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What makes a winning short story?

What makes a winning short story?

Delve into the opening paragraphs of all the stories to win The Sunday Times Short Story Award over the years

2020 winner

Love Many by Niamh Campbell

That November I had pressed against the deadweight of depression – of a broken heart, the post-broken-heart universe, ringing tepidly with rain – and downloaded Tinder. I went on a date with an American who said, I could put my hands around your waist, and then, when the wine list came, pointed at the wine list and squeaked, halfsies?

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2019 winner

A Partial List of the Saved by Danielle McLaughlin

The flight attendant who brought the beer was the same one who’d performed the safety demonstration an hour earlier as they’d taxied down the runway at San Francisco. ‘In the unlikely event of landing in water,’ a disembodied voice had said as the woman popped a lifejacket over her head. ‘Unlikely’ hardly went far enough, Conor thought. He hated to be a pedant, but still. It was unlikely that he’d packed a European adapter, but one might yet materialise among the tangle of accessories he’d shoved in his suitcase as the taxi waited by the kerb. It was unlikely that the man seated to his left would stop talking any time soon, but it was not inconceivable that some affliction of the throat might set in. It seemed wrong, somehow, that the possibility that they would all be plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic to have their eyes eaten out by small fishes should be placed on a par with these other, more mundane, eventualities. Surely, at a minimum, it was ‘extremely unlikely’?

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2018 winner

Peanuts Aren’t Nuts by Courtney Zoffness

It was a question with no right answer: Did anything happen? On the lips of her guidance counselor, the words were soft and feathery and accompanied by a hand on top of hers. “Did anything happen between you and Mr. Peebles?” The counselor nearly whispered it as if to solicit a secret. The police officer was stiffer, the words typeset on his tongue. “Call me if you think of anything.” It was code for his disbelief; they both knew “anything” wouldn’t just suddenly occur to Pam, like the location of a parked car.

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2017 winner

Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows About Horses by Bret Anthony Johnston

His daughter’s first horse came from a travelling carnival where children rode him in miserable clockwise circles. He was swaybacked with a patchy coat and split hooves, but Tammy fell for him on the spot and Atlee made a cash deal with the carnie. A lifetime ago, just outside Robstown, Texas. Atlee managed the stables west of town; Laurel, his wife, taught lessons there. He hadn’t brought the trailer – buying a pony hadn’t been on his plate that day – so he drove home slowly, holding the reins through the window, the horse trotting beside the truck. Tammy sat on his back singing made up songs about cowgirls. She named him Buttons. No telling how long he’d been ridden in circles at the carnival. For the rest of his life, Buttons never once turned left.

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2016 winner

The Human Phonograph by Jonathan Tel

And as a figure in reflective helmet and articulated suit half-walks half-floats over the unreal surface she make-believes he is her husband, and the moon itself could perfectly well be Qinghai province for all anybody can tell, and one of the other translators, one who specializes in English, says Mr Armstrong is saying, ‘A small step for man, a large step for man’ and she shades her eyes with her hands so nobody can see her cry.

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2015 winner

A Sheltered Woman by Yiyun Li

The new mother, groggy from a nap, sat at the table as though she did not grasp why she had been summoned. Perhaps she never would, Auntie Mei thought. On the placemat sat a bowl of soybean-and-pig’s-foot soup that Auntie Mei had cooked, as she had for many new mothers before this one. Many, however, was not exact. In her interviews with potential employers, Auntie Mei always gave the precise number of families she had worked for: a hundred and twenty-six when she interviewed with her current employer, a hundred and thirty-one babies altogether.

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2014 winner

Nirvana by Adam Johnson

It’s late, and I can’t sleep. I raise a window for some spring Palo Alto air, but it doesn’t help. In bed, eyes open, I hear whispers, which makes me think of the President because we often talk in whispers. I know the whisper sound is really just my wife Charlotte, who listens to Nirvana on her headphones all night and tends to sleep-mumble the lyrics. Charlotte has her own bed, a mechanical one.

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2013 winner

Miss Lora by Junot Diaz

Years later you would wonder if it hadn’t been for your brother would you have done it? You remember how all the other guys had hated on her—?how skinny she was, no culo, no titties, como un palito but your brother didn’t care. I’d fuck her.

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2012 winner

Beer Trip to Llandudno by Kevin Barry

It was a pig of a day, as hot as we’d had, and we were down to our T-shirts taking off from Lime Street. This was a sight to behold – we were all of us biggish lads. It was Real Ale Club’s July outing, a Saturday, and we’d had word of several good houses to be found in Llandudno. I was double-jobbing for Ale Club that year. I was in charge of publications and outings both. Which was controversial.

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2010 winner

Last Season’s Man by CK Stead

Eighteen months ago, when Branko Ivanda’s obituary on the Cultura page of Zagreb’s Vjesnik spoke of him as ‘our supreme man of the theatre’, there were still some who wondered whether the phrase was meant in a tone of unequivocal enthusiasm; or was it to be read as meaning he was very good at a lot of things – writing, acting, directing, movie-making – and fell just short of the best in all? Had he moved up into that category of ‘supreme’ just by outliving one or two of his contemporaries, and in particular, Tomislav Buljan? Or was he truly one of the ‘greats’?

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The deadline to submit your stories to the 2021 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award is 6pm GMT on Friday 4 December. Find out more here

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