From September 16 to 23, Radio 4 have interviewed the shortlisted authors for the BBC National Short Story Competition on Front Row, following with an extract of their short story the next day. There are five shortlisted authors (all women, interestingly) and their stories are incredibly diverse, but also feature some similar themes.
My favourite stories were by Hilary Mantel and Tahmina Aham. Mantel’s story, ‘In A Right State’, focuses on a homeless woman spending her evenings in A&E, simply because it is somewhere warm to go. She is not the only one with this idea and the regulars, or ‘habitués’, discuss a range of topics, irritating and intriguing the other ‘real’ patients. Despite the content matter, the story is quite drily humorous at times; a woman who keeps vomiting “looked thoughtful… and green”. However, the underlying political messages cannot be ignored.
Tahmina Aham’s story, ‘Garments’ documents the internal workings of a textiles factory in Bangladesh through exploring the lives of three female workers. In a similar way to Mantel, there is a political message – the appalling conditions often present in these factories, and Front Row’s interview with Aham reveals her intention to remember the dreadful collapse of the Rana Plaza in 2013. In such a short story, messages about Bangladeshi culture are also driven home, for instance: the way marriage is seen as a liberating but also highly oppressive force, which makes for interesting food-for-thought.
The other three shortlisted writers are Claire-Louise Bennett, Lavinia Greenlaw and K J Orr, all who, in my opinion, have deservedly made it to the final. The focus on this competition by Radio 4 has shown how radio can be used to promote literature and how radio can be used as an entertainment platform. The latter is especially important now when the popularity of radio is far less compared to that of television or online platforms. The episodic format has meant that listeners feel compelled to tune in to the next programme to hear the story attached to the interview the night before. This has allowed a ‘buzz’ to form around the award, meaning that many people will be anxious to find out who ultimately wins on October 4 – I will certainly be tuning in!
Image: geralt @ Pixabay