Tuesday, 15 July 2008



I was there, at BAFTA, at the award breakfast, to hear the announcement. It was the most extraordinary thing. I was expecting to see hundreds of people there, but the whole audience numbered about fifty, including organisers and judges. A very select crew we were. I knew no one, although recognised a few. Great to meet James from Booktrust, who looks after the Story website. Met one of the judges, Naomi Alderman, a seriously buzzy lady who I’d heard read and talk at Small Wonder a couple of years back. Nattered at length with Jeanette Harris, General Manager of the Scottish Booktrust. And after the event, up came Chrissie Gittins, fellow Salt author, and poet, and writer for radio… great to see her.

So, it went something like this:

After a mill-about and chatter over coffee, we were ushered into the presentation room.

Chair of the judging panel, broadcaster and writer Martha Kearney introduced the event, and after a few thank you speeches from organisers she announced the winners. I had already decided it just HAD to be Clare…and it was.

Martha Kearney said this:

"It's exciting that a relatively unknown voice, in fact the youngest writer on our shortlist, has distinguished herself amongst some very well known authors as a leading talent in the world of storytelling. Clare’s evocation of superstition and frustrated lives on a remote Scottish island is an act of historical ventriloquism. She shows just what the short story can achieve, conjuring up a whole world in microcosm. The strength of our shortlist ranging from the gothic to the comic demonstrates that the short story is alive and well, the perfect art form for a time hungry age."

We then celebrated with Buck’s fizz while Clare was interviewed in the corner for the Today programme on Radio 4. We all came away with a goodie bag…all the five shortlisted stories in this year’s National Short Story prize anthology.

What a fabulous invitation. I am quite bemused how I got on the list, but am eternally grateful. It felt like I was part of a powerful movement in writing, just being there.

And did it feel poignant, because of the Bridport mix-up? No, not at all, if I’m honest. It was just joyous. And it was lovely to be able to give Clare Wigfall a congratulatory hug as I left. A smashing lady and a smashing writer.

Chrissie Gittins and I repaired to Fortnum and Mason’s for a spot of brekkie and a writerly natter.



Ossian said...

I don't agree with M.K. on "the genre for a time hungry age" or "capturing worlds in microcosm". What patronising nonsense.

Vanessa Gebbie said...



I agree with querying the 'time hungry age' thing, Os... because actually, if you read a good short story fast, you MISS such a lot. You need more time, not less, to appreciate it. But its a point of view, I'm sure not intended to be patronising. Can't see that at all.

Re the other: Don't we all (short story writers that is) seek to capture the essence of a world in a few words? Make it come alive for the reader?

(great news for the Willesden judge by the way, well done you lot)

Tania Hershman said...

Congrats, Clare, so glad you were there V (thanks for the message!). I was invited too, would have loved to come had I been in the same country. Great that at least one prize this week went through the proper procedure of shortlisting and then announcing a winner, and not a big name either. So happy for her!

Ossian said...

A novel tries to be a world in microcosm, usually. It's a telescope view of things from a distance. I think it's rare for a short story to try and capture the world in microcosm. It's more of a look through a microscope at some small event, near the point where quantum uncertainty takes over.

People are undoubtedly trying to patronise the genre, to corral and confine it to a safari park. It may not bite those feeding hands from day to day, but once in a while it will jump on the keepers and devour them.

To read stories is no less reading than to read poetry or novels. No less time is involved, no fewer pages, no shorter hours, no fast food version of a gourmet feast, no spacefood pills. The novel may come on a silver tray like a turkey with a big lid over it, and short stories may come stacked in bamboo steamers, like dim sum, perhaps.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

have a gander at 'The Numbers', Clare's winning story. Eleven pages of a small paperback that captures (for this reader, anyway) the world of an island community very well. Takes skill, that!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi T

'The Numbers' is just one of Clare's collection, The Loudest Sound and Nothing, as you know. The rest are also engaging, also extraordinarily skillful.

I think we have to leave history to be the ultimate judge, perhaps... but this award does make one raise an eyebrow at recent decisions not to shortlist elsewhere.