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10 JUDGES, 10 YEARS: Kit de Waal

Kit de Waal was one of five judges on the Sunday Times Short Story Award in 2019. She shares her thoughts and tips on writing a 'fat-free' short story, where every word has to earn its place...

How do you think the Award benefits the short story?

Awards are important for all writers. It gives us deadlines, word limits, themes often and something to aim for. And if you get any recognition at all, it’s the most marvellous feeling to know your skill and effort has been recognised.

What qualities do you especially admire that are showcased in the short story form?

There’s no fat in a short story – or at least there shouldn’t be. Every word has to earn its place and contribute to the whole. Editing skills are essential but also you have to find the exact word, the exact phrase – nearly won’t do.

Why is the short story important today? What about it do you think should be most celebrated?

The short story should be celebrated because it’s the earliest form of writing after oral storytelling. It’s what we all do in any event – we tell short stories about our holidays, our broken hearts, our grief, our loss and sometimes, just the story of our day. The best writers can make a whole world in a few hundred words, make a lifetime out of a thousand.

What would be your One Top Tip for writing short fiction?

My top tip for writing short fiction would be to find the heart of the story, the bit of it that moves you every time you think of it, the bit that without it, the story would fall apart. Then model your story around it until it almost disappears, until it’s like a vicious underwater current that sweeps you away unawares. That’s the skill of the writer, to move the reader from here to there without them realising how you did it.

What would be an example of ‘the perfect short story’ written by another writer?

No-one will have heard of this but it’s a story called Mannington May be Mad and it was written by John Hobart and it came second in the Bridport Prize in 2014 I think. It’s wonderful. And of course, The Old Man and The Sea, which is really a long short story. And anything by Chekov.

  • Kit de Waal writes novels, short stories and flash fiction for which she has won numerous awards. Her debut novel, My Name is Leon won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year and was shortlisted for the Costa Debut Novel, the British Book Awards Debut and the Desmond Elliott Prize. In 2016, she founded the Kit de Waal Scholarship at Birkbeck University. Her monologue Imagine That was performed at The Old Vic as part of the celebration of 100 Years of Suffrage and her second novel, The Trick to Time, longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction is released in paperback this summer as is her first YA novel, Becoming Dinah. She is also the editor of Common People, an anthology of working class writing.

Danielle McLaughlin took the top spot in 2019 with A Partial List of the Saved. Read her winning story here and discover more about the judges that year here.

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