Sunday, 17 January 2021

2021 BBC National Short Story Award & BBC Young Writers' Award Launch Press Release

Yes, I know this was announced last Thursday, but couldn't get on my laptop till this afternoon and, though I don't like publishing any posts on the Pewter Wolf Reads at the weekend, I broke it yesterday so let me be a rebel without a bookish cause today! 

**EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01hrs GMT 14 January 2021***

Novelist JAMES RUNCIE and broadcaster KATIE THISTLETON to chair the BBC Short Story Award panels as submissions open for 2021

Judging panels completed by Booker Prize shortlisted FIONA MOZLEY; award winning writer and poet DEREK OWUSU; critically acclaimed novelist DONAL RYAN; DI SPEIRS, Books Editor at BBC Radio; bestselling YA author LOUISE O’NEILL; singer-songwriter ARLO PARKS; actor and writer ROBERT WEBB; and Guardian Children’s Fiction Award winner ALEX WHEATLE.

The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (NSSA) and BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University (YWA) open for submissions today at 9am with novelist and former Radio 4 Commissioning Editor for Arts James Runcie chairing the judging panel for the BBC NSSA, an award that has enriched both the careers of writers and the wider literary landscape since its launch sixteen years ago.

James Runcie, Chair of the 2021 BBC National Short Story Award Judging Panel, says:

I am so delighted to chair the 2021 BBC National Short Story Awards. We need imaginative alternatives in these dark times: stories that question and surprise and open up new worlds. They can be short or long. They can take place in the past, present, future, or even all three at once. They can be set in a nutshell or in infinite space. But what I think we’ll be looking for is uniqueness of vision, a distinctive tone, curiosity, intrigue, surprise: an invitation to the reader’s imagination. I can’t wait to get started.

Chair of the BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University (YWA) is BBC Radio 1 Presenter Katie Thistleton. She chairs the judging panel for the teenage award for the fourth time as it opens for submissions for the seventh year. Katie is a writer and the co-host of Radio 1’s Life Hacks and The Official Chart: First Look on Radio 1. The BBC Young Writers’ Award is open to writers between the ages of 14-18 years.

Runcie and Thistleton will be joined by a group of acclaimed writers and critics on their respective panels. For the BBC National Short Story Award: Booker Prize shortlisted novelist Fiona Mozley; award winning writer, poet and winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize, Derek Owusu; multi-award winning Irish novelist and short story writer, Donal Ryan; and returning judge, Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Radio.

For the BBC Young Writers’ Award, Thistleton will be joined by bestselling, highly acclaimed Irish YA author, Louise O’Neill; twenty-year old singer-songwriter Arlo ParksSunday Times bestselling author and actor Robert Webb; and Guardian Children’s Fiction Award winner Alex Wheatle.

Katie Thistleton, Chair of the 2021 BBC Young Writers’ Award Judging Panel, says:

“I’m really looking forward to chairing the BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University again for 2021. As a keen writer myself, and someone who loved entering writing competitions when I was younger, I know how important and exciting this opportunity is. I always love reading the submissions and gaining a perspective on what young people are thinking and feeling at the time and, I imagine, the different world we have been living in recently will be reflected in this year’s stories. This is certainly a unique time, so I have no doubt we’re going to discover some equally new and unique, young voices.”

The BBC National Short Story Award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and four further shortlisted authors £600 each. The stories are broadcast on Radio 4 and published in an anthology by Comma Press. The 2020 winner of the BBC National Short Story Award was Sarah Hall for The Grotesques, a timeless and unsettling story set against a backdrop of privilege and inequality in a university town. This was the second win for Hall who also won the prize in 2013. Previous alumni of the award include Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel, Jon McGregor, Ingrid Persaud, Cynan Jones and Jo Lloyd.

The writers shortlisted for the BBC Young Writers’ Award have their stories narrated by an actor and recorded for a BBC podcast and published in an anthology. The winner of the 2020 BBC Young Writers’ Award was Lottie Mills for her story inspired by her experience of disability, The Changeling.’ Both winning stories are available to listen to on BBC Sounds.

Di Speirs, Editor of Books at BBC Radio and judge of the BBC National Short Story Award since its launch, says:
“After a year in which fiction has offered constant balm in troubled times, I am delighted to be calling for submissions to the sixteenth BBC National Short Story Award and the seventh BBC Young Writers’ Award, both with Cambridge University, and very curious to see how writers, experienced and new, respond to the world this year. Last year saw such wonderful variety in tone, style, subject and approach, underlining how strong short story writing is in the UK currently; at a time when we need fiction so much but often struggle to concentrate on it, I can’t wait to be transported, moved, amused, shaken or stirred by this year’s entries.”

