Monday, 18 July 2011


The inaugural Bristol City celebration of the short story took place over the weekend, in the run-up to the announcement on Saturday evening of the winners of the 2011 Bristol Short Story Prize. Held at the Arnolfini Centre, right on the harbour, ShortStoryVille was a series of readings, panel discussions, interviews and general good stuff, all focussed on short fiction, in a spacious cinema, well lit stage, comfortable seats, a huge and perfect space for the event. Lovely café upstairs, excellent bookshop for buyings and signings - it was a real joy to be there. So many people I know, whose work I love – and meeting new writers – what could be better? A whole bunch turned up from the old Fiction Workhouse. (Stunning news from so many of the team who worked together a while back. See end.)

ShortStoryVille!!! First up was a panel – Janice Galloway, Alison MacLeod and Sarah Salway, chaired with aplomb, humour and verve by Bidisha.
The event sparkled with great readings from the three writers’ work – focussing on sex and general mayhem – and I loved in particular Alison wowing us with her unforgettable images of ball lightning, from her story ‘Discharge’. Sarah revisited ‘The Woman Downstairs’ (last read at her daughter’s school with unexpected results...) and Janice read from ‘Where You Find It’ – it is SO great hearing writers read their own work – especially when they do it as well as these three. Then ‘Crafty’ topics ranged from an exploration of their writing processes, to revision, to how long does it take, to structure – if that sounds dry, it was anything but. It became a celebration of the differences that lead to success. For example, Sarah will be working on multiple pieces of work at any one time - whereas Alison tends to have one on the go. But there were similarities too - they were all three ‘full of voices’ – Janice Galloway writes ‘to get the voices out of my head’. Janice, I’ve decided, is a sort of wise female Billy Connolly – she is so sharp, funny, and irreverent – I could have listened to her all day. When an audience member asked her whether she was musical – she agreed – seeing no division between music and words.
The event finished with a thunderous round of applause from an audience of mainly writers, I suspect, all fizzing with new enthusiasm, utterly inspired.
If I take just one of the many wonderful thoughts they shared, it is Sarah’s quiet acknowledgement that characters in strong short fiction have within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. Isn’t that just perfect, and a little shivery?

After a short break, there was another panel event, this time on the reading of the short story – chaired by Tania Hershman, who has donned stunning new shoes for the occasion, only to find that there was a table-cover that hid them...(but we did see them later when she read!) Panellists were Clare Hey of Shortfire Press , Scott Pack of the Friday project whose other blog 365 Stories is exploring a new short story every day for a whole year - he blogs here and lastly but not leastly David Hebblethwaite who reviews books and blogs about it here -
Those of us who write short fiction know you need a reader who is prepared to pay attention – as opposed to skimming for ‘what happens’. So it was fascinating to hear how these three experts approach reading a short story, what switches them on and off, whether they have any rituals, or preferred places to read them, how many they read, and so forth.
Clare Hey for example, says she knows within three sentences whether a story is worth reading - she is an experienced editor – really knows her stuff, check out Short Fire above– it is a lovely resource. And don’t we all know how very important are those opening lines? Scott Pack says he does a lot of short story reading on the loo, admitted to with much laughter - he also gives stories short shrift if they don’t grab him. (I hate to think what he does with the redundant pages...ahem...) and David enjoys reading anywhere/everywhere. This panel was a very valuable one – unusual to find this topic aired in such depth.

Then there was lunch – A chance to relax over a beer, and a chance to say hi to Clare Hey, and time to ask her to do a Q and A session for here, sometime.

The third event of the afternoon saw two stunning writers talking about their work. Stuart Evers (With whom I read at Brighton Fringe back in May) and Helen Oyeyemi. Oh wow. Both read – Stuart from his debut collection ‘Ten Stories About Smoking’, in its amazing ciggie box packaging from Picador – and
Helen read from her fourth book, ‘Mr Fox’. Which, by the way I am half way through. READ!!

Then into Choice Cuts – a chance to hear some local writers reading their work. Here was Tania H and finally those fab shoes! And here was Patricia Ferguson, Gareth Powell, Amy Mason, Sarah Hillary and a new writer Emma Newman. A terrific, inclusive and fab event compered by Bertel Martin.

Then, the event the whole afternoon had been leading to – the Bristol Short Story Prize: a glorious civic occasion, with the Mayor welcoming everyone to the prizegiving, and Bertel Martin, Chair of the judging panel giving the prizes. Last year's winner, Valerie O'Riordan actually introduced an event earlier in the day - but her piccie is here because it belongs here! It was a nail-biting few moments, as writers' names were called, those who had had work chosen for the anthology, as finalists from a strong field. Many many congratulations to Emily Bullock, whose story ‘My Girl’ won First Prize. here she is, with Alison Macleod, Bertel Martin and the Mayor of Bristol. More details about the prizewinners here on the Bristol Prize Website.
And then on to the bookshop, for a reception to celebrate not only the Prize but for this writer anyway, a celebration of the whole great event.

