How to get published? This, surely, is the eternal question tormenting the mind of the would-be writer. With creative writing groups throughout the country regularly dolling out advice on how to catch the attention of the elusive literary agent, any opportunity for new writers to gain publicity is hugely welcome. And when the prize is from such a well-established (and well funded) body as the Costa Book Awards, you can guarantee it will have a host of aspiring authors knuckling down to their keyboards.
Costa have just announced the shortlist for their newest award – the Short Story Prize. It’s a writing prize with a difference, as it constitutes a unique levelling of the literary playing field. The prize is submitted entirely anonymously – even the judges who ploughed through 1,800 entries to receive their final six-strong shortlist were unaware if they were reading the work of an established literary superstar or an unpublished newcomer. The winner (who will receive a £3,500 prize) is decided entirely by public vote. The Costa prize winner will be announced on 29th January, in the meantime, entries can be read and voted for here.
Any new venture to spring life into the short story genre is invariably received with applause by the literary world. Whilst the artistic integrity of the form is undeniable – short stories allow writers to be more experimental, creative, and less concerned with marketing pressures - critical and commercial acclaim are two very different things, and convincing readers and publishers to pick up short story collections has long been a widely-publicised struggle.
Nonetheless, the short story remains beloved to many, to the extent that when Radio 4 (the world’s biggest broadcaster of short stories), last year announced that they were cutting their output by two-thirds, there was such an outcry that the editors reversed their decision. Many commentators have also suggested that the short story form, naturally suited to tablets and e-readers, may increasingly suit our digital age. Indeed, literary apps and podcasts are ever more popular. Heading the download charts is the outstanding New Yorker Fiction podcasts. If you need more inspiration for short-story reading choices, here is our pick of the five best episodes:
Jennifer Egan reads "The Reverse Bug" by Lore Segal
Recent Pulitzer-prize winner Egan reads a Segal story which treads a fine line between realism and sci-fi. What begins as a lighthearted account of an English foreign language class quickly descends into terror.
Cynthia Ozick reads "in the reign of Harad IV" by Steven Millhauser
Millhauser’s surrealist masterpiece is as original as it is engaging. This highly unconventional tale of a medieval ivory-sculptor bears clear influence of Kafka and Borges
Lauren Groff reads Alice Munro’s "Axis"
Munro is increasingly becoming the undisputed master of the contemporary short story. 'Axis' has all the hallmarks of her at her best - and the following discussion between Lauren Groff and Deborah Treisman offers insightful ideas and analysis
Salman Rushdie reads Donald Barthelme’s "Concerning the Bodyguard"
Barthelme, often regarded with the somewhat off-putting term ‘a writers writer’, has long been established as one of the most experimental short storyists of all time. This spectacularly unconventional take - written entirely as a series of questions - is guranteed to be unlike anything you've read before.
Colm Tóibín reads "The Children’s Grandmother" Sylvia Townsend Warner
Townsend Warner, who was published extensively from 1930-50, is now relatively unknown as a writer. The quality of her stories deserves a far broader audience, however, and she is at her darkly comedic best in 'The Children's Grandmother'.