‘The broad and distinctive range of voices in this year’s ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award made for a spirited and passionate debate, and one that showed the dynamism and singularity of these short stories.’
Broad, distinctive, singular… to me, this is one of the joys of the short form – how it can encompass such variety around surprising individuality. It’s something I hope my collection ‘Trouble Crossing the Bridge’ shows, with an underlying theme, while consisting of a melting-pot of personalities, setting and plot.
My story, ‘Whale Watching’, is in the collection, and it is one of the stories author Stuart Evers was referencing in the quote above, when it was chosen to be on the shortlist of the competition he was judging – the 2020 Royal Society of Authors ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, given to the ‘best and most promising voices of the year.’
No wonder my shortlisting was totally unexpected!
True, this story had been recognised before, when it won the 2019 Chipping Norton Festival prize, with judge Nicholas Royle calling it ‘masterful’. But, in the past, the ALCS award had featured so many critically-acclaimed authors, such as Alison MacLeod, Benjamin Myers and – one of my favourites – Carys Davies… so what chance did I have? What chance did ‘Whale Watching’ have, in a year when other Society shortlistings dealt with hard-hitting themes such as war, race, gender-identity, the climate crisis – and this at a time of an unprecedented pandemic?
‘All’ it’s about is an ordinary woman, who thinks she has seen something extraordinary in her childhood – a famous actor disappearing across the Irish sea, tied to the side of a white whale – which becomes the obsession of her life. But isn’t that what stories are for – to describe other people, in their common or strangest guises, and to show how they deal with life’s vicissitudes; to create empathy, succeeding if the reader is made to feel for these unlikely characters, whatever their faults or delusions? It’s something I believe in, anyway, and something I try to accomplish in the stories in my collection.
Well, Stuart Evers and fellow-judge Michele Roberts must have appreciated at least a little of my intention, because, although I didn’t win, they did choose me as the runner-up, which was even more unexpected than the shortlisting, and I am still thrilled and honoured, both for myself and for ‘Whale Watching’.
And I’m so glad it will soon be available to read in ‘Trouble Crossing the Bridge’.
But of course, many congratulations to the winner, Wendy Riley, and many thanks to the judges, the ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust and the Society of Authors, for these inspiring awards, ‘by authors for authors’.