Bristol Prize

2009 BSSP Judge’s report

August 12, 2009   Joe Melia

Chair of the 2009 judging panel, Mike Manson, looks back on what was an excruciatingly difficult but ultimately extremely rewarding judging process.

It was another exciting year for the Bristol Short Story Prize. We received so many excellent stories. The Prize is now well established and is on its way to becoming an international showcase for this resurgent medium. We had entries from across the world and within the final 20 short list, there are stories from writers based in Australia, Canada and the U.S., as well as the United Kingdom.
One of the objectives of the prize is to offer a launch pad for new writers. The Anthology is the main part of this process. To this end several of the writers included in last year’s anthology – Fran Landsman, Catherine Chanter, Miranda Lewis, Derek Sellen, Tim Weaver and Joel Willans – have gone on to win further prizes and have had more of their work published. It’s now only a matter of time before we see even more of their writing adorning our bookshelves.
Judging this year’s 1,700 entries and drawing up the final shortlist was a massive,and at times, heart wrenching task. Many stories only just missed inclusion. Our judges included a bookseller; a magazine editor; a radio producer; and a novelist and creative writing lecturer. The debate was animated and it has to be admitted that coming to a consensus was not always straightforward. But,  we got there in the end.
So, what’s a good short story? Well, it may be short, but it’s a surprisingly difficult craft to master. While the judges were looking for something that was well written, judging the short story is a very individual thing. And rightly so. For me, the ideal short story has to drag me into its own world, make me laugh, make me cry, give me a few surprises along the way. The short story should be about something- even the most imaginative flight of fancy needs to connect with life. In the end I suppose I’m looking for a pearl of enlightenment, something that leaves me viewing the world in a new way. All that’s quite a lot to ask for in 3000 words!
This year we were overwhelmed with tales of nostalgia. Old age and death were themes that kept cropping up. We were very pleased to see flashes of originality in the format of some of the entries, and enjoyed reading the dual narratives, verse, graphic tales, newspaper clippings and other more adventurous styles.
My thanks to my fellow judges, Joe Spurgeon, Nik Kalinowski, Patricia Ferguson and Sara Davies, for their dedication to the task. But most of all, thanks to all those who sent us their stories and gave us an insight into their fictitious worlds – however weird and wonderful they were.

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