Short story award draws up starry shortlist

Junot Diaz

Junot Díaz, Sarah Hall, Ali Smith and Mark Haddon contend for £30,000 prize, as Alison Flood reports for London’s Guardian.     

A look at teenage boys’ “difficult-to-categorise” sexual relationships with older women from the Pulitzer prize-winning Dominican American author Junot Díaz is up against entries from the cream of the British literary scene on the shortlist for the £30,000 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank short story prize.

The award, the biggest in the world for a single short story, pits Díaz against Sarah Hall, Toby Litt, Ali Smith, Mark Haddon and Cynan Jones. Díaz’s story Miss Lora investigates what the author called the “awful ambivalence” of our attitudes towards boys having sex with older women. “Because we think of adolescent boys – especially teenagers of colour – as already hypersexualised we tend not to consider these kind of relationships as criminal and abusive as we do similar relationships that involve teenage girls,” said Díaz of his story, while Hall also looks at the power of unusual sexual relationships in Evie. Judge Sarah Waters described Hall’s story as “a deeply disturbing read, at once seductive and challenging – challenging, in part, precisely because it’s so seductive”.

Haddon’s The Gun, and Jones’s The Dig, both consider the implications of violence, Haddon looking at the events that ensue when two boys steal a gun, and Jones’s story taking on a teenager and his father digging out badgers for baiting. Litt was inspired by his mother’s death for Call it “The Bug” Because I Have No Time to Think of a Better Title, in which the narrator tells the story he would have written if he were not visiting his terminally ill mother. Smith’s The Beholder is told by a depressed narrator who develops inexplicable symptoms. “Is it a metaphor? Is the heroine … losing her mind?” asked judge Joanna Trollope of Smith’s story. “Or is she, in fact, finding it … We don’t know. But we want to. Intriguingly this isn’t a mad story but rather a very moving one. And it is really, really beautifully written.”

Andrew Holgate, literary editor of the Sunday Times, called the line-up “such an exciting shortlist, with some really gritty and varied subjects tackled with great skill by some world-renowned authors”. He is joined on the judging panel by the novelists Andrew O’Hagan, Lionel Shriver, Trollope and Waters.

“The short story used to be the orphan of prose fiction – a bit unloved, a bit uncelebrated,” said O’Hagan. “But this year’s entries for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank short story award demonstrate just how the form has grown up to be something spectacular and super-confident.”

The shortlist

• “Miss Lora” by Junot Díaz
• “The Gun” by Mark Haddon
• “Evie” by Sarah Hall
• “The Dig” by Cynan Jones
• “Call It ‘The Bug’ Because I Have No Time to Think of a Better Title” by Toby Litt
• “The Beholder” by Ali Smith

For the original report go to

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