wait for the train or ride the bus to work; you pull out your tablet, e-book device, smart phone and before it's time to get off you've finished an entire story. You can purchase individual stories with ease or just as easily find quality short fiction online for free. Then there are podcasts in which actors with beautiful voices whispers in your ear, as if you were Shahriyar himself. Finish the story, delete the file. Download a new one.

'But making the reader actually read the story is another question. Because, if both our stories and attention spans are short, if the ease of access is great, the degree of convenience high, why is "short story" still a scary, dirty word for many publishers? Why don't short story collections sell as well as novels?'

Henrietta: 'I don't believe that short stories are really better suited to the 'short attention span' we've supposedly developed in the digital era.

'A story, if it works, demands your concentration from beginning to end, without pause, whereas a novel allows for more of an ebb and flow of attention.'

 

The shortlist

Spanning oceans, from Australia, through South Korea, across South Africa, Eastern Europe, America and all the way back to the UK, the shortlisted stories travel from broken home to broken heart with vibrancy, candour and compassion.

 

Amongst the shortlisted authors are Julian Gough, winner of the BBC National Short Story Award in 2007, M J Hyland who was shortlisted in 2011, and Deborah Levy whose novel, Swimming Home, has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012.

 

For the first time since it launched in 2006 - and for one year only - the BBC Short Story Award invited authors from across the globe to enter alongside UK practitioners. The winning author, to be announced on October 2 live on Front Row, will receive £15,000, the runner-up £2,500 and the eight other shortlisted authors £250 each. 

 

Clive Anderson, Chair of Judges:
'Judging this competition was a great privilege and a perfect reminder of just how rewarding the short story genre can be. To celebrate the Olympics this year's competition is international and the entries did come from all round the world. Universal themes were explored within the confines of the short story. In the ten which made it to the shortlist are to be found every day human activities such as first loves and last laughs, infidelity and murder. Plus a goose, a dog and a must-have disposable electronic device. In short, some great stories.'

 

About the stories and their authors

Lucy Caldwell - 'Escape Routes'

 

Set in Belfast in the 1990s, 'Escape Routes' is told from the point of view of a child, whose friend and baby sitter mysteriously goes missing. Delivered with the touching innocence of a child oblivious but not unaffected by the ideological and political strife plaguing Northern Ireland in the 1990s, the story is an oblique examination of a besieged Belfast.

 

Lucy on the story: 'The catalyst was a heartfelt, luminous piece in the Observer by the playwright Lucy Prebble about her childhood love of computer games.'

 

Lucy Caldwell was born in Belfast and currently lives in London. She has published two novels, Where They Were Missed (2006) and The Meeting Point (2011), and her third, All the Beggars Riding, will be published in January 2013. The Meeting Point was awarded the 2011 Dylan Thomas Prize. Lucy is also a playwright whose stage plays have won numerous awards including the George Divine Award and the Imison Award. In 2011, Lucy was awarded the prestigious Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for her body of work to date.


Julian Gough - 'The iHole'

 

'The iHole' playfully depicts the launch of the latest must-have gadget: a portable black hole. The media hype, the marketing, the industry competition and the consumer mania are laid bare in this satirical take on technology and consumerism in the 21st century.

 

Julian on the story: 'I suppose the iHole came out of observing people's very peculiar, and complex, love/hate relationships with their iPhones and iPads. I'm fascinated by this rapidly moving frontline, where human beings meet technology.'

 

Julian Gough was born in London and grew up in Ireland. He now lives in Berlin. He won the BBC National Short Story Prize in 2007 with 'The Orphan and the Mob', which later became the prologue for Jude: Level 1, a novel shortlisted for the 2008 Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. Jude in London was shortlisted for both the Guardian's Not The Booker Prize and the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. In 2010, Salmon Poetry released his first poetry collection, Free Sex Chocolate.

 

M J Hyland - 'Even Pretty Eyes Commit Crimes'

 

The adult narrator, who many years down the line still sees his father as somehow culpable for his mother's departure, and tires of his father's dependence on him, is forced to reassess his relationships, as it becomes apparent that his wife is leaving him too.

