Thursday 4 October 2012, 14:20
Editor's note: The International Short Story Award winner was announced this week. Here, Editor of Readings Di Speirs talks about the awards. Find out more on the ISSA webpages. PMcD
And so to Freeword on Wednesday night for the 2012 BBC International Short Story Award announcement which was live on Front Row, hosted by the always knowledgeable and enthusiastic John Wilson, in front of a packed audience of writers, agents, publishers and guests, as well as the doughty souls from Booktrust and the London Readings Unit who keep the award running smoothly every year.
This is the third time the Award has been held at The Freeword Centre in Farringdon and it feels a very appropriate space to celebrate the best of short story writing, given the belief in the power of the written word there. It's always a little tense in the run up; perhaps because we had six of our ten short-listed writers present, some of whom had come from as far as Australia and South Africa to be there, the tension was even more palpable than usual last night.
Of course it's the one moment when being on the short-list may feel a little double-edged for some. There's the obvious agonising over whether or not your story has won, coupled with anxiety about either not preparing any speech so as not to tempt fate - or getting caught out and having to ad lib. And of course in the excitement it is also possible to forget any carefully planned words anyway. Last night, watching the faces of the writers as they heard clips of themselves and their stories and counted down the minutes - and they really had no idea what was coming! - I had a momentary worry that this was almost cruel.
And yet the reception once the announcement was made was hugely generous from everyone. Contrary to those suspicious of literary back-biting on such occasions, every writer I spoke to afterwards was full of enthusiasm for the award, for the short story and for the winner. They all felt the journey worthwhile and that being part of what is a genuinely cohesive short-list was a spur to their writing.
And it would take a heart of stone not to have been moved by Miroslav Penkov's utter astonishment and absolute delight at being crowned the winner of the 2012 BBC Award. Indeed Kyoko his wife came close to a dead faint with shock! It was an emotional moment seeing a great word-smith who had already told various people that being on the short-list was more than he could have hoped for and who had been so generous about the quality and strength of his fellow writers, almost lost for words as he accepted the award.
In this year when the world has come to London to compete in harmony in many spheres, it felt absolutely right that we had a Bulgarian writer, who now lives and writes in the US but is heavily rooted in the Balkans, and who is married to a Japanese Maths Professor as our winner and a South African, Henrietta Rose-Innis, as the runner up. And that a story, East of the West, which is part about boundaries and barriers but equally about love and friendship across the water, should be the winner.
Di Speirs is Editor of Readings for Radio 4
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