The BBC National Short Story Award 2019 with Cambridge University

BBC short stories

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.


Supported by Cambridge University, this collection features stories by Lucy Caldwell, Lynda Clark, Jacqueline Crooks, Tamsin Grey and Jo Lloyd.

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

BBC short stories

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.

Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay

elevator pich

I have a confession. Despite so many of my blogger friends raving about Linwood Barclay’s writing, I’ve never actually read one of his books before, so when I was given the opportunity to read Elevator Pitch, I thought I’d give it a go. I’m so pleased I did and that I have my review to share today.

Published on 5th September 2019 by Harper Collins imprint HQ, Elevator Pitch is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

Elevator Pitch

elevator pich

It all begins on a Monday, when four people board an elevator in a Manhattan office tower. Each presses a button for their floor, but the elevator proceeds, non-stop, to the top. Once there, it stops for a few seconds, and then plummets.

Right to the bottom of the shaft.

It appears to be a horrific, random tragedy. But then, on Tuesday, it happens again, in a different Manhattan skyscraper. And when Wednesday brings yet another high-rise catastrophe, one of the most vertical cities in the world – and the nation’s capital of media, finance, and entertainment – is plunged into chaos.

Clearly, this is anything but random. This is a cold, calculated bid to terrorize the city. And it’s working. Fearing for their lives, thousands of men and women working in offices across the city refuse leave their homes. Commerce has slowed to a trickle. Emergency calls to the top floors of apartment buildings go unanswered.

Who is behind this? What do these deadly acts of sabotage have to do with the fingerless body found on the High Line? Two seasoned New York detectives and a straight-shooting journalist must race against time to find the answers . . .

Pulsating with tension, Elevator Pitch is a riveting tale of psychological suspense that is all too plausible . . . and will chill readers to the bone.

My Review of Elevator Pitch

An elevator accident may be more than it seems…

Never having read anything by Linwood Barclay before I wasn’t quite prepared for the highly effective Hitchcock-like plotting and delivery in Elevator Pitch. There’s a build up of tension in the story that is actually quite filmic and visual that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Having lived in Manhattan and worked around New York for a short while, I found the setting described perfectly so that I felt there was an authenticity to what I hope will only ever be a fictional situation because it is very unnerving!

The narrative is exciting, with what seems at first to be diverse and separate strands woven together cleverly to create a very satisfying novel. Elevator Pitch is a deceptive book too as Linwood Barclay feeds in diversions that wrong foot the reader providing surprises along the way. I really liked the manner in which I found out details at the same time as Barbara, Jerry and Lois. Linwood Barclay’s style is brisk and pacy so that the reader is swept along in events making for an exciting read.

One of the greatest successes of Elevator Pitch for me was the characterisation. Jerry Bourque’s back story gave him a humanity that elevated him (if you’ll pardon the pun) above the usual maverick, world weary, detectives of so many crime thrillers I have read. Here, instead, is a man with heart and a conscience. I’m hoping there will be more involving him in future books. I found the family dynamics between Richard Headley and his son Glover both enlightening and very sad. The effect of a parent on a child – of whatever age – can be deeper than any might imagine. I thoroughly appreciated the feisty Barbara, especially when I was afforded an insight into her softer and more emotional side.

Thematically, there’s much to mull in Elevator Pitch and once the book has been read as a fast paced thriller, I think it would reward a second perusal to concentrate on the concepts of power, politics, corruption, PTSD, revenge, terrorism, relationships and society. Having said that, I thought the premise for the novel was possibly more than exciting enough for me on its own. I am claustrophobic so avoid lifts as much as I can so that I frequently felt physically uncomfortable whilst I was reading. Elevator Pitch has definitely not left me any more inclined to enjoy the enclosed spaces of lifts!

I really did enjoy Elevator Pitch and it has persuaded me that I’ve left it too long to discover Linwood Barclay as a writer. This won’t be my last reading of his books, but I think it was a very good place to start.

About Linwood Barclay


Linwood Barclay is an international bestselling crime and thriller author with over twenty critically acclaimed novels to his name, including the phenomenal number one bestseller No Time For Goodbye. Every Linwood Barclay book is a masterclass in characterisation, plot and the killer twist, and with sales of over 7 million copies globally, his books have been sold in more than 39 countries around the world and he can count Stephen King, Shari Lapena and Peter James among his many fans.

Many of his books have been optioned for film and TV, and Linwood wrote the screenplay for the film based on his bestselling novel Never Saw It Coming. He is currently working with eOne to turn the Promise Falls trilogy into a series. Born in the US, his parents moved to Canada just as he was turning four, and he’s lived there ever since. He lives in Toronto with his wife, Neetha. They have two grown children.

You can follow Linwood on Twitter @linwood_barclay, visit his website and find him on Facebook for more information.

Rewrite the Stars by Emma Heatherington

Rewrite the stars

My enormous thanks to the lovely folk at Harper Collins for allowing me to read Rewrite the Stars by Emma Heatherington through Netgalley. I adored Emma’s The Legacy of Lucy Harte and you’ll find my review of that book here.

