My enormous thanks to Comma Press for sending me a copy of The BBC National Short Story Award 2019 edited by Nikki Bedi in return for an honest review. This is the 14th National Short Story Award and this time the shortlist is inspired by #metoo, Trump and discrimination.
Published by Comma Press, The BBC National Short Story Award 2019 is available for purchase through the links here.
You can find out more about the anthology and the award, and meet the judges and finalists, here.
The BBC National Short Story Award 2019
A young boy takes delight in his mother’s ability to shapeshift from one animal to another, only realising how odd she is when it comes to parents evening…
The values of a small farming village are challenged by talk of a well-heeled community living on the other side of the lake that only one person can see…
A writer researching the life of a 19th century child custody reformer discovers all too many parallels between that century and ours…
The stories shortlisted for the 2019 BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University variously explore the sanctity of the home and family, and the instinct to defend what’s closest to us. Against a backdrop of danger or division, characters sometimes struggle – like the 15-year-old charged with looking after her siblings whilst her mother works through the night – and sometimes succumb – like the young woman who allows herself to be manipulated by an older, richer man. But in each case, these stories demonstrate what Nikki Bedi argues in her introduction: short stories are not a warm-up act, they’re the main event.
My Review of The BBC National Short Story Award 2019
Five short stories written by women.
The BBC National Short Story Award 2019 collection is a joy. No wonder these are the shortlisted stories for this prestigious award. Each one is a skilled delight to encounter and each one transports the reader to another identity, time or place so convincingly.
Before commenting on the stories, I must say something about the appropriateness of the cover illustration by David Eckersall. The Russian doll motif is particularly fitting because it suggests traditional story telling, layers to uncover and a multiple femininity that echoes the narratives (and an aspect of Lucy Caldwell’s The Children in particular). I also loved the inclusion of Nikki Bedi’s introduction and the information at the end of the book about the authors, the award and its partners, and the list of previous winners as I now have a cornucopia of new-to-me writing to discover.
There’s a distinct authorial or character voice behind each tale so that reading The BBC National Short Story Award 2019 felt a bit like attending a party where I was meeting fascinating new people for the first time. Direct speech is natural and engaging although I did have to concentrate to follow all of the patois in Jacqueline Crooks’ Silver Fish in the Midnight Sea. This is by no means a criticism because that level of concentration meant I got so much from the story and when I read it aloud to myself the beautiful rhythms and meanings made so much more sense. And that’s the thing with this anthology. I read each story at least twice over a couple of days and found they took on a new identity if they were read aloud or read at different times of the day. The BBC National Short Story Award 2019 a less an anthology and more a living, breathing entity.
There’s so much to discover and enjoy in these five stories. I especially appreciated the mysticism and magical realism that runs through quite a lot of the writing. Each author is skilled in developing their tale, providing endings that are completely fitting and yet manage to leave the reader pondering and reflecting on what they have read. It is as if the stories have a life beyond the confines of their written structure. They felt quite mercurial in a sense, so that it is as if they are reluctant to stay between the cover pages of the book. I also felt a kind of wistfulness, what Jo Lloyd perhaps might call hiraeth, as I finished each one.
There is both a sense of history (in Jo Lloyd’s The Invisible) and modernity (especially in Lucy Caldwell’s The Children and Tamsin Grey’s My Beautiful Millennial) as well as the exploration of otherness (in Jacqueline Crooks’ Silver Fish in the Midnight Sea and Lynda Clark’s Ghillie’s Mum) so that all readers with a preference for different eras and genres will find something for them in this little volume to match their reading taste. Great enjoyment came for me too in finding echoes of other books I have enjoyed through reading these stories. Lynda Clark’s Ghillie’s Mum had resonances of Pullman’s daemons from His Dark Materials, for example, but not one of these short stories is derivative or hackneyed. Each one is an individual delight, carefully crafted, affecting and beautifully written.
The characters in each story are alive with vitality and enchantment. Martha in particular appealed to me and I loved Ghillie’s mother, but in each story I found someone to relate to or who captivated me.
However, aside from the pure entertainment of The BBC National Short Story Award 2019, this anthology is a thought provoking reflection of today’s society. The prejudices we hold, the treatment of those who are ‘other’ than we are, the way those with money are so often seen as superior to those who are poor, our relationships and our behaviour towards those with unconventional lives or mental health issues are just a few of the themes explored.
I thoroughly enjoyed The BBC National Short Story Award 2019 and I can see myself returning to it time and again to enjoy the stories and to find new elements each time I read them. I really recommend them as they represent short stories at their very best.
About the Editor
Nikki Bedi is a television and radio broadcaster with a passion for making arts and culture accessible.
She currently curates, writes and presents The Arts Hour on the BBC World Service, their flagship arts and culture programme, which once a month becomes The Arts Hour On Tour, a show that is travelling across the globe, one country at a time, to bring the hottest names, talents and issues to the airwaves and to 75 million listeners.
Nikki has most recently been seen on TV presenting the topical, weekly arts and entertainment programme Front Row, on BBC 2 on Saturday nights. She’s a regular interviewer and presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Loose Ends and has presented Front Row and Woman’s Hour on the same station.
Describing herself as ‘glocal’, Nikki’s work is both global and local and her Sunday morning show on BBC Radio London keeps her at the heart of the capital’s radio station.
Born to an Indian father and English mother, Nikki began her career in Mumbai as both a stage and film actress and worked with some of India’s finest directors. Her foray into the world of presenting came when the UK’s Channel 4 gave her a talk show, Bombay Chat and its success prompted Star TV in Asia to give her a primetime chat show called Nikki Tonight, which became Asia’s most widely viewed and most controversial talk show. After spending time living and working in Los Angeles, Nikki returned to the UK to become the face of Universal’s film channel The Studio and also presented the live movie show Worldwide Screen on NOW TV.
You can visit Nikki’s website and follow her on Twitter @nikkibedi for more information.