Judge’s Report 2023

Farhana Shaikh

Many thanks to Farhana Shaikh for her close reading of all the twenty stories on the BSSA 2023 shortlist and for her thoughtful comments on all the winning pieces.

Farhana’s Comments

As writers, we know what a short story is made up of: character, plot, dialogue, setting, tone, voice and so forth. But for readers, it is always something more than these component parts. It is an escape. It is a pause. It is an experience. A chance to learn. Laugh. Explore.

The writers shortlisted in this year’s Bath Short Story Award have understood this: that each component part must work in harmony, be in service to a story that must entertain.

This didn’t help me when presented with the challenge of picking a winner from 20 outstanding stories because each of them is successful in achieving what it sets out to and therefore worthy of the top prize.

So I approached this task as a reader, not a judge. I took these 20 short works with me on holiday where I read under the scorching sun in thirty five degrees heat. I read and re-read, mulled and meditated, napped and settled on 5 stories. I came home and revisited the list. Here, in the broody will-it-or-won’t-it-rain summer I read all the stories again with a closer eye which only made the task more difficult than it was.

In my selection I have chosen the stories that resonated with me, the ones that having read them for a third or fourth time still surprise me in some way; where I found something beautiful, quiet, raw, that let me forget just for a moment that it was forecast to rain for the whole of next week. So, these are the stories that stuck with me, and didn’t quite let go. When you read them in the 2023 Bath Short Story Anthology, I hope you find as much joy in them as I do. Find out more about the winners on our winners’ post here

1st Prize

‘The Language of Remembering’

‘The Language of Remembering’ is a beautifully told story that intrigued me from the beginning. I really love the way the author plays with language, time and memory. The choice of second person works so well in helping to guide us through the story – moment by moment. We know something has happened but we don’t quite know what and as the story unfolds and reveals itself to us I think what surprised me was just how powerful it was. It deserves your attention and a second reading!

2nd Prize


This was my runner-up because for me, it was the story that had a pitch perfect voice all the way through. I was taken in by the first person and even though we’re often warned about repetition – I like that this writer was bold in sticking with their choices. The story is confident, knowing exactly what it is and never straying from its vision. And maybe I liked it more because I’m a rebel and I realise just how many ‘rules’ it broke. It was strange yet familiar and yes, it made me feel good!

3rd Prize

‘He’ll Take Good Care of Her’

This is a tender, quiet story that is acutely observed. It really packs in so much emotion with such few words. It felt familiar to me both culturally and in the challenge of being a daughter navigating a relationship with ageing parents. I wonder if the characters – which were so clear to me – are really part of a bigger story or could be developed into something more.

Highly Commended

A wonderfully stylish story. There is a funny, moving but comical way that it is told and written and I was in awe of the author’s originality.

‘The Owl Tamer’
Another story told in second person that intrigued me. Told in parts – and covering a longer time period than all the other stories on the list – I was lulled by the conviction of its prose.

BSSA notes:

We are delighted to award our local prize to ‘Breathwork’, highly commended by Farhana Shaikh.

Our Acorn Award for a writer of unpublished fiction goes to
‘Why We Don’t Talk About Trumpets’

BSSA team member, Alison Woodhouse, commented:

‘Why We Don’t Talk About Trumpets’ is a wonderfully inventive story charting the rise and collapse of a doomed relationship mired in projection and self deception (the use of the second person is particularly pertinent).Clever, funny and moving, this is a remarkable first publication.