NSSA web large

BBC National Short Story Award 2019

Lucy Caldwell, multi-award-winning novelist, playwright and short story writer, has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University for the second time for ‘The Children’. Previously shortlisted in 2012 for ‘Escape Route’, one of her first ever short stories, Caldwell is joined on the 2019 shortlist by a wealth of emerging talent including University of Dundee Fellow and former bookseller Lynda Clark for ‘Ghillie’s Mum’; charity worker Jacqueline Crooks for ‘Silver Fish in the Midnight Sea’; civil servant Tamsin Grey for ‘My Beautiful Millennial’; and Welsh writer Jo Lloyd for ‘The Invisible’. The shortlist of five stories was announced this evening, Friday 6 September 2019, during BBC Radio 4 Front Row.

The shortlist is:

  • The Children’ by Lucy Caldwell
  • Ghillie’s Mum’ by Lynda Clark
  • Silver Fish in the Midnight Sea’ by Jacqueline Crooks
  • My Beautiful Millennial’ by Tamsin Grey
  • ‘The Invisible’ by Jo Lloyd

The need for empathy and human connection are key themes this year in a rich and varied shortlist that is set in both contemporary and fantastical worlds. Loneliness, activism, intolerance and social exclusion are all explored in stories that range from the comic contemporary to the mythic with inspiration coming from Brexit, Trump, #MeToo and experiences of immigration and isolation.

Intimate and immersive, each short story shows the potent power of the form to reflect the political via the personal. From Lucy Caldwell’s ‘The Children’, a tale about motherhood and loss told through the deft interweaving of the true story of a 19th century child custody campaigner, a modern mother’s health scare and the child migrant crisis on the US/Mexican border as reported via Twitter; to Jacqueline Crook’s evocative and haunting ‘Silver Fish in the Midnight Sea’ exploring isolation, neglect and social exclusion set against memories of Jamaica and childhood summers; to the magical, fantastical world of Lynda Clark’s ‘Ghillies Mum’ where ‘otherness’ and intolerance are explored in the story of a family who are able to shape-shift into animals.

Richly varied and tonally diverse, each story reflects the importance of community and human connection in an increasingly divided world. From the otherworldly, almost mythical Welsh village of Jo Lloyd’s ‘The Invisible,’ where a community is torn apart by one woman’s stories about the ‘invisible’ Ingram family, while in the contemporary metropolis of Tamsin Grey’s wonderfully comic ‘My Beautiful Millennial’, a young woman alone in London is desperate to make a connection. All five are beautifully told stories that conjure complete worlds for the reader and listener.

Now celebrating its fourteenth year, the Award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning writer receiving £15,000, and the four further shortlisted authors £600 each. Selected from over 900 entries (an increase of 15% on 2018), this year’s shortlist is the sixth all-female shortlist in the BBC National Short Story Award’s history. The winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4 Front Row on Tuesday 1 October.

Nikki Bedi, TV and radio broadcaster and Chair of Judges for the BBC National Short Story Award 2019, says:

“One of the things I’ve discovered over a lifetime of meeting, interviewing and spending time with the most extraordinary creative minds in the world, is that they all have something in common: they seek to move us, to make us think and to transform us. I strongly believe all five of the shortlisted writers and stories we’ve chosen do all that and more. Judging them, however, has not been an easy process. To say it was a hard-fought contest is putting it mildly. We agonised over our decisions and disagreed vociferously at times, but on the whole, the discussion and debating was carried out in a civilised manner.” 

Nikki Bedi is joined on this year’s judging panel by novelist and writer of narrative non-fiction Richard Beard; short story writer, novelist and youngest author to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize Daisy Johnson; screenwriter, novelist and 2017 BBC National Short Story Award winner Cynan Jones; and returning judge Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Radio.

All five stories will be broadcast on Radio 4 on BBC Sounds in September and published in an anthology produced by Comma Press. The readers of this year’s stories include Line of Duty and Call the Midwife star Jessica Raine, who reads ‘The Children’, and Welsh actor Aimee-Ffion Edwards of Peaky Blinders and Skins fame, reading ‘The Invisible’. Tamara Lawrance, who read Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie for BBC Sounds, reads ‘Silver Fish in the Midnight Sea’, and Katherine Press, whose television credits include Foyle’s War and the Golden Globe-nominated BBC series Dancing on the Edge, reads ‘My Beautiful Millennial’. Stephen Campbell Moore, best known for his role in the stage production of The History Boys completes the line-up with ‘Ghillie’s Mum’.

Di Speirs, Editor of Books at BBC Radio and judge of the Award since its launch says:

Discovering new short story writers is one of the great joys of Radio 4. This year we see some prodigious new talent in the shortlist, stories from writers who have been quietly honing their craft and picking up prizes and who Radio 4 are now delighted to bring to a wider audience. All five stories, be they magical or comical, modern or historical, reflect both the range of the short story form, and the variety to be found weekly on Radio 4.”

The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University was established to raise the profile of the short form and this year’s shortlist join distinguished alumni such as Zadie Smith, Lionel Shriver, Rose Tremain, William Trevor, Sarah Hall and Mark Haddon. As well as rewarding the most renowned short story writers, the Award has raised the profile of new writers including Ingrid Persaud, K J Orr, Julian Gough, Cynan Jones and Clare Wigfall.

James Gazzard, Director of the Institute of Continuing Education, Cambridge University, says:

“As a leader in creative writing education, we, the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education’s Centre for Creative Writing, value short stories as a platform for learning and expression. This year’s shortlisted stories highlight the wealth of excellent writing in this genre and it’s particularly encouraging to see the overall growth in submissions and wide range of themes explored in the writing.”

Alongside the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University, the BBC Student Critics’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University (SCA), now in its third year, will see 16 – 18 year olds from around the UK reading, discussing and critiquing the five shortlisted NSSA stories in advance of the winner’s announcement.

The BBC will also continue to celebrate young, emerging talent with the fifth BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University shortlist announced on Sunday 22 September. Open to 14 – 18 year olds, the aim of this Award is to inspire and encourage the next generation of short story writers and is a cross-network collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and Radio 1. The winner of the BBC Young Writers’ Award will also be announced on 1 October on Front Row.