 

M J on the story: 'The story began when I wrote a sentence in my notebook. The sentence came from nowhere, unbidden. I don't know anything about pineapples, don't like hairy fruit, haven't ever eaten one, but the image barged in.'

 

M J Hyland's first novel, How the Light Gets In (2003), was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Her second, Carry me Down (2006), won the Hawthornden and Encore Prizes in 2007 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her third novel, This is How, was longlisted for both the Orange Prize and the International IMPAC Prize. M J Hyland's short fiction has been published frequently in Zoetrope: All Story, Blackbook Magazine (USA) and Best Australian Short Stories.

 

Krys Lee - 'The Goose Father'

 

In a tale of loneliness, ambition and desire, a man sends his wife and children to America for a better life, while he stays behind in South Korea making a living as an accountant. Concerned with respectability and success, the man's life is set awry when he takes in an endearing young tenant - along with his pet goose.  

 

Krys on the story: 'I'm fascinated by how a nation's political and social circumstances affect its people, but I think the story also reveals that I'm as equally moved by magic, love, and loneliness.'

 

Krys Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, and was raised in California and Washington. She moved to the United States and England to study. She was a finalist for Best New American Voices and received a special mention in the 2012 Pushcart Prize XXXVI. Krys is the author of the novel Drifting House (2012) and her other work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Narrative Magazine, Granta (New Voices), California Quarterly, Asia Weekly, the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Conde Nast Traveller, UK. She now divides her time between South Korea and the United States.

 

Deborah Levy - 'Black Vodka'

 

In 'Black Vodka' a hunchbacked man goes on a date with the girl of his dreams. A subtle battle between shame and prurience ensues, as the man is crippled by thoughts of his own repugnance, and the girl is only intrigued by his appearance.

 

Deborah on the story: 'I have long been fascinated by the character of 'Quasimodo', in Victor Hugo's novel, The Hunch Back of Notre -Dame.  I wanted to give him a modern spin.'

 

Deborah Levy is a novelist and a playwright. Her most recent acclaimed novel is Swimming Home (2012), which is Man Booker longlisted. Previous novels include Beautiful Mutants, Swallowing Geography, The Unloved and Billy and Girl. Short story anthologies include Ophelia and the Great Idea (1985) and Pillow Talk in Europe and Other Places (2004). In 2001 she was awarded a Lannan Literary Fellowship and in the USA she was Fellow in Creative and Performing Arts at The Royal College of Art from 2006-2009. Deborah lives in London.

 

Miroslav Penkov - 'East of the West'

 

Set in Bulgaria during and after the Cold War, 'East of the West' explores the difficulties of love, relationships and identity in a region ridden with conflict and sectarian violence. The narrator takes us from his childhood through to present day, ruminating on the loves and losses which both constrain and define his life.

 

Miroslav on the story: 'I wanted to write a story about those Bulgarians who, at the will of the Great Powers, were severed from our country, and who inevitably will lose, if they haven't already, their sense of being Bulgarian.'

 

Miroslav Penkov was born and raised in Bulgaria. In 2001, at the age of 19, he moved to America to study. His stories have appeared, among other places, in The Southern Review, The Sunday Times, The Best American Short Stories 2008 (edited by Salman Rushdie) and the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2012. He is the author of East of the West: A Country in Stories (2011), which will be published in twelve countries. Miroslav is currently a fiction editor for American Literary Review

 

Henrietta Rose-Innes - 'Sanctuary'

 

This subtle but powerful story traces a nostalgic trip back to a childhood haunt in the South African bush. The narrator's encounter with another family explores the experience of domestic violence and its consequences.

 

Henrietta on the story: 'I find the idea of a landscape haunted by an invisible threat - the missing lion - a very evocative one.'

