Stellar line-up for Sunday Times short story award finalists

Lilies and bookIt’s great to see short stories as a genre go from strength to strength with a stellar line up for the Sunday Times annual  short story award. Among the longlist are Elizabeth Strout who won the Pulitzer Prize for the wonderful Olive Kitteridge, Marjorie Celona, whose debut novel Y, won several awards, and M J Hyland, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker. Previous winners of award, which carries a prize of £30,000, making it the world’s prize for a short story, include Junot Diaz, Hilary Mantel, Mark Haddon and  CK Stead.

The shortlist will be announced on March 2, with the winner revealed in early April. All six shortlisted stories will be available on an ebook from March 2. The full line-up is listed below or go to  (artwork by Sturt Krygsman)

Tahmima Anam – Anwar Gets Everything

Tahmima was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She trained as an anthropologist, earning a PhD from Harvard University in 2005. She is the author of The Good Muslim and A Golden Age, winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book. In 2013 she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. She lives in Dhaka and London and is a Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times.

Story synopsis

A construction worker in Dubai lives to regret quarrelling with his foreman. This is a superbly written, disturbing story that exposes the unpleasant heart of economic development in the Gulf States.

First lines

‘Foreman likes to hoist the new ones up, see what they’re made of. Some of them have never climbed higher than a tree in their village. Back home the place is flat, flat.’

Marjorie Celona – Othello

Marjorie is the author of the novel Y, which was a Waterstones’ 11 debut pick and finalist for the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Harvard Review, Glimmer Train, Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has held multiple international residencies and grants, including support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Hawthornden Castle, and the Writers OMI at Ledig House. Born and raised on Vancouver Island, she now lives in the United States.

Story Synopsis

In a small Idaho town, a man remembers his autistic step-brother. This story evokes the sense of the decaying community in which its characters live and the claustrophobia and suffocation of unfulfilled lives.

First lines

‘In the summer of 1987, I was seventeen and Wolf was six, and I was making him sort my records on account of his losing a bet that the Bee Gees were girls. We were listening to Pink Floyd.’

Clare Clark – Ward Three

Clare read History at Trinity College, Cambridge, where she was a Senior Scholar and graduated with a Double First. She spent eleven years in advertising, working both in the UK and in the USA. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Great Stink, was published by Viking in 2005. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize, and won both the Pendleton May First Novel award and the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices award. She has three more novels: The Nature of Monsters; Savage Lands, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize in 2010 and Beautiful Lies.

Clare is a regular contributor to the Guardian’s literary pages and writes for several other broadsheet newspapers, both in the UK and the USA. She also works as a guest tutor for the Creative Writing MA at City University, run by Jonathan Myerson, and sits on the advisory board to the Cheltenham Literary Festival. Clare is married with two children and lives in London. She is currently writing her fifth novel, after which she will be writing a play.

Story synopsis

This story is about War veterans recovering from disfiguring and life-changing wounds who share a hospital ward, and looks at how reconnecting with people from their past can sometimes create unforeseen devastation.

First lines

‘Tom thought Ward Three must be easier for the men who had been at public school. That was most of them in those days, the Spitfire years before the bombers came in and took over. The ward had the air of a Sixth Form common room just before the Christmas holidays.’

Carys Davies – On Commercial Hill

Carys’ debut collection of short stories Some New Ambush (2007) was longlisted for the 2008 Wales Book of the Year, shortlisted for the 2009 Roland Mathias Prize and a finalist for the 2009 Calvino Prize in the US. She was the winner of the 2010 Society of Authors’ Olive Cook Award and the 2011 Royal Society of Literature’s VS Pritchett Prize. In 2013 she won a Northern Writers’ Award and was a finalist for the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen Short Story Prize and the Manchester Fiction Prize.

Her stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and appeared in anthologies, magazines and on-line, including The Dublin Review, Granta New Writing, Prospect and The Stinging Fly. Her second collection of short fiction The Redemption of Galen Pike is out this autumn; the title story was included last year in The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives of Women: 100 Great Short Stories. Born in Wales, she grew up in the Midlands and has worked as a freelance journalist in London, New York and Chicago. She now lives in Lancaster.

