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Britain's best short story

Clare Wigfall has been announced as the winner of the BBC National Short Story Award for her story The Numbers.

More than 600 authors competed for the 15,000 prize.

Last week the five authors on the award shortlist spoke to Today about their inspiration. The stories are being read in full on Radio 4.

CLARE WIGFALL
Clare Wigfal


The Numbers is the story of a woman with a preoccupation with the number 8, who counts to protect her from bad luck.

The story is set in the Outer Hebrides and is infused with the folk law and superstitions of the area.

The inspiration for the story came from American anthropologist Margret Fay Shaw, who visited the Outer Hebrides in the 1920s and stayed until her death at the age of 101, investigating the traditions of the region.

Author Clare Wigfall has never been to the Outer Hebrides herself, preferring to use writing to satisfy her wanderlust.

"I'm always worried that someone will tell me I've got things wrong," she says.

RICHARD BEARD

Richard Beard

Guidelines for Measures to Cope with Disgraceful and Other Events is the story of a fledgling MEP with a mistress in Strasbourg and a Russian blackmailer.

Author Richard Beard explained that the inspiration for the story was a document for Japanese public officials of the same title.

He hoped to explore the idea that "if you have the right systematic approach, any public figure can somehow get round the back of public disgrace".

Beard has published several novels and believes that the process was a good apprenticeship in writing with the precision needed for a good short story.

And what it is about the short story format that attracted him to it?

"It's shorter and novels are very difficult to write," he says.

ERIN SOROS
ERIN SOROS
Surge is the story of a boy and deaf sister from a small coastal town in British Columbia who climb to the top of a 300ft look-out tower in a remote logging station.

Author Erin Soros grew up on the West coast of Canada and wrote the short story while away from the area, partly to remind herself of its natural beauty.

She hoped to describe "the visceral effect of trees that are 1,000 years old and the ocean crashing into the beach where you have the mountains coming right down to the coast".

As well as a simple story about "the risks and betrayals of childhood", Soros also hoped to communicate the way in which children are caught up in a history over which they have no control.

JANE GARDAM
Jane Gardam

The People of Privilege Hill is the story of a group of people going out to lunch on a rainy day in Dorset whose lives are changed forever by an series of extraordinary events.

Author Jane Gardam's work often features people in the later stages of their lives, but she insists that she does not write with old people in mind.

"I just write about characters," she says.

Gardam has twice been awarded the Whitbread prize and once shortlisted for the Booker prize. Does this nomination mean anything to her?

"Absolutely. I think its wonderful that this award is happening. For the short story, it's unique," she says.

ADAM THORPE
Adam Thorpe

A Swedish student, traversing the French countryside in 1975, buys an old bottle whose label is covered with a dozen signatures.

Discovering the reason for those faded scribbles becomes a life-crippling obsession for the bottle's new owner - one that eventually reveals a brutal wartime tale of cold-blooded murder.

Author Adam Thorpe insists that his short story The Names is "a love story" based on a real events, with plenty of embellishments.

When asked about whether the British are obsessed by war, he says the opposite is true:

"We tend to try to obscure and even forget the past, when in fact the past is with us all the time, and it's the job of the short story or fiction writer to explore that past."




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