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10 JUDGES, 10 YEARS: Tessa Hadley


Tessa Hadley was one of five judges on the Sunday Times Short Story Award in 2018. She shares her thoughts on how the best stories are 'somehow spacious inside their smallness'

What was your experience of judging the Award?

Entirely pleasurable. Because short stories are, obviously, short, it was possible to discuss them in detail with my fellow judges and do them justice.

How do you think the Award benefits the short story?

It’s nice to surround this quiet literary form with some serious glamour. And because judges read the stories without knowing who wrote them, there’s an opportunity for finding new writers.

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

Economy, point, irony. And the best stories are somehow spacious inside their smallness.

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

It’s important for the same reasons it’s always been important: as it’s a distillation of perception and wisdom. And aesthetically the form is richly satisfying.

How do you think the market/appetite for short stories has changed over the past 10 years?

There must be more short story readers, in this age of podcasts and audio listening. But if only there were more magazine outlets for short stories in the UK, as there were once. I picked up a copy of Housekeeping Magazine from the 1960s and it had stories by Doris Lessing and Roy Fuller.

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

Know what your story is ‘for’, what it wants to show.

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

John McGahern’s Gold Watch, perhaps? A son’s quarrel with his father over a watch encapsulates, in a few boldly-drawn scenes and exchanges, all the lifetime of their relationship, as well as the history of a time and place.

  • Tessa Hadley is the author of six highly praised novels, Accidents in the Home, which was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, Everything Will Be All Right, The Master Bedroom, The London Train, Clever Girl and The Past, and two collections of short stories, Sunstroke and Married Love. She lives in London and is Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Her stories appear regularly in The New Yorker and other magazines.

Courtney Zoffness took the top spot in 2018 with Peanuts Aren't Nuts. Read her winning story here and discover more about the judges that year here.


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