Alison Flood 

Costa adds short story award to its books prizes

Publishers hoping that Costas' prominence could provide 'breakthrough moment' for neglected genre
  
  

News that the Costa is to add a new short story category to its roster of awards this year has left the book industry hoping that this will prove a "breakthrough moment" for the genre.

The prize, which will be awarded to a single short story, was announced at the Costa book awards last night. Although the Costa short story award will run in association with the novel, first novel, biography, poetry and children's book prizes, the winner will not be competing for the overall Costa book of the year prize, won this year by Andrew Miller's novel Pure.

"Costa felt it was an appropriate time to look at the genre," said spokesperson Amanda Johnson. The new prize "gives Costa an opportunity to invest in and discover new writing and new writers and offer short story writers a wider audience and appreciation", she added. Further details will be announced later this year.

The UK and Ireland already play host to a range of short story prizes, from the €35,000 Frank O'Connor award, the world's richest for a short story collection, to the £15,000 BBC National Short Story award and the £30,000 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story award, both for a single story. Publishers and booksellers are hoping, however, that the popular reach of the Costa awards will attract new readers to the short story.

"A Costa for short stories could represent a breakthrough moment," said Lee Brackstone, publishing director at Faber & Faber and editor of Edna O'Brien's collection Saints and Sinners, which won last year's Frank O'Connor prize. "It will certainly, I hope, bring renewed vigour to the publishers, practitioners and readers who are committed to the unique artistry of the form … Perhaps there is something in the air. We have noticed excellent recent sales and critical attention for short story collections by writers such as Sarah Hall and Petina Gappah. But it is still a challenge to cultivate interest and excitement in a literary form that is somehow deemed inferior or less worthy than its more wordy sibling, the novel."

Francis Bickmore, who has just acquired a collection of short stories by Alasdair Gray for Canongate, agreed that "the short story form is having a renaissance of sorts at the moment, but it's a fact of life that short stories, like poetry, will generally be perceived by the book trade as something of a niche pursuit".

He called it "fantastic" news that the Costas "are doing something to help redress this balance", describing story collections as "essential" to the diversity of Canongate's list. "Just this week we have signed up Alasdair Gray for a book entitled Every Short Story, including 12 new stories from a modern master of the form. With people reading fiction via different media the short story has a real opportunity to flourish once again," he added.

Bookseller Jonathan Ruppin at Foyles felt the Costas would give the short story "a profile that obviously it doesn't get now it terms of prizes", but wasn't sure the new prize would be the turning point the short story needs.

"Every year there is always a new initiative to try and give the short story more coverage, more prominence – it's considered standard knowledge in the industry that British readers don't have so much of an appetite for the short story," he said. "I think [the new award] is entirely admirable, and of course we will support it, but I can't see there ever being a substantial shift in the market for short stories in the UK … Perhaps short stories don't get the depth of character and complexity of plot which appeals to British readers. There are relatively few authors in the UK who sell strongly because of their writing style. Most bestselling authors are principally loved for their storytelling ability."

 

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