Rewrite the Stars was published by Harper Collins in ebook on 6th September 2019 and is also available for pre-order in paperback through the publisher links here.

Rewrite the Stars

Rewrite the stars

From the moment they meet one December day there’s something between Charlotte Taylor and her brother’s best friend, Tom Farley. But Tom’s already taken and Charlie has to let him go…

It’s another five years before their paths cross again only a secret from the past forces Charlie to make a choice. She promises herself she’ll never look back…

The years pass and Charlie moves on with her life but she can never forget Tom. He’s always there whispering ‘What if?’.

Can Charlie leave the life she has built for one last chance with Tom?  Or is the one that got away not really the one at all…?

My Review of Rewrite the Stars

Charlotte’s life is about to be turned upside down.

Oh my word, Rewrite the Stars is a lovely book. It had the same effect on me as slipping into clean bedding, taking off uncomfortable shoes and putting up my feet, or taking the first sip of tea when I’ve been desperate for a cup all day. I found it comforting, uplifting and affecting. I know there will be those who would never dream of picking up Rewrite the Stars, believing it to be too ‘girly’ (or whatever derogatory adjective they might like to apply) for their reading tastes, but they will be so foolish. They will have denied themselves a gorgeous story, smooth and skilled writing and plotting, with characters and themes that feel true and genuine.

I admit that I railed against Charlotte’s actions and choices at times, but I understood her completely through Emma Heatherington’s perfect creation of character. Here is a young woman who strives to find her way in life; exactly as we all do. Charlotte’s first person voice is distinct, making her words feel intimate and allowing the reader to access her innermost thoughts and feelings. She is natural and self-critical so that her fears and desires become those of Emma Heatherington’s readers too. The men in Charlie’s life are all distinctly drawn, making for a cast that feels so vivid and real. Just like Charlotte, I had no idea which of them I had the most genuine feelings for so that I felt her indecision and concerns with her.

As is so often the case for me, what I enjoyed most about Rewrite the Stars, however, was the sensitive exploration of themes. Emma Heatherington seems to understand at an almost primeval level how we need love and affirmation to be able to create our own individual identities. She also conveys flawlessly the human emotions of guilt, love and regret and she convinces the reader that what we may have been in the past may have helped shape who we are today but that it doesn’t need to dominate who we are in the future. I found this message very powerful indeed.

Rewrite the Stars is a brilliant story; very moving, beautifully written and, for me, a completely uplifting read. I thought it was utterly lovely and cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Emma Heatherington


Emma Heatherington has penned more than thirty educational short films, plays and musicals as well as eleven novels, two of which were written under the pseudonym Emma Louise Jordan.

She was ghost-writer to Irish country music legend Philomena Begley and Liverpool born Nathan Carter, whose autobiography Born for the Road was nominated for an Irish Book Award.

Emma’s novel, The Legacy of Lucy Harte, was an eBook bestseller in both the UK and US.

Emma lives in her native Donaghmore, Co Tyrone, with her partner Jim McKee and their children Jordyn, Jade, Dualta, Adam and Sonny James.

For more information you can follow Emma on Twitter @emmalou13 and find her on Facebook.

The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion

 The rosie result

It’s an absolute delight to feature Graeme Simsion on Linda’s Books Bag once again. Although I read the first two books in the Rosie series, The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, before I began blogging and they haven’t featured here, I did recently review Graeme’s Two Steps Forward, which he wrote with his wife Anne Buist, here.

Published by Penguin imprint Michael Joseph, The Rosie Result is available for purchase through the links here.

The rosie result

Meet Don Tillman, the genetics professor with a scientific approach to everything. But he’s facing a set of human dilemmas tougher than the trickiest of equations.

Right now he is in professional hot water after a lecture goes viral for all the wrong reasons; his wife of 4,380 days, Rosie, is about to lose the research job she loves; and – the most serious problem of all – their eleven-year-old son, Hudson, is struggling at school. He’s a smart kid, but socially awkward and not fitting in.

Fortunately, Don’s had a lifetime’s experience of not fitting in. And he’s going to share the solutions with Hudson.

He’ll need the help of old friends and new, lock horns with the education system, and face some big questions about himself. As well as opening the world’s best cocktail bar.

My Review of The Rosie Result

Don and Rosie have a new project; their 11 year old son Hudson.

The Rosie Result is a fitting and satisfying conclusion to Graeme Simsion’s series. It’s been a long time since I read The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, but Don’s narrative voice was immediately recognisable and familiar, so that I felt as if I were catching up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Graeme Simsion’s style works effortlessly in conveying Don’s character in fatherhood, the action and the themes so that this is a hugely satisfying read.

The plot firmly centres on Rosie and Don’s son Hudson, and his experiences in school, as he attempts to be ‘normal’, but this is also an effective means by which Don makes continued self discovery as he deals with day to day life. Hudson’s responses and attitudes are an echo of Don’s and peel back the layers of both personalities, but in a way this felt secondary to me. What I found so important, and frequently quite affecting, is the overall exploration of identity.