 

Henrietta Rose-Innes is a South African writer based in Cape Town. Her novel Nineveh (2011) has been shortlisted for the 2012 South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize and won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2008. Her other works include a short-story collection, Homing (2010), and two earlier novels: Shark's Egg (2000) and The Rock Alphabet (2004). She was awarded the South African PEN Literary Award in 2007 and her story 'Falling' was a runner-up in the 2010 Willesden Herald short story prize (UK).

 

Adam T Ross - 'In the Basement'

 

Two couples meet for dinner and wind up discussing an old friend called Lisa. But their disparaging attitude towards Lisa's lifestyle, choice of husband and treatment of pet, unconsciously reveals more about their own relationships, insecurities, envy and brutality, than it does about Lisa.

 

Adam on the story: '…when a friend tells you a story, you often pay attention on two levels: to the tale itself and what it reveals about the storyteller.'

 

Adam T Ross was born and raised in New York City and now lives in Nashville with his wife and two daughters. His debut novel, Mr. Peanut, a 2010 New York Times Notable Book, was also named one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New Republic, and The Economist. Ladies and Gentlemen, his short story collection, was included in Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2011. His non-fiction has been published in The New York Times Book Review, The Daily Beast, The Wall Street Journal , GQ, The Nashville Scene and Poets & Writers.

 

Carrie Tiffany - 'Before he Left the Family'

 

'Before he Left the Family' examines the jagged relationship of two brothers and their parents following a painfully wrought divorce; while one brother's loyalty lies with the jilted mother, the narrator finds affinity with his father. Yet, in the maelstrom of resentment, sexual confusion and self-blame, Tiffany finds pathos and redemption.

 

Carrie on the story: '"Before he left the family" is about lost masculinity. Children can never cast-off their parents in the same way they can sometimes be cast-off when marriages break down.'

 

Carrie Tiffany was born in West Yorkshire and grew up in Western Australia. She now lives in Melbourne where she works as an agricultural journalist. Her first novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living, was published in the UK, US, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia. In 2006 it was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Victorian Premier's Literary Award, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Commonwealth Writer's Prize and the Guardian First Book Award, and was the winner of the Western Australian Premier's Fiction Prize. Her second novel, Mateship with Birds, was published in 2012.

 

Chris Womersley - 'A Lovely and Terrible Thing'

 

A man encounters a stranger on the road when his car breaks down. Invited to the stranger's house, he is further enticed by the promise of being let in on the family's secret - a daughter with a miraculous ability. It's an offer the man, who struggles to cope with his own daughter's disability, can't refuse.

 

Chris on the story: 'I'd read a weekend article about the people who work as verifiers for records for the Australian Guinness Book of Records and thought it was a pretty neat vehicle for a story.'

 

Chris Womersley is the author of two award-winning novels. His debut novel, The Low Road, won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. His second novel, Bereft, won the Australian Book Industry Award for Literary Fiction and the Indie Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, The Age fiction prize and the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, as well as being longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Award 2011. His short story, 'Possibility of Water', won the Josephine Ulrick Literature Award in 2007. He lives in Sydney.

 

More from the shortlist on their favourite short story writers

 

More from the shortlist on whether they find writing short stories harder than writing longer pieces of fiction

Shortlist

From first loves to last laughs: shortlist for the BBC International Short Story opens a window to the world

The shortlist for the BBC International Short Story Award was announced on 2 October 2012 on BBC Radio 4's Front Row. Spanning oceans, from Australia, through South Korea, across South Africa, Eastern Europe, America and all the way back to the UK, the stories travel from broken home to broken heart with vibrancy, candour and compassion.


Amongst the shortlisted authors were Julian Gough, winner of the BBC National Short Story Award in 2007, M J Hyland who was shortlisted in 2011, and Deborah Levy whose novel, Swimming Home, has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012.


For the first time since it launched in 2006 - and for one year only - the BBC Short Story Award invited authors from across the globe to enter alongside UK practitioners. The winning author, announced on October 2 live on Front Row, received £15,000, the runner-up £2,500 and the eight other shortlisted authors £250 each.

