The inaugural Spread the Word short story prize was celebrated with a panel, Prosecco and of course readings.
Bidisha and Tania Hershman (two of the three judges) were on the panel, chaired by Paul Sherreard, and they created a really friendly and informative space for the event.
It was interesting that one of the replies to the (impossible) question - what makes a great short story - was that the reader feels an effortlessness by the author. That the story has been told in exactly the right sequence and words - everything that's said is what needs to be said, no more no less - and there is no obvious over-working authorliness.
(That's not a direct quote of course - usually I do take some notes during these sessions, but I was so happy listening, like you are at a good dinner party, that I didn't want to disturb the vibe with my notebook).
So to me the judges' discussion was a similar success, as an honest and informal conversation between articulate champions of the short story form.
I particularly liked the Tania Hershman test of a good story: it has to have an impact; you need to feel like you've ben hit. Maybe not quite left black and blue, but you want to feel like you've gone through something and it stays with you. Again, for me the evening had the same outcome.
Bidisha read an extract of her short story, 'Dust', published in the anthology Too Asian, Not Asian Enough and Tania read 'Her Dirt' from her collection, my mother was an upright piano.
Not sure if there was a deliberate theme there ladies? But the theme for the short story competition was 'RITUAL'.
Sue Lawther, Director of Spread the Word, arrived late to the event, with a very fine excuse. She'd been at the decision-making discussion selecting the winner of the inaugural Young Poet Laureate, to be announced by Carol Ann Duffy in the Houses of Parliament on National Poetry Day next week. And no, she didn't give anything away. But she arrived to present the winning prize to the very talented and exciting Clare Fisher.
Clare is working on a collection, 'The City in my Head' and the extract of her winning story that we heard was a powerful example of the judges' earlier comments about when it works: the voice is strong and confident from the opening word, and though we didn't get to hear all of it I'm sure that it has the Tania Hershman seal of success.
We'll all be able to buy the anthology of the shortlisted stories when Spread The Word launches their publishing venture. ON SHELVES FOR CHRISTMAS - beautiful print and online editions. (nb. I have no investment in this venture, I just feel strongly about this organisation that does so much for new and emerging writers).
So I met a poet, a playwright, a short story award winner who it turns out I'd seen at several Word Factory events, and thought the sign of a great night was having to be ushered out so that the bookshop could actually close!
Thanks Spread the Word and Foyles for a great night, and congratulations to those who entered and were shortlisted in the competition. It's one for others to look out for next year - dates and details apparently to be released soon.