Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology
Vol. 4
by Various Authors

Bristol Review of Books 2011

"There was a place she called home a long time ago, close to where Syria and Turkey meet like waves lapping sand. Aleppo, the silk route city. Her first memory is colourful scarves. Magenta and turquoise and gold. Navy and crimson and daffodil. Colours soft, colours pungent, bright, aching. Smelling of overripe fruit and new leaves."
(Laura Lewis, Reading Turkish Coffee)

Reviewed by Emma Young

Volume 4 of the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology provides a diverse collection of voices and stories. What was particularly inspiring to see was the range of experience, the mix of stories by men and women and the different perspectives from which all of these writers were approaching the genre. The success of women writers, achieving first, second and third prize, I felt, highlights the prominence of women’s success and connection with the genre itself.

All of these stories are beautifully written and offer a plethora of themes, styles and motifs that could be discussed here. However, I will focus on just two: My Girl by Emily Bullock and Open Mike Night by Robert Perry.

First prize was awarded to Emily Bullock’s story My Girl and it is easy to see why. The narrative, and title, emphasize the bond between mother and daughter but do so in an unusual way and via an unexpected setting. The narrative voice is that of the mother who opens with "My job is to stop the blood, cool her off, wash her down. Who knows her better than her own mum?" and the initial image that springs to the mind is one of an ill daughter and caring mother nursing her back to health.

However, Bullock soon challenges the stereotype the description provokes in the readers’ mind as the mother is caring for her daughter, but her daughter is a fighter and the following story is one that describes a fight night. The images that follow are of men cheering at "the bikini bulging girl" and of a young woman who defies social constructs regarding the body and "feminity". It is a wonderfully crafted story that portrays the dedication and love of a mother who poetically realizes at the end – sometimes you are not the hero in your own story.

Within the following stories one of the non-prizewinning pieces that really stood out to me was Open Mike Night by Robert Perry. This story was one of the shortest in the collection and it certainly testifies to the idea that just as you should not judge a book by its cover you should not judge a short story by its length! A youthful tale of love emerges from the page as the story builds to the climax of a poetry reading at open mike night. The description of the setting conjures an image so real that you can picture yourself in the hall watching the show as the poem is read and the images of "Amander" play across the screen. My heart was almost "in my mouth" as the saying goes whilst reading this and the climax to the story certainly shatters the hope of a beautiful love story. Upon revealing the specially made t-shirt that exclaims "I love Amander Forever" the story succinctly concludes: "She tells me I have spelt her name incorrectly". It is impossible not to smile a wry smile or let a delicate chuckle out at this moment as the humour of the situation pervades the page. For me, this story reminded me of the ability of the short story to capture those odd, unique and comical moments in life and transport them to others.

I have only discussed two of the twenty stories in this collection but I would strongly encourage anybody to read them all. It is a wonderful selection that reflects the great talent of contemporary short story writers and emphasizes the fact that the short story is still alive and kicking today. I will certainly be eagerly anticipating the publication of Volume five and being able to read another unique collection in 2012!


Emma Young is a PhD student at the University of Leicester working on her thesis: Contemporary Women’s Writing and the Short Story Genre. Her work explores the implications of gender and genre by discussing the work of numerous contemporary British women authors including Ali Smith and Rose Tremain and considers the implications of new digital technology on the status and future of the short story.

Emma's other Short Reviews: Lorrie Moore "Like Life"

Gemma Seltzer "Speak to Strangers"
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Authors Ruth Brandt, Emily Bullock, Timothy Bunting, Ian Burton, John Fairweather, Niven Govinden, Eluned Gramich, Naomi Lever, Laura Lewis, Miha Mazzini, Paul O'Reilly, Nastasya Parker, Robert Perry, Philip St John, Genevieve Scott, Safia Shah, Melanie Whipman, Peter Winder, Laura Windley and Rachael Withers 

The Bristol Short Story Prize is an annual event which accepts stories on any theme or subject. It celebrates new and innovative writing in the short story genre and is supported by the Lottery Funded Arts Council, Waterstones, Foyles and Venue Magazine.