Graeme Simsion understands, and conveys so convincingly, the difficulties facing those who do not conform to accepted societal stereotypes. He shows how ignorance can offend just as much as prejudice and intolerance and I finished the read contemplating whether I have behaved thoughtlessly towards others even when I hadn’t meant to create discomfort for them. I love the way in which the themes in the book, from love and friendship to puberty and adulthood, for example, are woven throughout and occasionally resolved, without sentiment and a saccharine sensation. I think it is because Don still manages to behave unconventionally and inappropriately, even at the most poignant moments, that humour and balance in the writing are so perfectly poised, being entertaining and ultimately uplifting.

Although the title refers to Rosie, in The Rosie Result she is less of a presence and again I feel this works effectively within the context of the storytelling because what we have here really is an outcome of Rosie’s previous importance. Both Hudson and Don behave as they do ultimately as a result of having Rosie in their lives. I can’t remember if Hudson’s name is explained in the previous book but it felt right to me that his name is also a river, suggesting something fluid, ever changing and with the potential to travel beyond conventional confines. I loved that theme of the book.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Rosie series of books, because they entertain whilst conveying a highly important message – we can never fully know others and everyone has potential to be the individual they want to be, not the person others might force them to become. The Rosie Result left me feeling as if I had travelled with friends and enjoyed every moment of the journey.

About Graeme Simsion


Graeme Simsion is a former information technology and business consultant, who specialized in data modeling, information management and consulting practices.

He is now a full time writer of fiction. His first novel, The Rosie Project was published in Australia by Text and Michael Joseph (Penguin) in the UK.

You can find out more by following Graeme on Facebook and on Twitter @GraemeSimsion and by visiting his website.

Lies Lies Lies by Adele Parks

Lies Lies Lies

It’s been far, far too long since I last featured lovely Adele Parks properly on Linda’s Book Bag. I first encountered Adele at a blogger evening two years ago in an event you can read about here. Following that event I reviewed Adele’s The Stranger in My Home here. More recently I was delighted to spend time chatting with Adele at the #DestinationHQ evening which you can read about here, and where I first heard about Lies Lies Lies that I am delighted to review today.

Lies Lies Lies was published by Harper Collins imprint HQ on 5th September 2019 and is available for purchase through the links here.

Lies Lies Lies

Lies Lies Lies

Daisy and Simon’s marriage is great, isn’t it?

After years together, the arrival of longed-for daughter Millie sealed everything in place. A happy little family of three.

And so what if Simon drinks a bit too much sometimes – Daisy’s used to it, she knows he’s letting off steam. Until one night at a party things spiral horribly out of control. And that happy little family of three will never be the same again.

In Lies Lies Lies Sunday Times bestseller Adele Parks explores the darkest corners of a relationship in freefall in a mesmerising tale of marriage and secrets.

My Review of Lies Lies Lies

Simon’s increasing reliance on alcohol will have more repercussions than he can ever imagine.

Oh my goodness! What clever storytelling from Adele Parks. There’s a gradual and escalating build up of events around Simon’s alcohol dependency that initially feels very measured and controlled and then just when the reader is lulled into thinking they have the measure of Lies Lies Lies Adele Parks delivers a punch that leaves them reeling and she doesn’t let up. I was ensnared and engrossed throughout.

There’s quite a cast of characters in Lies Lies Lies who all represent a fascinating microcosm of middle class society. I utterly abhorred Simon and felt guilty that I didn’t feel more empathy for his problems and then I fell in love with him and felt guiltier still. Never mind an author making their characters have strong reactions – Adele Parks causes equally profound feelings in her readers too. Unlike Simon, Daisy, however, held my sympathy throughout. I didn’t always agree with her behaviour so that she frustrated me, infuriated me and at times appalled me, but I always wanted her to triumph.

I loved the themes in Lies Lies Lies. Adele Parks understands completely and conveys so convincingly how precarious life can be. Her picture of addictive or controlling behaviour, her illustration of prison life and her exploration of love, obsession and, of course, deceit are all pitch perfect. Lies come in all forms in this novel and the fine line between adhering to the truth with perhaps an occasional white lie, and the gradual insidious and perverting build up of greater untruths feels terrifyingly accurate. So many layers add interest and depth and it’s obvious the author comprehends fully how we can make irrational and even harmful choices in our lives.

Lies Lies Lies is a superb story. Character driven, it compels the reader into a world where they don’t want to be because some of the action is so emotionally disturbing, but that they are unable to leave until they have devoured every word. I thought it was a cracking read.

About Adele Parks


Adele Parks was born in Teesside, North East England. Her first novel, Playing Away, was published in 2000, and since then she’s had seventeen international bestsellers, translated into twenty-six languages. She’s been an ambassador for The Reading Agency and a judge for the Costa Book Awards, and is a keen supporter of The National Literary Trust. Adele has lived in Italy, Botswana and London and is now settled in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, son and cat.

You can follow Adele on Twitter @adeleparks, find her on Facebook and visit her website for more information.