Sunday, April 15, 2007

National Short Story Prize

Well, the shortlist for the "most lucractive short story prize" has been announced:
  • 'Slog's Dad' by David Almond
  • 'The Morena' by Jonathan Falla
  • 'The Orphan and the Mob' by Julian Gough
  • 'How to Get Away with Suicide' by Jackie Kay
  • 'Weddings and Beheadings' by Hanif Kureishi
So, once again (this is its second year) not only am I not on the shortlist (big surprise) they are all well-known writers. Also, strangely, I noticed when I googled them all that they are all published by Random House. Is this a bizarre coincidence? I have no idea. Far be it from me to start spreading wild conspiracy theories

I will just say one thing: I don't understand a competition that doesn't judge blindly. How is it in anyone's interest for the judges to know whose work they are reading? Surely a story should stand or fall on its own merit? Am I wrong? Am I just bitter? Well, a little - but I think this should apply to the Man Booker prize, too, for example. A big name should make absolutely no difference - otherwise how are the little people ever going to make it big? Reading a book by a well-known author, you begin with a set of expectations that have very little to do with the writing. You can go wrong, I feel, when you judge non-blindly, but how can you go wrong by judging blindly? The best work will shine through, no?


Rob Windstrel Watson said...

I agree and it would be more possible with short stories which are less likely to be known by the judges.

Coo I wouldn't mind having that amount of money for one of my short stories.

Will they publish the one that wins online?

Tania Hershman said...

Hello Rob, thanks for dropping by. It's a load of money, isn't it? Think of what it could do for an unknown writer's career?

Last year they published all five stories in a little booklet, and the winning one in Prospect magazine, I believe.

Unknown said...

I thought that the idea was that publishers put forward their choice of their author's best stories, thus it is always going to be those well known folk who are short-listed. I also thought that any submissions had to be from authors who were published in book that right?
I dunno, I may have it all wrong but it made sense to me that all the writers would be famous, in the same way that one usually has heard of Booker nominees. I thought it was the short story equivalent, with the huge prize working to raise the profile of short fiction to a comparable status to the novel.

I'm quite likely talking nonsense!

Julian Gough said...

You really felt all five were well-known writers? I was very surprised to be nominated, and I hadn't heard of half of the other nominees, but you may well be much more up to date on the short story scene than I am. I don't know about the other four (never met any of them) but I wouldn't think of myself as well-known (one small literary novel published six years ago doesn't get you stopped in the street very often. Or, indeed, ever.)

I understand your point about blind judging, but I don't think it's practical in the case of this particular competition. Blind judging works well in the case of unpublished fiction. An unpublished story by an unknown, even never-published writer, and an unpublished story by a famous writer are playing on a level pitch. The judges can't have read either story; they're both unpublished.

But the rules of the National Short Story Prize state that all the entries have to have been professionally published in the last year. There are very few outlets for short fiction. And the judges are all voracious readers by the look of them (they all either write, edit, or broadcast short stories).

So even if you set up a blind judging system, a lot of the judges would recognise a lot of the stories because they'd have read them in the ordinary run of events. (For instance, I read Hanif Kureishi's story for pleasure when it was originally published, long before I'd any idea he and I would end up entered for the same competition, and on the same shortlist.)

As to all the writers being published by Random House, let me reassure you: My first novel was published in America by an imprint of Random House. But since then, I have written a much stranger and more interesting novel which was rejected with horror by my old editor at Random House. I also lost my old agent, who hated it too. I ran out of money, was evicted from my home and ended up living in an illegally built house in France, with no money, an 8 kilometre round-trip walk from the nearest shop.

When I sold "The Orphan and the Mob", I was broke, homeless, and had no publisher. So I think I can set your mind at ease. There is no Random House conspiracy of well-known writers!

All prizes are ridiculous lotteries. I probably don't deserve to be on the shortlist, there're probably better stories out there, but I hope the good and bad luck balance out over time, and the best work is recognised eventually.

If it's any consolation, the first novel I wrote was never published, and the second (Juno & Juliet) was in the back of my wardrobe for eight years before anyone showed any interest. It's not the easiest way to live, I know.

Better luck next year,

-Julian Gough

Tania Hershman said...

Julian- thank you so much for visiting my blog and commenting, it is wonderful to actually have input from one of the writers shortlisted! Congratulations!

I do freely admit that I wrote the post partly in bitterness. I also admit that you are right that not all the shortlist are very well-known. And the Random house thing isn't particularly important, I know that.

I guess I want something from this competition that it is not designed to provide. And also i have received so many rejections recently that it just came on the heels of that and I vented my frustration at the whole thing.... Ah well!

Anonymous said...

I'm torn. I doubt Hanif Kureshi needs the cash, and it would be a coup as well as going some way to compensate for the hours of toil that lesser known short story writers put in. There are plenty of brilliant writers out there that need that sort of lucky break.

But isn't the best way to breathe life into the short story market to have some high profile writers generate publicity for the form by winning big prizes? I sometimes wonder whether the short story market is made up of other writers checking out the competition.

Jan said...

Interesting and enjoyable Blog recently discovered.
And particularly fascinating to hear from one of the Writers involved.
Looking forward to returning here!

Tania Hershman said...

Hi Debra and Jan,
thanks for stopping by. I'm completely intrigued by your comment, Debra, I sometimes wonder whether the short story market is made up of other writers checking out the competition. , ! I must admit that that is certainly part of the reason I buy short story collections, alongside desparately trying to find something good to read.

I don't know about the National Short Story comp breathing life into the short story. I don't think it suddenly got everyone talking about short stories. After all, Radio 4 does broadcast a short story daily anyway, so it's not such a great leap from that. If the Guardian started published a weekly short story - or, heaven help us, a daily one! - now that would certainly be a very positive step! I can dream!