Story Synopsis

This is a story about half-truths and memory, and how the choices we make affect us and the people we love, set in an unnamed town in the Welsh valleys.

First lines

‘He met her, my English grandmother, on a chilly summer afternoon on the beach at Southerndown. She was sitting on a rock, on top of her coat, smoking a cigarette and he – I heard this from someone, from Daddy or Mair – was enchanted.’

Jenni Fagan – When Words Change the Molecular Composition of Water

Jenni lives in Scotland. In 2013 she was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, and appointed as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Edinburgh. Film rights to her debut novel The Panopticon have been optioned by Ken Loach’s production company Sixteen Films. A Waterstones 11 pick of the best debut novels of 2013, The Panopticon was shortlisted for the 2013 James Tait Black and Desmond Elliot Prizes. Jenni is also the author of several short stories and poems. She has one son and lives in Fife.

Story Synopsis

Set in the afterlife, this story explores the high and low points of a person’s life, and looks at how a person might come to accept their allocation of joy and tragedy.

First lines

‘As she watches her life back the thing that strikes her most is the amount of times she’s been saved. She is on her belly. Watching. One screen. She is in a long slim pod and it reminds her of the capsule hotel she once slept in, in Japan for a whole week, it was $30 per night and felt like a well-lit coffin.’

M J Hyland – Somebody Else’s Bed

M J Hyland is an ex-lawyer and the author of multiple short stories and three novels: How the Light Gets In, Carry Me Down and This is How. Carry Me Down was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and was winner of both the Hawthornden Prize & The Encore Prize. M J Hyland has also been longlisted for The Orange Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Dublin International IMPAC, and was shortlisted for the William Hazlitt Essay Prize in 2013. She has twice been shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Prize. She has a B.A (Hons), L.L.B (Hons) M.A (Hons) and studied at both the University of Melbourne & University College Dublin.

Before quitting law to write full-time she worked as a commercial solicitor for seven years and lectured in criminal law at two universities. As well as broadcast work, M J has published articles in many newspapers and magazines, is a lecturer in Creative Writing in The Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester, runs regular Fiction Masterclasses in The Guardian Masterclass Programme and is also co-founder of The Hyland & Byrne Editing Firm.

Story Synopsis

An ordinary man becomes an opportunist when an unexpected day off provides him with the chance to enact a fantasy of a different life. This is a story about frustration, love and the grief of a failing relationship.

First lines

‘The Lounge Bar in the Hilton was getting busy. Men in suits, they came in groups of two and three, went through the revolving doors and, without speaking, loosened their ties and headed to their tables.’

Adam Johnson – Nirvana

Adam is Associate Professor of English at Stanford University. A Whiting Writers Award winner, his work has appeared in Esquire, Harper’s, Playboy, GQ, The New York Times and Best American Short Stories. He is the author of Emporium, a short-story collection, and the novel Parasites Like Us. His books have been translated into twenty-nine languages. Johnson was a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and is a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow. His novel The Orphan Master’s Son received the 2013 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

Story Synopsis

Set in the near future, this story uses sci-fi to explore personal tragedy, as a husband uses technology, a dead president and Kurt Cobain to confront his own grief and to try to alleviate his wife’s suffering as she deteriorates from a wasting illness.

First lines

‘It’s late, and I can’t sleep. I raise a window for some spring Palo Alto air, but it doesn’t help. In bed, eyes open, I hear whispers, which makes me think of the President because we often talk in whispers.’

Jonathan Lee – Philip’s 9 Best Christmas Presents

Jonathan is a 32 year-old British author living in New York. Before this he spent six years working as a litigation lawyer in London. Jonathan has lived in various other places including South America and Japan. He is the author of two novels: Who Is Mr Satoshi? and Joy. Joy was shortlisted for the 2013 Encore Award for best second novel, Who Is Mr Satoshi was nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2010 and shortlisted for an MJA Open Book Award in 2010.

Jonathan has also been the recipient of a Society Of Authors K Blundell Trust Award (2012). His work has appeared in Granta Magazine, Guernica Magazine, The Paris Review Daily and the Brooklyn-based literary journal A Public Space. He is currently at work on his third novel.

