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In November 2005 the Willesden Herald announced an unusual short story competition. In the first place it was free to enter, it had no word limit or theme and no nationality requirements. The prize was a specially inscribed mug and immortality. No other competition offers the prize of immortality but that was not the reason for its success. Some competitions have minimum word counts that would have ruled out half of Raymond Carver and Saki, while most have upper limits between 1,500 and 3,000. Even the mighty Bridport competition has a limit of 5,000 words. Yet the finest short stories, as featured weekly in the New Yorker, for example, typically have a word count in the region between 5,000 and 7,500. The Willesden Herald announcement stated that the only limit was its editorial team's "variable attention span". It didn't matter where you were born or where you lived and they didn't try to tell writers what theme to write about. It even explicitly allowed chapters from novels as long as they could stand alone, thus abolishing the shameful secret of most other short story competitions. Many of the short stories published in the New Yorker, for example, subsequently appear as chapters of novels ("Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides, "Gogol" by Jhumpa Lahiri, "A Boy in the Forest" by Edna O'Brien to name just three). In brief, it was a competition that understood writers and it was created for no other reason than sheer joy in reading new short stories. That was the genesis of the present "New Short Stories" series, in which the best of the world's new short stories is eagerly awaited by ravening enthusiasts. [We're not sure what ravening means, is it something to do with birds? Ed.]
Stephen Moran sent an email to several literary contacts, announcing the Willesden Herald short story prize 2006, adding that a judge had yet to be found. It was at this point that the fate of the competition took (what else but) a fateful turn when the great writer Zadie Smith replied that she would be willing to help with the judging. She had grown up and lived in Willesden and it was the setting for her multiple award-winning first novel "White Teeth". Locations not far from Willesden still feature in her latest, Orange-prize-winning novel "On Beauty". The announcement of Zadie Smith as the adjudicator brought news stories in the Guardian Online, one of the world's busiest newspaper websites, and listings in other prominent sites connected with short stories, such as the website of the Asham Award short story competition. As a result, what was a bit of amusement among a few friends and contacts, turned into a competition that attracted quite a number of high standard entries.
The Willesden Herald is a quirky forum with a mean line in satire and an uncompromising amateurism that prefers Gombeen adverts, its scathing lampoon of Google "Ad Sense", to the (un)real thing. It specialises in almost impenetrable logic such as the disclaimer in the sidebar that says, "We have told our columnists time and again only to post stories that are not not untrue, but frankly it would be easier to train monkeys. Please tell us if we have inadvertently hit on something not not true, and we will uncorrect it." The short story writers who found their way to the competition were therefore the kind with steel in their nerves and with interesting and apposite stories to tell about this strange world in which we lose ourselves. [Mere word substitution such as "lose" for "find" does not completely erase a cliche. Ed.] In the end, Zadie Smith could not decide between "Secure" by Mikey Delgado and "Dodie's Gift" by Vanessa Gebbie and joint winners were announced.
For 2007, Zadie Smith graciously agreed to choose the winner again, and the prize went to "Kid in a Well" by Willie Davis. Once again The Guardian ran news stories before and after the event and once again added the short story to its online showcase. The support of the Guardian (a website with 12 million hits per month, though many fewer for the books section, sadly) and of Zadie Smith, once again attracted a wonderfully high standard of short stories.
Stephen Moran had for a while been flying a kite, the idea of an unlimited, international short story periodical that would contain the greatest new short stories in the world. He has never been one to let practicality influence his thinking. He was convinced that this book format publication would be eagerly awaited by the millions of short story enthusiasts like himself who are not able to get just the very thing they want, which is diverse new short stories, in a book, of the same standard as the stories in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Granta, LRB and Guardian Review but without the unwanted additional journalism. Short story readers want their fix, if you don't mind that expression, pure and unmixed. He approached a number of publishers with the idea, but the only one with the beerguts to try it was that other untamed mustang of world writing, Pretend Genius Press. There is no other periodical that offers nothing but the greatest new short stories in the world. Welcome to New Short Stories.
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The 2010 Willesden Herald International
Short Story Prize