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Unknown short story writer wins 2016 BBC National Short Story Competition

3 October 2016

K J Orr, winner of the just-announced 2016 BBC National Short Story Competition, is a debut writer and that makes it surprising that she has won this hotly-contested prize. Her winning story Disappearances was up against a heavyweight shortlist including Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel and Costa Poetry Award shortlisted Lavinia Greenlaw.

But her interest in short stories goes back several years and the collection containing Disappearances was published earlier this year by Daunt Books.

"Having chosen short stories, I just fell completely in love with them, then went through a process of acceptance that they were not a commercially smart choice for a beginning writer. I found that that gave me huge freedom because there was no pressure, other than the pressure I put on myself as a writer to get better and keep working." Orr went on to study at UEA, and did a PhD on the short story. "I just spent a period of years completely immersed in the form, reading what other people were doing and thinking about what the form was capable of and gradually developing a body of work. It's been a really precious period of time as a writer," she said in an interview in Bookbrunch.

It has got easier but it is still a difficult choice for a writer to devote themselves to short stories. Although there are arguably more possibilities for getting them taken on by a print publisher, there is still a mountain to climb in terms of finding someone to publish your work. There are though a number of possibilities on the web - and short stories, as a short form, obviously lend themselves to reading online, at least in a way that novel-length fiction doesn't. Still, it is doubly difficult when you are an unknown trying to publish your work and to gain some traction as a short-story writer. Competitions and prizes such as this one have played an important part.

There's lots of guidance on writing short stories on the web too, including Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Story

A very small number of short story publishers provide opportunities in short fiction, including the publicly-funded British publisher Comma Press.