Story Synopsis

A man’s life is told through the instances during which he receives his nine most memorable Christmas presents. Set in Brighton in the post war period through to the 1980s, this story is about the everyday frustrations, ambitions, and various types of love and loss that an ordinary person experiences.

First lines

‘Philip Finch is born on the 25th of December 1946: a hospital in Brighton, England. His mother has large Mediterranean eyes, slow violet veins on the lids. His father sits pink beside a bubbling radiator, sweat shining on his brow.’

Anna Metcalfe – Number Three

Anna was born in Westphalia in 1987. In 2012, she completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Since then, her work has been published in Lighthouse, Elbow Room and Tender Journal. She lives in Norwich where she is completing her first collection.

Story Synopsis

A British teacher arrives at a Chinese school for a work engagement; cultural differences result in devastating consequences for the Chinese host in charge of his stay. The choice of narrative perspective lends a powerful effect.

First lines

‘Miss Coral gets up from her desk on a cool October afternoon. She walks over to the kettle and drains steaming liquid into a clear plastic flask, the tea leaves swirling within. Moon is crouched in the corner of the office, a small book of poems on her knees. ‘Dead Water’ by Wen Yiduo. She learns the lines, breathing out the words.’

Alissa Nutting – The Expectation of Anywhere

Alissa is author of the novel Tampa and the short story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls. Her most recent writing has been published in Dazed and Confused,, and The New York Times. She is a professor of Creative Writing and Literature at John Carroll University, and lives in Ohio with her partner Shawn and their daughter.

Story Synopsis

This is one teenager’s straightforward and passionate account of an unusual sort of unrequited love. Both funny and moving, this story is an honest look at the awkwardness and yearning of a difficult coming of age.

First lines

‘When they first became friends, Spike had begged Alice to let him do a makeover on her. It took weeks before she finally consented, but she needed a look that would help her get out of town and inspire Spike to love her.’

David Park – Learning to Swim

David has written eight books, most recently The Light of Amsterdam. He has been winner of the Authors’ Club First Novel Award, a Bass Ireland Arts Award for Literature, and a Major Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and is a three-time winner of the University of Ulster’s McCrea Literary Award. He has been shortlisted three times for the Irish Novel of the Year Award. David’s new novel, The Poets’ Wives is published by Bloomsbury in February this year. He lives in County Down, Northern Ireland, with his wife and two children.

Story Synopsis

An English academic encounters a trio of businessmen with past experiences in the Troubles at his local leisure centre. This story, set in post conflict Northern Ireland, is about the instances where very different lives find a moment of connection and how briefly differences can seem less important than what is shared.

First lines

‘Then, since fortunes favours fade,

You, that in her armes doe sleep,

Learne to swim, and not to wade;

For, the Hearts of Kings are deepe.

It’s from a poem by Henry Wotton that I came across when completing my doctorate on John Donne. The lines caught my eye because I’ve never succeeded in taking his advice.’

Taiye Selasi – Driver

Taiye was born in London to Nigerian and Ghanaian parents. She holds a BA in American studies from Yale University and an MPhil in international relations from Oxford. Selasi made her fiction debut in Granta in 2011 with The Sex Lives of African Girls, which was selected for Best American Short Stories 2012. Her first novel, Ghana Must Go, was published in March 2013.

An avid traveller and documentary photographer, Selasi currently divides her time between New York, New Delhi and Rome. Taiye Selasi was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013 – a list of twenty authors under 40 generated once a decade which picks out the new literary elite before they become household names.

Story Synopsis

Set in Ghana, this story explores the class division between a driver and his employers. Sketching an entire network of relationships and a country’s landscape in its short space, this story considers how the economical gap between rich and poor is not always the most important consideration in life.

First lines

‘I am the full-time driver here. I am not going to kill my employers. I have read that drivers do that now. I will make just a few observations.’

