Favourite short reads handpicked by top writers

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  • Now sit down, chill out and take your pick from seven of the best bite-sized stories by female authors. Isn't that better already..

    I don’t know about you but most days I can be found walking into rooms and pondering ‘what exactly am I doing here?’ I’m not having an existentialist crisis. Not just yet. Just a mild dose of pandemic anxiety. In fact, science boffins say this coronavirus crisis has drastically cut down our attention span. Seems there’s no better time, once I remember where I put my specs, to dive into some beautifully-crafted favourite short reads.

    A speed read fits neatly into a lunch break or gives a sense of ‘OMG, I have achieved SOMETHING today’ before passing out on your pillow. So expand your mind with these curated short stories. All selected by fantastically talented writers and this year’s judges of the BBC National Short Story Award 2020 and the BBC Young Writers’ Award 

    Favourite short reads: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

    Picked by Laura Bates, bestselling author and founder of The Everyday Sexism Project

    favourite short reads

    Laura’s verdict: ‘This is as deeply revealing and unsettling today as when it was written. At a time when we are confined to small spaces it has a particular resonance. It has never been more relevant to re-examine the emotional torment, psychological coercion and subtle forms of misogyny underpinning so many abusive relationships. Today one deadly pandemic masks another: the ongoing pandemic of domestic abuse that’s become part of our own wallpaper.’

    Favourite short reads: Girl by Jamaica Kincaid 

    Chosen by Irenosen Okojie, AKO Caine Prize-winning British Nigerian writer 


    Irenosen says: ‘This is an inventive, elliptical piece – only three pages long. Kincaid charts the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter with eye-watering honesty. The brevity, the brutality, the shrewd use of repetition and the killer last sentence make it a subtly unforgettable piece. Kincaid is one of my writing heroines. I can’t rave enough about her unique voice.’

    Favourite short reads: The Company Of Wolves by Angela Carter 

    Picked by Will Hill, a screenwriter, novelist and YA Book Prize 2018 winner 

    favourite short reads

    Will’s verdict: ‘This story appears in The Bloody Chamber, one of the best short story collections of all time. Based on Red Riding Hood but far removed from our childhood version. The Company Of Wolves is a dark, blood-red feminist allegory where the wolves are dangerous, uncontrollable and painfully familiar.’

    Favourite short reads: In The Tunnel by Mavis Gallant 

    Chosen by Chris Power, Guardian short story columnist 

    Chris says: ‘One of the great coming-of-age stories. Gallant’s evocative portrait of southern France, a malfunctioning relationship and a young woman entering adulthood.’

    Favourite short reads: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson 

    Selected by Muhammad KhanBranford Boase Award-winning YA author 

    favourite short reads

    Muhammad’s verdict: ‘This story is a classic. A quick-witted mouse against a host of predators. Then one day he meets the scariest creature of them all. The playful verse is thoroughly entertaining.’

    Favourite short reads: Who Will Greet You At Home by Lesley Nneka Arimah 

    Picked by Bridget Minamore, poet, critic and journalist 

    Bridget says: ‘This stunning piece leaves me with a lump in my chest every time. Cleverly describing big concepts such as longing and sadness. It then pivots into a kind of dystopian fairytale. Definitely the greatest living short story writer I can think of.’

    Favourite short reads: A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

    Chosen by Lucy Caldwell, twice-BBC NSSA shortlisted and Commonwealth Prize winning author
    favourite short reads

    Lucy’s verdict: ‘Lucia Berlin writes incredibly close to the bone. With a lightness of touch making it all the more devastating. Pure verve, pure style, pure joy. There’s a sense she is freewheeling. It’s an impression that should in no way undermine her stories. On a sentence-by-sentence level, she is peerless. Berlin’s sentences do things I didn’t think possible. They snap, they pivot, they suddenly address the reader directly.’  

    * The shortlist for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University will be announced on Sunday 20 September. More information can be found at bbc.co.uk/nssa and bbc.co.uk/ywa

    * The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2020. The shortlist will be announced on Friday 11 September

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