Cherry on the cake – remember a military historian called Jeremy Banning who took me to France earlier this year? (blogged here...) Turns out he and his wife are good friends with Joe Melia, Mr Bristol Short Story Prize himself, and his wife – so a lovely chance to say hello again. I’m planning a writers’ visit to Flanders, led by this wonderful guide, next year – contact me if you would like to come.

And finally -

Fiction Workhouse – this little group, closed, invitation only, (no beginners, troublemakers chucked out fast, life’s too short!) ran from spring 2007 – autumn 2009. And obviously, at Bristol we swapped news about the successes of members - novels, short story collections, agents, prizes –writers progressing, getting stronger - good good stuff, the product of hard work plus not a little talent. What a terrific team we were. Look at this lot:

Ben Buchholtz’s novel comes out later this year with Little, Brown.

Elaine won the Bridport Prize in 2009 ... she has an agent - watch this space.

Anna won a supplementary prize at Bridport 2009. Her agent loves her novel - watch this space.

Joel’s collection was shortlisted for the 2010 Scott Prize. He was also shortlisted for the inaugural Bristol Short Story Prize and shortlisted for the 2009 Southern Cross Literary Competition.

Susannah’s short story collection ‘Hot Kitchen Snow’ won the Scott Prize in 2010. She has an agent.

Sarah has a top crime agent and keeps on doing exciting things – watch this space...

Tania’s collection ‘The White Road and other Stories’ was commended by the judges of the Orange Prize for New Writers in 2009. She is writer-in residence at Bristol Uni Science Faculty.

Valerie O won the 2010 Bristol Prize

Sara’s novel in progress was chosen as one of the four finalists in the Faber/Book Tokens Not Yet Published Award, and she is the winner of Waterstone's 2009 Bookseller's Bursary.

John H’s short story collection was shortlisted for the Scott Prize 2011 – he has won a place to study for an MFA in San Francisco.

Me, and 'The Coward's Tale', soon!

And I'm sure there are other successes for Workhousers - Let me know if you know of more that belong in this list, of if I've got the details upside down, it wouldn't be the first time!

Update - from Chelsey Flood via email (edited by me) : "I completed my MA at UEA, an extract of my novel, 'Silverweed', was awarded the Curtis Brown Prize for 'best writing' as chosen by a panel of CB agents. I have since got an agent... Catherine Clarke at Felicity Bryan. My novel is YA. In March I was awarded funding from the Arts Council to complete my novel, and have just finished the second draft. I also won a place on the Arvon/Jerwood Mentoring Scheme - I was mentored by Bernardine Evaristo."

so many congrats to Chelsey...

Another update: Jo Cannon's marvellous collection Insignificant Gestures, came out this year. Nominated for both Edge HIll and Frank O'Connor Prizes - a fab collection of short stories. Many apologies to Jo for missing this one - I only endorsed it... blame my brain at the moment.

Credit - All the photographs in this post were taken by Sylvie Kruiniger.


  1. How exciting to hear all this good news. I'm so glad the event went so well!

  2. Thank you for such a brilliant write up, and all those pictures. It all looks wonderful, I'm very envious. That BSSP lot are clever and lovely...

  3. Brilliant stuff! Such a busy bunch...

  4. Great post, V. Wish I had been there! Maybe next year.

  5. Wonderful write-up, thanks, V! I really loved every moment of ShortStoryVille - can't wait to do it all again next year.

  6. Sounds great. Wish I could have made it. And as for Fiction Workhouse, I'm all for encouraging everyone to start writing, but I'd love to get involved with something like that. No beginners, no time wasters, troublemakers chucked out fast.... Sounds like heaven. But I feel mean and snobby wanting it!

  7. Nop, Neil, you sound serious. It was a good formula. It's still there, on the web, full of craft articles, and prompts, and and and - One day I will reopen it!

  8. V. Please, please start it again or reopen it or whatever. I know in the past that I've learnt so much from workshops, but I tend to avoid them these days. I went to one recently and found myself giving straight-faced answers to questions such as: 1/ how long should my novel be? 2/ what do you mean "viewpoint"? 3/ will men like my book?

    Like I said, I don't want to sound like I'm putting myself above other writers - that's for my readers to decide - and I feel bad about mentioning my frustrations here in case anyone who was in that workshop with me reads it. But I know from experience that, for me, maybe the biggest benefit of workshopping is not getting feedback on my own work but giving feedback on the work of others. If that work is just impossible to engage with, then I'm stumped.

    Moan over.

  9. Neil, drop me a line via the website, if you want to natter via email - I won't open FW at this point - too busy to have another drain on the time. But I am more than happy to let you know exactly how I set it up, and why, and what the process of working was.

  10. very envious, sounds like a great event and much positive energy, congratulations to all! Hope to participate next year with a few more stories under my belt. ciao cat