Elizabeth Strout – Snow Blind

Elizabeth is the author of four books of fiction, most recently the novelThe Burgess Boys. She won the Pultizer Prize in 2009 for Olive Kitteridgewhich is now being made into an HBO series, and Amy and Isabelle was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award for Fiction, the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

Her work has been published in a number of different countries; Italy awarded her the Premio Bancarella Award in June 2010. Elizabeth originally trained as a lawyer, graduating from Syracuse University College of Law with a JD and a Certificate of Gerontology in 1982. She then moved to New York where she taught for many years at Manhattan Community College while writing. She has one daughter, and now divides her time between New York and Maine.

Story Synopsis

Set in the rural USA, this story spans several decades in the life of a family, and looks poignantly at the mysteries and frustrations its members experience.

First lines

‘Back then the road they lived on was a dirt road and they lived at the end of it, about a mile from Route 4. This was in the north in potato country, and back when the Appleby children were small the winters were icy and snow filled and there were months when the road seemed impassably narrow. Weather was different then, like a family member you couldn’t avoid.’

Jonathan Tel – The Shoe King of Shanghai

Jonathan wrote The Beijing of Possibilities which was longlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Award. He is a poet, librettist, and quantum physicist. He has lived in Beijing, Tokyo, Jerusalem, London, Berlin, San Francisco, and New York. He is currently writing fiction inspired by Beijing and poetry inspired by Berlin.

Story Synopsis

A migrant to Beijing steals shoes from a funeral and tries to sell them on with unexpected consequences. This story reflects the complexities of China, describing simple events in a sophisticated, linguistically interesting narrative.

First lines

‘High columns and gleam and the drapes paper-white, the colour of mourning, and murmured conversations and sweat and several varieties of important people, whose definitions he can only guess at, who are mostly dressed in black, negative spaces marking off the histories and levels and types of white, and the absence of tears, the absence of wailing, nobody who seems to be a relative or close friend, midday outside but inside a late afternoon, the light confused and hazy, everyone’s breath rising and gathering in the high-ceilinged hall, this place is a city of its own (the same thought he had a month ago when he stumbled out of the train and there he was at last in Beijing West station)’

Kevin Wilson – Sanders for a Night

Kevin is the author of the novel The Family Fang, which has been published in over a dozen countries and was chosen as a Best Book of 2011 by several publications including Time, People and Esquire, and by Ann Patchett in Salon and Nick Hornby in The Guardian. It was featured on the TV Book Club in the UK, and is currently in pre-production as a feature film starring Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman.

His story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth won the Shirley Jackson Award, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, Tin House, One Story, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the KHN Center for the Art. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, with his wife, the poet Leigh Anne Couch, and their two sons, Griff and Patch. He is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at The University of the South.

Story Synopsis

A mother is horrified when a little boy wants to dress up as his dead older brother for Halloween. They must confront their grief and the impact of bereavement on their lives. This is an acute and moving insight into the way grief can affect family dynamics.

First lines

‘She was late. It was twenty minutes since Greg’s class had let out for the day and Marta was just now pulling up to the school’s entrance. She saw her son sitting on the steps with the principal, Mrs. Chambers, instead of the teacher who usually ran the pickup program.’

Daniel Woodrell – Johanna Stull

Daniel Woodrell was born in the Missouri Ozarks, where he still lives. He left school and enlisted in the Marines the week he turned seventeen, and received his BA at the age of twenty-seven. He also has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He is the author of eight novels including Winter’s Bone, the film of which was nominated for four Oscars in 2011, Woe to Live On, the basis for the film Ride with the Devildirectedby Ang Lee, and Tomato Red, which won the PEN West Award for fiction in 1999. Five of his novels have been selected as New York TimesNotable Books of the year. His most recent novel was The Maid’s Version, published by Sceptre in 2013.

Story Synopsis

Johanna Stull is is a dark story that explores all kinds of violence and one man’s internal struggle of conscience as he weighs up different kinds of justice.

First lines

‘Eugene’s partners have gathered on the gravel bar below the rapids at Tulla Bridge, where so many tourists in canoes take spills and lose watches, rings, cameras, sunglasses and so much else, adding their treasure to our riverbed, and Eugene wanted me there. He wants me along as his witness when he tells this bunch how he’s not worried about the mailman any more, that testimony won’t get said, and the cows can be moved to a sale barn in a few days or a week.’

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