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Ingrid Persaud wins thirteenth BBC NSSA

Trinidadian writer Ingrid Persaud has won the thirteenth BBC National Short Story Award for ‘The Sweet Sop’, her first short story about a young Trinidadian man reunited with his absent father via the power of chocolate. Described by judge and previous winner of the award, K J Orr as “tender and ebullient, heartbreaking and full of humour”, the story’s unique voice and emotional power were further praised by judge and former shortlistee, Benjamin Markovits saying “Sentimentality is hard to write well… ‘The Sweet Sop’ gets the balance just right, the anger and humour and love.”

Ingrid Persaud was presented with the prize of £15,000 this evening (Tuesday 2 October) by the 2018 Chair of Judges, Stig Abell, at a ceremony held at Cambridge University. The news was announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, during a special programme celebrating the short story. ‘The Sweet Sop’ is available to listen to at www.bbc.co.uk/nssa, read by Leemore Marrett Junior.

Chair of the judges and Editor of the TLS, Stig Abell commented: “The judges were unanimous in their praise for a story which keeps a consistency of voice without smoothing over the reality of genuine conflict. The relationship between Victor and Reggie, estranged father and son, who find solace in chocolate, is an utterly convincing and memorable one, a clever inversion of normal parental process. We are all delighted to give Ingrid Persaud this award.”

Born in Trinidad and now based between Barbados and London, Ingrid Persaud came to writing later in life after careers as an academic at King’s College London, a Goldsmith College and Central St. Martins-trained visual artist and a project manager. She has always been preoccupied with the power of words, both in her academic work and as a fine artist where she explored text as art, and she fell in love with the short story form after reading William Trevor. ‘The Sweet Sop’ is Persaud’s first short story and it won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2017. Her debut novel, If I Never Went Home (Blue China Press) was published in 2014 and her work has appeared in Granta, Prospect and Pree magazines.

Simple acts of kindness and the meaning of home and community were key themes in the stories this year and this intimacy and universality are reflected in ‘The Sweet Sop’; the moving story of Victor, a young man getting to know his absent father, Reggie, for the first time as he is dying. Told in West Indian patois, chocolate becomes their medium of communication as the parent/child relationship inverts and the story of their lost past – and the night of Reggie’s death – unfolds. Terminal illness and the recent deaths of close family members inspired the story as did the true story of an assassination engineered by regularly feeding the victim poisoned Belgian chocolates.

Persaud beat stiff competition from three-time shortlistee and 2013 winner, Sarah Hall with ‘Sudden Traveller’; rising talent Kiare Ladner with ‘Van Rensburg’s Card’; creative writing lecturer and novelist, Nell Stevens for ‘The Minutes’ and composer and debut novelist, Kerry Andrew with ‘To Belong To’. The remaining shortlisted writers will receive £600.

This year’s judging panel was chaired by Editor of the TLS, Stig Abell and included 2016 BBC NSSA winner, K J Orr, Granta’s ‘20 under 40’ novelist and one of last year’s shortlisted writers, Benjamin Markovits; returning judge Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Radio; and multi award-winning poet, Sarah Howe.

It is also the fourth year of the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University, which was created to inspire and encourage the next generation of short story writers. A cross-network collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 1, the award is open to 14 – 18 year olds and was won this year by 17-year-old Davina Bacon from Cambridgeshire for her story ‘Under a Deep Blue Sky’. It can be read and listened to at www.bbc.co.uk/ywa

2018 marks the thirteenth year of the BBC National Short Story Award and the first year of the BBC Student Critics’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University, a new initiative that saw 16 – 18 year olds from 40 schools across the UK from Edinburgh to Devon, and Hull to Bangor, reading, discussing and critiquing the five shortlisted NSSA stories in advance of the winner’s announcement.

The five shortlisted stories are available to listen to at www.bbc.co.uk/nssa. They are also published in an anthology BBC National Short Story Award 2018, introduced by Chair of Judges Stig Abell and published by Comma Press.