BBC International Short Story Award shortlist

For the past couple of years, I’ve been following the BBC National Short Story Award (see my reviews of the 2010 and 2011 shortlists). This year, it’s the BBC International Short Story Award, and the shortlist has been doubled in size to ten stories. The nominees were announced last night; with descriptions taken from the press release, they are:

Lucy Caldwell – ‘Escape Routes’

Set in Belfast in the 1990s, ‘Escape Routes’ is told from the point of view of a child, whose friend and babysitter mysteriously goes missing. Delivered with the touching innocence of a child oblivious but not unaffected by the ideological and political strife plaguing Northern Ireland, the story is an oblique examination of a besieged Belfast.

Julian Gough – ‘The iHole’

‘The iHole’ playfully depicts the launch of the latest must-have gadget: a portable black hole. The media hype, the marketing, the industry competition and the consumer mania are laid bare in this satirical take on technology and consumerism in the 21st century.

M J Hyland – ‘Even Pretty Eyes Commit Crimes’

The adult narrator, who many years down the line still sees his father as somehow culpable for his mother’s departure, and tires of his father’s dependence on him, is forced to reassess his relationships, as it becomes apparent that his wife is leaving him too.

Krys Lee – ‘The Goose Father’

In a tale of loneliness, ambition and desire, a man sends his wife and children to America for a better life, while he stays behind in South Korea making a living as an accountant. Concerned with respectability and success, the man’s life is set awry when he takes in an endearing young tenant – along with his pet goose.

Deborah Levy – ‘Black Vodka’

In ‘Black Vodka’ a hunchbacked man goes on a date with the girl of his dreams. A subtle battle between shame and prurience ensues, as the man is crippled by thoughts of his own repugnance, and the girl is only intrigued by his appearance.

Miroslav Penkov – ‘East of the West’

Set in Bulgaria during and after the Cold War, ‘East of the West’ explores the difficulties of love, relationships and identity in a region ridden with conflict and sectarian violence. The narrator takes us from his childhood through to present day, ruminating on the loves and losses which both constrain and define his life.

Henrietta Rose-Innes – ‘Sanctuary’

This subtle but powerful story traces a nostalgic trip back to a childhood haunt in the South African bush. The narrator’s encounter with another family explores the experience of domestic violence and its consequences.

Adam Ross – ‘In the Basement’

Two couples meet for dinner and wind up discussing an old friend called Lisa. But their disparaging attitude towards Lisa’s lifestyle, choice of husband and treatment of their pet dog, unconsciously reveals more about their own relationships, insecurities, envy and brutality, than it does about Lisa.

Carrie Tiffany – ‘Before he Left the Family’

‘Before he Left the Family’ examines the jagged relationship of two brothers and their parents following a painfully wrought divorce; while one brother’s loyalty lies with the jilted mother, the narrator finds affinity with his father. Yet, in the maelstrom of resentment, sexual confusion and self-blame, Tiffany finds pathos and redemption.

Chris Womersley – ‘A Lovely and Terrible Thing’

A man encounters a stranger on the road when his car breaks down. Invited to the stranger’s house, he is further enticed by the promise of being let in on the family’s secret – a daughter with a miraculous ability. It’s an offer the man, who struggles to cope with his own daughter’s disability, can’t refuse.

The ten stories will be broadcast daily at 3.30pm (UK time) on BBC Radio 4, starting this Monday; they’ll then be available to download as podcasts. An anthology of the stories will be published by Comma Press on Monday.

The winner will be announced on Tues 2 October – and I’ve left a space in the Sunday Story Society schedule to discuss the winning story on 9 December.


  1. Great. Thanks for this. And the link to the podcasts.

  2. Nice! I’ve made a point of listening along this year via podcast in the evenings. The three so far (Caldwell, Lee and Rose-Innes) have all been enjoyable to listen to. Looking forward to having heard all so I can mull over them and decide on my favourites before they announce it!

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