First prize is £1,000. 20 stories will be published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 6. The winning story will, also, be published in Bristol Review of Books magazine. The 2013 Bristol Short Story Prize awards ceremony will be held as part of the 2013 Bristol Festival of Literature in October 2013.
The 2013 judging panel will be chaired by former Random House editor, Ali Reynolds, who now runs her own Literary Consultancy in Bristol. Ali will be joined on the panel by the writer broadcaster and critic, Bidisha, Anna Britten, author and journalist, and the celebrated novelist, Chris Wakling, whose latest novel ‘What I Did’ was published by John Murray last year.
To mark the launch of the 2013 BSSP, here’s an interview with former Random House editor,Ali Reynolds, who will be chairing the 2013 judging panel:
How did you find the judging experience last year?
It seems a little clichéd to say that it was a privilege and a pleasure to judge the prize, but it was. The range of stories was fascinating;I oscillated between pure enjoyment, emotional turmoil, intellectual stimulation and just having a good laugh. Although short stories are so often overlooked in traditional, commercially-focussed, publishing they are a thriving form for writers, the pleasure in their creation is evident and the rewards are immense for the reader – judging the prize confirmed all of these things for me. There is a groundswell of enthusiasm for the short story form and the Bristol Prize is certainly part of that movement, it is thrilling to be part of something which draws such international attention.
What will you be looking for in this year’s stories?
Well, there is no formula for a great story, often the memorable ones would sound uninspiring if reduced to a brief synopsis; the proof is always in the talent and skill of the writer. So, rather than stories which cover particular themes or content, I’d say we will be looking for stories which have the ability to transport us, to capture our attention and show us a reality which allows us, for a moment, to forget the real world. There are no boxes that need to be ticked or stories we are consciously looking for as judges, the stories which make the shortlist will all demonstrate good writing which evokes a response in the reader. It isn’t a tangible quality but that should be taken as an opportunity rather than a challenge.
Who are some of your favourite published writers?
This is always a tricky question as it is something of a movable feast. I don’t think I could ever answer this question consistently; my response would depend on what I was reading or what was influencing me at any given time. This year I’ve read a lot of short story collections which have inspired me and enabled me to visit places and understand the lives of characters in worlds far flung from my own. Dave (D.W.) Wilson, Roshi Fernando and Lucy Wood have been really influential to me this year. So too has Tania Hershman, her collection My Mother Was an Upright Piano has such moments of incisive beauty that I felt compelled to share her work with many of my friends and family.
I’ve also been reading a lot of Andrew Miller and Helen Dunmore novels. What I love about them is how diverse and powerful their work is, if I think about Miller’s Oxygen or Dunmore’s A Spell of Winter I immediately visualise several scenes. Although testament to their extraordinary skills it also feels very personal and private to inhabit those immaculately and convincingly constructed worlds. I also love writers who shock or challenge me to re-evaluate my interpretations of things, Richard Beard’s Lazarus is Dead did this for me, as did Jessica Francis Kane’s The Report. Both writers experiment with fiction, they challenge how we interpret, or report, on events and how and why some stories will endure. Kerry Hudson has a debut novel called Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole my Ma which has just blown me away, the narrative is so rich, funny and unusual and it manages to tread so carefully the line of commentating on contemporary society without simplifying or trivialising.
You spent several years working for major publishing houses including Random House before setting up your own editorial and literary consultancy in Bristol. Was this a straightforward process?
In some ways it was straightforward because it all happened quite slowly and organically over several years. There were moments, as there are for anyone setting up a small business, that unnerved me at the beginning, but quite quickly I found that word-of-mouth spread and several writers approached me to read and assess their work.My aim has always been to support and nurture fiction writers, helping to give them the ‘bigger picture’:to assess whether their characters, plot structure, story arcs, narrative voice for example are working and, crucially, whether their work would be of interest to the publishing industry. It is a tough thing to explain, and often not what the writer wants to hear, but I see it as my role to translate the idiosyncrasies of the industry to the writers I work with.
I think that part of my success is down to the shift in the industry away from editorial support and towards the commercial drivers within the industry, which is of course experiencing something of a transformation into the digital age. In some ways it is harder than ever to get published and agents and editors are looking for work which is already polished and perfected to high standards, they are looking for work which already has clear market potential.
Bristol has a long and illustrious publishing and literary history. How does being based here compare with working in London?
I had moved to Bristol for family reasons and quickly found a welcoming and vibrant literary community and haven’t looked back.I arrived in Bristol at a very exciting time, the Bristol Review of Books and the Bristol Short Story Prize were responding to the culture of literature and inspiring the book lovers in the city and I felt as though I’d found the perfect city. Last year I was part of the founding team who set up the Bristol Festival of Literature. So, there is a rich and illustrious literary history here but it is still very active. Of course many wonderful things are happening in London but to my mind the energy and enthusiasm in the literary scene in Bristol can’t be matched.
As an editor, is it possible for you to read a book purely for pleasure?
Reading always equals pleasure for me, I’m often asked how I handle reading work which might not be publishable or successful as a creative piece of writing, but so often there is something rich beneath the surface and a story worth telling, the pleasure is in teasing that out and making it shine.
Having said that, I’ve read manuscripts and unpublished fiction for so many years now that reading published stories or novels often gives me that sensation that I’m ‘on holiday’, what could be more pleasurable than that?