This is the first year of a new three-year partnership with Cambridge University, now also including the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Lisa Mullen, University of Cambridge says:

The University of Cambridge is delighted to be collaborating with the BBC again on these awards, and to support and nurture both new and established short-story writers. Stories are at the heart of our shared human experience, and Cambridge's Faculty of English, Institute of Continuing Education, the University Library and Fitzwilliam Museum all have a special interest in how this dynamic form of fiction responds to a changing world. The standard set by writers entering these competitions is always impressive, and as we embark on the fourth year of our involvement at a time of such upheaval and distress, we look forward again to discovering work which will offer vivid new ways of understanding ourselves, and our contemporary moment.


  • The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University and the BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University will open for submissions at 9am (GMT) on Thursday 14th January 2021.

  • The deadline for receipt of entries for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University is 9am (GMT) Monday 15th March 2021. The deadline for receipt of entries for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University is 9am (GMT) Monday 22nd March 2021.

  • The shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be announced on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row at 7.15pm on Friday 10th September 2021. The shortlist for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University will be announced on Radio 1’s Life Hacks from 4pm on Sunday 19th September 2021.

  • The stories shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be broadcasted on BBC Radio 4 from Monday 13th to Friday 17th September 2021 from 3.30pm to 4pm.

  • The announcement of the winners of the two awards will be broadcasted live from the award ceremony at BBC Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from 7.15pm on Tuesday 5th October 2021.

  • Full ‘Terms and Conditions’ for the NSSA and YWA are available with submissions accepted online at and from 9am Thursday 14th January 2021.


    JAMES RUNCIE – Chair of Judges

    James Runcie is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of four plays and eleven novels, including The Grantchester Mysteries, currently filming its sixth series for ITV and PBS. He is also a documentary film-maker (subjects include profiles of Hilary Mantel, J.K. Rowling, J.G. Ballard, Umberto Eco, Yasar Kemal and Barbara Pym) and a literary curator who ran the London Library Festival, Words in the Square, with David Kynaston in 2016 and he regularly chairs events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He was Artistic Director of the Bath Literature Festival (2011- 2014), Head of Literature at the South Bank Centre (2013-2016) and BBC Radio 4’s Commissioning Editor for Arts from 2016-2020.


    Fiona Mozley’s first novel, Elmet, was shortlisted for the 2017 Booker Prize, the Ondaatje Prize and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. It won a Somerset Maugham Award and the Polari Prize and was longlisted for the Women’s Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize. Her new novel, Hot Stew, will be published in March 2021. She was born in London, grew up in York, and lives in Edinburgh.


    Derek Owusu is an award-winning writer and poet from North London. He edited and contributed to SAFE: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space, an anthology exploring the experiences of Black men in Britain, and his first novel, That Reminds Me, published by Stormzy's Merky Books imprint, won the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction in 2020.


    Donal Ryan is from Nenagh in County Tipperary. His first three novels, The Spinning Heart, The Thing About December and All We Shall Know, and his short story collection A Slanting of the Sun, have all been published to major acclaim. The Spinning Heart won the Guardian First Book Award, the EU Prize for Literature (Ireland), and Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards; it was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize, and was voted 'Irish Book of the Decade'. His fourth novel, From a Low and Quiet Sea, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2018. A former civil servant, Donal lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick.


    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 and short stories. 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 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) and is a board member of the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust.


    KATIE THISTLETON – Chair of Judges

    Katie Thistleton is co-host of Radio 1's Life Hacks (Sundays 4-6pm) and The Official Chart: First Look on Radio 1 (Sundays 6-7pm). She is an avid writer and reader and literacy campaigner. Katie is passionate about raising mental health awareness and is an ambassador for children's mental health charities YoungMinds and Place2be. During her time as presenter of 'the bits in between the shows' on CBBC for almost 6 years, Katie hosted The CBBC Book Club, where she interviewed authors such as Jacqueline Wilson, David Walliams and Cressida Cowell to name a few.


    Louise O'Neill is the multi-award-winning author of five novels, three of which are for Young Adults. Her second YA novel, Asking For It, spent 52 weeks in the top ten of the Irish charts, was named Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards in 2015, and was awarded the Michael. L Printz honour by the American Library Association. She has a weekly column for the Irish Examiner and lives in West Cork, Ireland.