The BBC National Short Story Award celebrates the best of contemporary British short fiction and is one of the most prestigious for a single short story. To reflect the global breadth of the International Award in 2012 the shortlist comprises ten short stories rather than the usual five.

 

Ten of the UK's top actors - including Rory Kinnear and Andrew Scott - each read one of the shortlisted stories, broadcast daily on BBC Radio 4 at 3.30pm the week before the announcement of the winner. Each story became available on the day of broadcast as a free download available for two weeks. Then it will be available as a commercial audiobook via AudioGo. The BBC International Short Story Award 2012 Anthology, published by Comma Press, is available at all good bookshops and the Comma Press store, as well as in Kindle format.

 

BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Clive Anderson chaired the judging panel this year, which consisted of novelists Anjali Joseph and Ross Raisin, novelist and Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, Michèle Roberts, and Editor of Readings, BBC Radio, Di Speirs.


Clive Anderson, Chair of Judges:
'Judging this competition was a great privilege and a perfect reminder of just how rewarding the short story genre can be. To celebrate the Olympics this year's competition is international and the entries did come from all round the world. Universal themes were explored within the confines of the short story. In the ten which made it to the shortlist are to be found every day human activities such as first loves and last laughs, infidelity and murder. Plus a goose, a dog and a must-have disposable electronic device. In short, some great stories.'

Judges

The full judging panel is: Clive Anderson (chair), Anjali Joseph, Ross Raisin, Michèle Roberts and Di Speirs


What the judges looked for this year:

 

  • Clive Anderson: A great short story that combines the structure of a good joke with the impact of a miniature masterpiece. I shall enjoy trying to choose between what I expect to be a competitive and entertaining field.
  • Anjali Joseph: I'm interested in writing that shows shape, discretion, and a sense of delight in language.
  • Ross Raisin: I will be looking for the delicate suggestion of a world which, while minutely captured, feels whole enough, and moving enough, to continue in my mind long after I have finished the story.
  • Michèle Roberts: I am looking for excellent writing at a sentence-by-sentence level.
  • Di Speirs: Subtlety, originality, delight; beautifully crafted stories that not only engage us immediately and linger long afterwards, but which reveal layer on layer on re-reading.  A little humour occasionally would be nice too!

 

On being chair for this year's Award, Clive Anderson commented:

I am very much looking forward to chairing the judging process for the BBC International Short Story Award 2012. Given the popularity nowadays of the Tweet compared to the full length letter, the YouTube clip compared to the boxset and a soundbite rather than a long-winded speech, the short story ought to be taking the literary world by storm.

About the BBC National Short Story Award 2012

For updates on the Award follow #bbcnssa on Twitter.

 

Previous winners

2016 Orr 'Disappearances'; runner-up Claire-Louise Bennet 'Morning, Noon & Night'

2015 Jonathan Buckley 'Briar Road'; runner-up Mark Haddon 'Bunny'

2014 Lionel Shriver 'Kilifi Creek'; runner-up Zadie Smith 'Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets'

2013 Sarah Hall 'Mrs Fox'; runner-up Lucy Wood 'Notes from the House Spirits'

2012 Miroslav Penkov 'East of the West'; runner-up Henrietta Rose-Innes 'Sanctuary'

2011 D W Wilson 'The Dead Roads'; runner-up Jon McGregor 'Wires'

2010 David Constantine 'Tea at the Midland'; runner-up Jon McGregor 'If It Keeps On Raining'

2009 Kate Clanchy 'The Not-Dead and the Saved'; runner-up Sara Maitland 'Moss Witch

2008 Clare Wigfall 'The Numbers'; runner-up Jane Gardam 'The People on Privilege Hill'

2007 Julian Gough 'The Orphan and the Mob'; runner-up David Almond 'Slog's Dad'

2006 James Lasdun 'An Anxious Man'; runner-up Michel Faber 'The Safehouse'

Please go to bbc.co.uk/nssa for more information on the BBC National Short Story Award.

 

Terms and conditions for the 2017 Award are available from 26 January 2017, until the deadline of 6 March 2017.