Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Frank O'Connor Award

I was four years old when I saw a child playing the violin on television. Afterwards, I pestered my parents for lessons. I don't remember the television programme or the pestering, but I do remember playing the violin. I spent thousands of hours practising, taking exams and playing in various orchestras throughout my childhood and adolescence.

When I was seven my violin teacher decided I was ready to play in my first music festival. My mother made me wear my best dress, something I did every time I performed or took a music exam (even in the very last music exam I took aged 17 - grade 8 piano: me, my sheet music and my best dress). I think my mother hoped that, in the event of a terrible musical cock up, I might at least get some marks for making an effort to look nice (a few years ago I had an MA interview at Oxford University and her advice remained the same, wear a nice dress: I didn't, and I wasn't offered a place - nothing to do with the way I was dressed, sadly).

When we got to the music festival my name wasn't in the programme. There'd been a mistake and I hadn't been entered. I was the youngest person present (and I was wearing my best dress) so they let me play and I was subsequently disqualified.

There were other festivals - I even got to play my violin in the Albert Hall on one, heady occasion. I probably learned some good, early lessons as a result of my disqualification: rules are rules, mistakes happen and best dresses aren't a panacea.


The Frank O'Connor longlist was released a week ago. The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award is the single biggest prize in the world for a collection of short stories in English. Every eligible, entered collection is longlisted and that makes the longlist a showcase for short story collections from around the world in any given year. The Frank O'Connor is a huge prize and big names win (as you'd expect: big names are big because they're brilliant) so for writers like me the exciting thing is to be longlisted alongside the best practitioners of the craft.

Sweet Home should be on the longlist, but there was an administrative mix up with the publisher's distributors and it wasn't entered. I feel extremely *______* (insert grumpy words here) about this, but I'm still really interested in this year's Frank O'Connor Award.

I've read a little over 10% of the longlisted collections, something I'll attempt to rectify during the summer, after I've finished redrafting my novel. I've enjoyed every collection I've read, but I'm particularly fond of Hitting Trees With Sticks by Jane Rogers and Adam Marek's The Stone ThrowerI'd be delighted to see either on the shortlist.

Of the books I haven't read, I'm especially looking forward to The Tenth of December by George Saunders, Emma Donoghue's Astray, The Peacock Cloak by previous Edge Hill Prize winner, Chris Beckett, The Pre-War House and Other Stories by Booker shortlistee Alison Moore and Hassan Blasim's The Iraqi Christ.

To get an idea of the variety of the 2013 longlist take a look at this gorgeous book cover quilt graphic. Don't the books look beautiful? The shortlist will be decided in late May and the winner will announced in July.

Check out Robaroundbooks for coverage of the Frank O'Connor Award, the Edge Hill Prize and general, lovely, short story goodness. 


  1. That is big of you, Carys. Contact the organisers and see if they will consider a late entry?

  2. I feel cheated by proxy. I've really enjoyed reading your stories (The Redemption of Galen Pike moved me to tears, yet left me grinning with delight. No mean feat,) and it's a crying shame (and I don't care if that's a cliché) that you're not there too. I'd be gutted. Your magnanimity is admirable, but I feel your... grumpiness... It will be of little consolation, but I've just bought your book and facebooked and tweeted this post. F*^k the prizes is what I say!

  3. Lindsay, it was so kind of you to buy the book, but The Redemption of Galen Pike was by the brilliant Carys Davies, not me. Her blog is here:

    I do hope you enjoy the book, though :)

    I've made some pretty good cock ups of my own - like the time I sent my oldest son to school dressed in a bed sheet and a paper leaf crown - he was 10 years old and Roman day was the following week. These things happen (at least they do to my kids!).

    1. What an eejit... Sorry...forgive me please... Oh well... All's well that ends well and all that... I have your book now :)

    2. PS... I did enjoy 'My brother is Missing,' on Litro, so I'm not a complete numpty, just a bit of one!

    3. Don't worry about it Lindsay! :)

  4. I didn't realise that the longlist was supposed to feature every eligible book in a given year (I learn something new everyday) but even then I was surprised that Sweet Home didn't feature. Having read you collection recently it would certainly feature on my shortlist were I one of the judges. It's a gripping and heartfelt collection and while I have favourites, I was impressed by each and every story in there. It really feels cohesive as a group of stories. Plus, your recent featuring on Charles May's blog had me snagging a Collected Stories of Carol Shields so you also put me on to a writer I had thus far not really read. For this reader, Sweet Home is most definitely on that longlist, in spangly type and bright colours.

  5. Thanks Dan! I'm very much hoping to see your collection there next year (fingers crossed).

    Oh, and you *must* read Carol Shields' novel 'The Stone Diaries' - one of my favourite books ever!

  6. I know exactly how you feel, this happened to me with 'The Testament of Jessie Lamb', someone failed to enter it for the Orange prize. It's really kind - and graceful - of you to mention 'Hitting Trees', in the circumstances; thankyou!
    Just ordered 'Sweet HOme' from Salt, but while we are on the topic of being forgotten, you might want to chase them to put you on their author list, I couldn't find you there under B.
    Guess we wouldn't be writers if we weren't moaning about publishers!

  7. Thanks for buying Sweet Home, Jane! And congratulations on your shortlisting for the Edge Hill Prize.