photo by Janne Moren
by Carole Buchan
The Asham Award was set up seventeen years ago in memory of Virginia Woolf, who once lived in Asham House, East Sussex. Each year, the competition attracts hundreds of entries from all over the UK, and twelve winning stories are selected to appear in the Asham anthology. Published by Virago, the anthology also includes specially commissioned stories by well-known writers. The theme for this year’s Award was ‘travel’ and it took some exciting and unexpected forms.
The top prize of £1,000 went to Pippa Gough, from Whistable in Kent, for her story ‘The Journey to the Brothers’ Farm’. The judges – Lennie Goodings of Virago, novelist Helen Dunmore and travel writer Sara Wheeler – described Pippa’s story, which is set in South Africa, as “spare and brilliant”. Lennie Goodings commented that Pippa “writes evocatively of the land and the haze of the heat, the dust and grass roofs warming in early morning sun”.
“A switch has been thrown, which has enabled me to make my writing centre stage rather than a side show … [The Award] reaffirms the importance of the short story … [I have] been given a year of wonder as my story slowly made it through each phase of the judging process. I feel very honoured.”
Second prize went to Dolores Pinto for ‘Where Life Takes You’. This story follows a young woman who ends up in a small seaside town where she feels she doesn’t belong. The judges said: “This is a deceptively slight story about longing, loss, love and finding out what home is.”
Dolores lives in Twickenham and has only been writing for four years, after taking a ‘taster course’ at an adult education centre. She said that she was “thrilled” to discover she was one of the winners and that her story would be published alongside big names such as Helen Dunmore, Susie Boyt and Angela Carter. She also commented that Asham has made her feel like a real writer, “a writer who has something to say and would be read”. Dolores has already received an enquiry from an agent about the novel she is currently finishing.
Deepa Anappara’s story ‘The Elephant in the Suitcase’, which won third prize, is about a forest guard working for ten years in a place full of shrieking birds, wild dogs, sambar deer and a ‘pesky nocturnal elephant’ who makes him see it is high time to leave. The judges described Deepa’s story as “playful and truthful and wonderfully unexpected” and “quirky and original, it could be a fantasy or it could be real”.
Deepa lives in Basildon and grew up in India. She is a graduate of the City University’s Certificate in Novel Writing course. She has won various prizes for her writing, including first prize in the Asian Writer Short Story Competition. Her novel in-progress was shortlisted for the 2012 Yeovil Literary Prize.
The three winning stories, plus stories by nine runners-up, are included in this year’s Asham anthology, Once Upon a Time There Was a Traveller, which has already received rave reviews in the national press.
CAROLE BUCHAN has run the Asham Award for the past 17 years. Carole is a freelance journalist and also works in arts development. She is working on the final draft of her first novel, which is set in Northumberland.
Photos of the Asham Award winners © Axel Hesslenberg