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BBC National Short Story Award Panel Discussion

Sunday 27 Sep 5:00PM

Available for free on Charleston's YouTube channel.

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Free event, part of Small Wonder Festival at Home. Premieres on Sunday 27 September at 5pm (BST), on Charleston’s YouTube channel


Event link: BBC National Short Story Award Panel Discussion

An online panel discussion with Caleb Azumah Nelson and Eley Williams, two of the shortlisted writers from this year’s BBC National Short Story Award with judge and double shortlistee, Lucy Caldwell, chaired by the BBC’s Editor of Readings Di Speirs.

Now in its fifteenth year, the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University is one of the most prestigious for a single short story. From the short and pithy to the layered and literary, via robust poetics, family hierarchies and maligned youth, this year’s shortlist is the perfect reflection of all that can be achieved in few words. 

Each of the five stories in contention for the 2020 award will be broadcast each weekday afternoon on Radio 4 at 3.30pm from Monday 14 September. The winner will be announced live on the programme on Tuesday 6 October, and there will be a special edition of the Short Story podcast for each to download.

British-Ghanaian Caleb Azumah Nelson’s ‘Pray’ is a ‘vibrant, invigorating and agile’ story set over a summer in South East London. Charged with ‘wit, anger, affection and sorrow’, the story shows the reality for young black men navigating a world that ‘wasn’t built with us in mind’. With characters and dialogue so alive they reach out from the page, ‘Pray’ explores fear, injustice, masculinity, race and the origins of violence. Caleb’s eagerly anticipated debut novel Open Water recently sold in a nine-way auction and publishes in February 2021.

Eley Williams, Creative Writing Lecturer at Royal Holloway and winner of the James Tait Black Prize, is shortlisted for her surreal and succinct ‘Scrimshaw’. A ‘fresh, funny’ take on millennial relationships and the perils of modern smartphone communication, this ‘taut tale’ told via a late-night text session and inspired by the ‘literary nonsense’ of Edward Lear and Ivor Cutler, explores self-censorship, anxiety, attraction and the boundaries of language.


Lucy Caldwell was born in Belfast in 1981. She is the author of three novels, several stage plays and radio dramas, two collections of short stories (Multitudes’, 2016, and ‘Intimacies’, 2020), and is the editor of the anthology Being Various: New Irish Short Stories’ (Faber, 2019). Her stories have been widely anthologised and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4. Awards include the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the George Devine Award, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Imison Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Award, Commonwealth Writers’ Award (Canada & Europe), the Edge Hill University Short Story Prize Readers’ Choice Award, and a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018. She was previously shortlisted for the BBC NSSA in 2012 and 2019.



Di Speirs is the Books Editor, BBC Radio. She produced the first ever Book of the Week and has directed scores of Book at Bedtimes as well as dramas. She now leads the London Readings team and is the Editor for Open Book and Book Club on BBC Radio 4 and World Book Club on the BBC World Service. A long-time advocate of the formidable power of the short story, she has been closely involved in the BBC National Short Story Award since its inception sixteen years ago and is the returning judge on the panel. A regular literary judge including for the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017 and the International Dylan Thomas Prize in 2019, she has been a nominator twice for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative (Literature).


As part of Small Wonder Festival at Home, from 10am (BST), Friday 25 September – 10pm (BST), Sunday 27 September, Charleston is also exclusively showing online for free BBC Arena’s landmark documentary on T.S. Eliot, plus new poems and contemporary responses to the film. Find out more here

As a charity that receives no public funding, our current closure due to the Covid-19 crisis is financially devastating for Charleston. As you enjoy these events, please consider making a donation to Charleston’s Emergency Appeal.


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We’ve teamed up with Hive to bring you Small Wonder Festival at Home’s online bookshop: an edit of books from our featured events. A percentage of every sale on Hive supports an independent bookshop in the UK.


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