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Anna Metcalfe: a friend kept saying to me: “This is a big deal”

Anna Metcalfe was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award in 2014, for her story Number Three. She describes how being on the shortlist felt like a big hug and someone whispering: “It’s OK to keep going, to keep doing this thing that you love”

Where had you been published before you entered the Sunday Times EFG short story award?
I’d published a very short extract in one of the anthologies that Eggbox produces for graduates of the MA in Creative Writing at the UEA. That meant that I met the publication criteria in order to enter the Sunday Times EFG Story Award. Other than that, I hadn’t entered many competitions yet or submitted to many journals. Shortly after entering, though, and before I knew I’d been long- or short-listed, my story Number Three was published in Lighthouse Journal, and I was very pleased about that.
How did you find out your story had been selected?
I got an email. There was no one to tell me at the time, no agent or editor, or anything like that. I was with two good friends at and I couldn’t help but tell them and then I made them promise not to say anything to anyone else. One of them kept saying to me “This is a big deal,” but I still wasn’t sure what to expect.
As a result, you got an agent at Curtis Brown – would that have happened in a different way if you hadn’t been on the STEFG list?
Yes, I would have had to send my work out to agents in the hope that they would read it and like it enough to want to work with me. Who knows how that would have gone! I know that it can be a difficult part of the process for many new writers.
So it did help to raise your profile?
Yes, I was contacted by a number of agents and asked for interviews. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I didn’t expect to get an agent as a result of being shortlisted. Perhaps I’d underestimated the influence of these kinds of literary accolades.
Have there been any other impact on your literary career?
I published my first book, a collection of stories called Blind Water Pass last year. I’m sure, as with getting an agent, that would have come about differently without the shortlisting to get things started. Like the Number Three, the book is about intercultural communication and miscommunication. It represents a lot of people in different places living different kinds of lives in an increasingly globalised world. It’s taken some time for me to feel genuine pride in my work, but I’m proud of that book and the inclusive, intercultural spaces it presents.
Is the prize doing a good job of unearthing new voices?
It is, I think. Or at least, it has been for me. I’m always surprised by the big prize lists and that so many of the names are already familiar, that so many of the writers winning awards are already award-winning, that there are only ever one or two relatively unknown writers featured. I’d be excited to see more up and coming writers represented.
Would you encourage others to enter the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award?
The whole experience was very warm, very encouraging. It felt like a big hug and someone whispering in your ear “It’s OK to keep going, to keep doing this thing that you love.” I’m very grateful for that.
Anna Metcalfe was born in Germany in 1987 and grew up in Fife, and later, Lincolnshire. She has a creative writing MA from the University of East Anglia. Her work has appeared in The Best of British Short Stories, Lighthouse Journal, Tender and The Lonely Crowd, among other places and her first book, Blind Water Pass and Other Stories, is out now.
Interview by Sophie Haydock

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