The Bristol SHort Story Prize, 2016

Imogen Cheetham

On the evening of Saturday 8th October, a very special event took place in the Bristol Central Library, as the shortlisted writers of the Bristol Short Story Prize came together with key literary figures here in Bristol to celebrate another successful year of the competition. After weeks of rigorous judging the best three writers were selected by the 2016 judging panel, consisting of Tania Hershman, Simon Key and Juliet Pickering.

The Bristol Short Story Prize was founded in 2007 and has since gone on to discover new talent from all over the world while providing a dedicated platform for the short story, a literary form that is becoming increasingly popular in our culture today. Hershman, an acclaimed short story writer herself and a Royal Literary Fund fellow at Bristol University, describes the genre as ‘a slap in the face, brief enough to devour in one sitting, leaving the reader gasping at what can be done in just a few pages’.

Last year’s anthology

The array of people at the awards ceremony gave testimony to how the competition has brought together people from all the stages of the creative process, as illustration students from the University of the West of England, who were responsible for the cover design of this year’s anthology, mingled with publishers from Bristol-based Tangent Books, who have printed the anthologies since the competition’s beginning.

 

Tim Shute’s cover for the 2016 anthology

Other interesting members of the crowd included guest speaker and award-winning writer Roshi Fernando, who provided a compelling speech questioning whether it is ever possible for stories to be wholly un-autobiographical, and Emma Crago, a volunteer co-ordinator for ‘The Reader’, a social enterprise working across all of Britain to connect people through shared reading. The evening proved what a strong literary community there is here in Bristol, available as a foundation of support for any upcoming writers.

After hearing about the dedicated length to which the judges went in sifting through the thousands of stories which were entered, the audience were pleased to hear that the winner of this year’s competition was Stefanie Seddon, the New Zealand-born writer who now lives in Tunbridge Wells, for her piece ‘Kãkahu’. Second place went to Tanner McSwain from Chicago (for ‘Red Sea’), and third to Kate Brown who lives in Berlin (for ‘Making Fists’). I interviewed Stephanie the next morning, and our conversation about her journey to success was both illuminating and inspiring.

 

2016 winner Stefanie Seddon (centre) with Tania Hershman (left)

Two years ago, Seddon switched from her previous career to study an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, the University of London, going on to win two short story competitions and with an array of exciting projects lined up for the future (which I am unable here to disclose). The value of doing an MA, she says, is having the opportunity to build such close working relationships with others. ‘Showing someone your writing is like showing them your diary’, she says, and developing friendships with like-minded people means that you can trust others with what you create.

For me, what distinguished ‘Kãkahu’ (a delicate, poignant tale about a young girl and her addict mother) as the winner was the way she so effectively conjured the atmosphere of her New Zealand upbringing. While the subject matter did not, she assured me, relate to her autobiographically, she says that the country of her youth has influenced her current writing through her sense of landscape and physical space. ‘Even if the story isn’t about your life, you have to be invested in it personally’; thus, in ‘Kãkahu’ she recreates the beach she would always go to, where ‘the waves came as a whisper…the air was spiced with sea kelp and cut wood; the sea and the forest all mixed together’.

 

Seddon’s acceptance speech

For Seddon, short stories start with a central object that defines the narrative. In ‘Kãkahu’ this is a colourful feathered cloak which the young girl steals from her school teacher, evidence of the rich New Zealand mythology which informs the story. Of equal importance, she says, is finding your feet with the first line; ‘if I struggle with the first line, I know I will struggle with everything else, but if it comes easily, then so will the rest of the story’.

Seddon’s achievements hold within them a lesson for anyone with a passion for writing; competitions like these exist all over the country, providing an opportunity to have your stories read by experienced and creative individuals who take active interest in searching for new talent. Although she modestly dismisses, as if it were nothing, the huge amount of initiative, creativity and hard work that all of this must have taken, the message remains clear; if you allow yourself the support of others and take the time to put yourself out there, you never know what just might happen.


Photography courtesy of Barbara Evripidou

To find out more about the Bristol Short Story Competition and how to enter in future, or to peruse and/or purchase past anthologies, visit their website here.

If you too author short stories and would like to see them published, but think yourself above receiving the £1000 cash prize of the BSSP, then please send them in, free of charge, to the team here at helicon.magazine@gmail.com

helicon.magazine@gmail.com

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