Sunday, 11 October 2009


Another prize? Here is a new prize of £25,000 for a single short story. You could pay a nurse’s annual salary with that, or a couple of ‘clinical support workers nursing’, or publish several books or keep an independent bookstore alive or set up a whole new publishing company. The prize has six judges, all with fine mainstream credentials; there’ll be some excellent writers looking at that list of names and wondering whether it’s really worth their entering.

The short story is not, despite the received wisdom to the contrary, neglected. There are writing courses galore; far more mainstream publishers have story collections on their lists than, say, poetry; there are more opportunities for short-story publication in magazines, both printed and online, than ever before (probably more opportunities than good stories); and there are many prizes too, the biggest of these (until now) being the BBC National Short Story Award, which declares itself ‘the largest award in the world for a single short story’ – now trumped by the new Sunday Times one, offering ‘the largest prize for a single short story in the world’.

This is a mine-is-bigger-than-yours shoot-out between heavyweight sponsors eager to show off their cultural credentials. Money from banks and other wealthy institutions, yes please, but there are more interesting and imaginative ways in which they could be doling it out.

PS: Another example of non-neglect: the display stand at Foyles in Charing X Road that’s currently showcasing the recent Harper Perennial books of classic short fiction: Melville, Wilde, Stephen Crane, Dostoyevsky, Willa Cather, Tolstoy. Each book includes stories that are not in the standard Penguin collections. And the covers are lovely and so is the text design. And each book contains a ‘bonus’ story by a contemporary writer from a collection of stories newly published – slightly corny, perhaps, but as a way of promoting new short stories, and of getting them into the hands of readers, this is a far more imaginative and practical idea than another thumping prize. Has the Sunday Times even noticed this series? I think not.