Judges’ Comments, BSSA 2022

Just under 1000 entries were submitted to the 2022 Award and we thank our dedicated and enthusiastic group of initial readers for helping the team arrive at a longlist of fifty. From there it was a difficult task for us to find the shortlist of twenty brilliant stories which we sent to our final judge, writer, editor and teacher, Paul McVeigh Thank you very much to him for making his selections and for his comments below. The BSSA team’s comments on the stories selected for The Acorn Award for an unpublished writer of fiction and The Local Prize are also included at the end of Paul’s report. We’re looking forward to reading all the winning and shortlisted stories in print in our ninth paperback anthology, which will be launched in November, 2022.

Judge’s Comments by Paul McVeigh

When judging, I read all the stories and then re-read those I have shortlisted from the original shortlist. At this point a number of the stories could win (in fact, on different days there’s often a different winner) and you are reading to whittle down further. Then a story stands out, in this case ‘Dead Dog’, because it actually gets better with each read. The 2022 shortlist was strong. It speaks to the reputation of the Bath Short Story Prize that the stories had such variety in genre, plot and style with impressive quality and I very much enjoyed reading them.

‘Dead Dog’, the first prize, is such an accomplished story it had me intrigued as to who the author was. I wanted to hear their story. ‘Dead Dog’ is at times absurd and darkly funny and, at others, moving and thoughtful. Some stories start strong then fade but ‘Dead Dog’ sustains surprise right up until the end. The author does an impressive job of threading a number of strands and tones into one tight tale. I will read it again.

‘The Ghosts That Dance Between Us’, the second prize, is haunting, mysterious and wise. It has sentences that read like lines of poetry. The story conjures a strange world and transports you into it. I’m drawn to stories where I have to think, where I have to work out what’s happening, I love that relationship with the author. I can’t say for sure that I understood the story completely but that drew me into it further. It is a story that has stayed with me and I think it will stay with you too.

‘Stick People’, the third prize, manages to bring us back to the millenium NYE, take us to India and its (in)famous train experience, while capturing accurately the strain on a young couple travelling together. We discover that this strain is more than just the irritation of tired travellers, there is heartbreaking loss at its core. A story so believably rendered.

Commended: I loved the voice of the narrator in ‘Nobody Believes a Woman Named Joanne’. I loved the rawness, the emotional register of the character – so strong yet so vulnerable.

Commended: ‘Indian Tree’. I commended this because the first half of the story is really quite something. It manages an extremely difficult thing, which is to descibe the impact of a bomb, capturing all its horror. The author makes it seem so real and spares us none of the gore and human destruction.

BSSA Team Comments:

The Acorn Award for an Unpublished Writer of Fiction: ‘Acts of Love on the 17.22 from Bristol Temple Meads’

We warmed to Iris, a ticket collector who looks out for her commuters, at the heart of this satisfying character-driven story. Told from multiple viewpoints, the passenger’s relationships and Iris’s backstory are revealed through a clever relay of overlapping and sometimes contradictory observations, as the train speeds along.

Local Prize: ‘Starling Boy’

What an exuberant and original use of language, with echoes of the beat poets and Dylan Thomas. This story hurtles along but, at its core, is the sad tale of a young lad and his alcoholic mother – all the more poignant when buried in an explosion of the sights and sounds of school life.