Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The BBC National Short Story Award

Yesterday afternoon I managed to catch up with the BBC National Short Short Award on the BBC website, where podcasts of four of the five selected stories remained. Kate Clanchy's winning story, The Not-Dead and the Saved was certainly very impressive and extremely moving, and I'm not surprised that it won both this and the V S Pritchett awards. It's interesting that the press-release story stresses the wonder of the winner being a poet with only the third short story she has written (the implication being that she is not practised at the form). It seems to me that that's no wonder at all: short stories, as I'm frequently saying, are closer to poetry than novels, and this short story bears all the hallmarks of that: a linguistic attention and the structural and verbal patterning at which Clanchy as a poet is supremely practised, and it is these elements which create the control of emotion and tone for which this story has been rightly praised, and make it so moving.

The other stories were prosey by comparison, I thought. Sara Maitland's Moss Witch was an interesting choice as runner-up: it's typical of Maitland's oevre - ecological and feminist with a good dollop of fairytale quality. The judging panel were of course female, which might explain this, though I do wonder if it was the ecological theme that did it. It felt a little forced, even clunky, at times, I thought, but was certainly a most interesting concept, and memorable as so much of Maitland's writing is. Lionel Shriver's Exchange Rates was competent, indeed extremely well-oiled, but pretty much a traditional New-Yorker type story, I thought, and Jane Rogers' Hitting Trees With Sticks betrayed her drama background by being a dramatic monologue narrated by a woman beginning to suffer senility - a difficult feat to pull off with psychological authenticity, as the authorial voice was more knowing than the narrative voice, and I have to say I wasn't absolutely sure it worked - or maybe I was just put off by Julia McKenzie's reading which rendered the narrator rather irritating.
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