    Arlo Parks is a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from West London. Since she was very young, Arlo wrote as a way of creatively expressing her emotions, and was inspired by poets Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver and Pat Parker, among others. At 14, she started making beats to rhyme her poetry to – which formed the basis of her song writing. Now with her music and storytelling, Arlo converts people's hyper specific moments into something universal. In 2017, she submitted her recordings to BBC Introducing, which led to her first interview, management and later a recording contract. In the summer of 2018, Arlo recorded her first EP, 2019’s acclaimed Super Sad Generation with breakout hit 'Cola'. Her Sophie EP quickly followed, alongside performances at Glastonbury and Latitude Festivals and supporting slots on tour with Jordan Rakei and Loyle Carner. In 2020 she was included on the BBC Sound Poll and in Dazed’s 100 List, and featured on covers with NME and Evening Standard. She won the AIM One to Watch and BBC Introducing Artist of The Year Awards, and made her debut appearances on COLORS, Later.... with Jools Holland. Her high-profile fans include Phoebe Bridgers, Billie Eilish, Florence Welch, Lily Allen, Michaela Coel and Michelle Obama.


    Robert Webb is best known for his work as the Webb half of Mitchell & Webb in the Sony award- winning That Mitchell & Webb Sound and the Bafta award-winning That Mitchell & Webb Look, and as permanent man-boy Jeremy in the acclaimed Peep Show. In 2017, his call-to-arms memoir How Not To Be a Boy was a number one Sunday Times bestseller. Robert has been a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and the New Statesman, and now lives in London with his wife and daughters. In 2020 he published his first novel, Come Again.


    Alex Wheatle is the author of several acclaimed novels, many of them inspired by experiences from his childhood. He was born in Brixton to Jamaican parents and spent most of his childhood in a Surrey children’s home. Following a short stint in prison following the Brixton uprising of 1981, he wrote poems and lyrics and became known as the Brixtonbard. Alex has been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, and was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 2008. The story of his early life was recently dramatized by Steve McQueen in his Little Axe series. His most recent novel Cane Warriors is published by Andersen Press.


  • The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (NSSA) aims to expand opportunities for British writers, readers and publishers of the short story and honour the UK’s finest exponents of the form. James Lasdun secured the inaugural Award in 2006 for ‘An Anxious Man’. In 2012 when the Award expanded internationally for one year, Miroslav Penkov was victorious for his story, ‘East of the West’. Last year, the Award was won by Sarah Hall for her story The GrotesquesIn its 16-year history, K J Orr, Jonathan Buckley, Julian Gough, Clare WigfallCynan Jones, Kate Clanchy, Ingrid Persaud and David Constantine have also carried off the Award with shortlisted authors including Zadie Smith, Jackie KayWilliam TrevorRose Tremain and Naomi Alderman.

  • The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University is open to authors with a previous record of publication who are UK nationals or residents, aged 18 years or over. The story entered must either have been unpublished or be first published or scheduled for publication after 1st January of the previous year. The story should have a maximum of 8000 words and must have been written in English. The Award offers £15,000 for the winner and £600 to four shortlisted writers. For more information please visit

  • The BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University is now in its seventh year and invites all 14 – 18 year olds living in the United Kingdom to submit short stories of up to 1,000 words. The Award was launched as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations for the BBC National Short Story Award and aims to inspire and encourage the next generation of writers. Previous winners are Brennig Davies (2015), Lizzie Freestone (2016), Elizabeth Ryder (2017), Davina Bacon (2018), Georgie Woodhead (2019) and Lottie Mills (2020). For more information please visit

  • Follow the BBC National Short Story Award on Twitter via #BBCNSSA #shortstories, the BBC Young Writer’s Award via #BBCYWA #shortstories @BBCR1 and the BBC Student Critics’ Award via #BBCSCA

  • BBC Radio 4 is the world’s biggest single commissioner of short stories, attracting audiences of over a million listeners to listen to short fiction. Contemporary stories are broadcast every week, the majority of which are specially commissioned throughout the year.

  • BBC Radio 1 is the UK’s No.1 youth station, targeting 15 to 29 year-olds with a distinctive mix of new music and programmes focusing on issues affecting young people. The station is the soundtrack to young people's lives in the UK and has been for over 50 years.

  • University of Cambridge: The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. To date, 96 affiliates of the University have won the Nobel Prize. Founded in 1209, the University comprises 31 autonomous Colleges, which admit students and provide small-group tuition, and 150 departments, faculties and institutions. Cambridge is a global university. Its 19,000 student body includes 3,700 international students from 120 countries. Cambridge researchers collaborate with colleagues worldwide, and the University has established larger-scale partnerships in Europe, Asia, Africa and America. The BBC National Short Story Award is being supported by the School of Arts and Humanities, Faculties of English and Education, University Library, Fitzwilliam Museum and the new University of Cambridge Centre for Creative Writing which is part of the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education based at Madingley Hall, which provides a range of courses to members of the public, including English Literature and Creative Writing. More information at

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