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Story told in 350 words wins literary plaudits

22 Jul 2010

A University of Manchester student has won an international literary prize – for a powerful story only 350 words long.

Valerie  ORiordan
Valerie ORiordan

Valerie O’Riordan, studying for an MA at The University’s Centre for New Writing, has been announced as this year’s Bristol Short Story Prize winner.

Valerie stunned the judges with her powerful and disturbing tale, Mum’s the Word.

Entries to the prestigious competition could not be more than 3,000 words long.

This year, 1,500 writers from more than 30 countries submitted stories from as far afield as New Zealand, Brazil, India, Canada, USA, Malaysia, Australia and South Africa.

Marli Roode, a second student from the Centre for New Writing, also made the made the shortlist with her work Spring Tide.

The Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 3 – featuring all 20 shortlisted stories – is now on sale. It is founded by Bristol Review of Books magazine.

The judging panel were publisher poet and performer Bertel Martin, Faber and Faber UK Sales Manager Maia Bristol, short story writer Tania Hershman, cartoonist and animator Joe Berger and writer and publisher Helen Hart.

Valerie O’Riordan said: “I'm both delighted and stunned to be the recipient of this year's Bristol Prize. It's extremely gratifying that the judges chose my story out of so many high quality entries - and it's the first time that I've won an award for my work, so it's very encouraging.

“People have commented on the length of the piece; at just 350 words, it's certainly very compact, but I hope that this density makes the work more powerful. There's no minimum word-count for writing short stories - it's about communicating a situation and an emotion, and you can do that in a very short space if that's what the work requires.

“This particular story started from a single image and I built it up from there. I think the brevity keeps it focused; it's a pretty dark tale, and I've tried to tell it without letting it veer into melodrama or gratuitous detail. The trick is to make every word work very hard.”

Judge Tania Hershman, whose first collection, The White Road and Other Stories, was commended in the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers.

She said: "Valerie's story was one of the most terrifying, moving and beautifully-written stories - of any length - that I have ever read.

“With astonishing economy of words, in just one page she achieved something many writers fail to do in ten or a hundred pages: she told a complete story with fully-realised characters which leaves the reader reeling and proves to be quite unforgettable.”

Notes for editors

For details of the Bristol Short Story Prize visit

The story is available for review.

For interviews with Valerie O’Riordan contact:

Mike Addelman
Media Relations
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567

For details about the Bristol Short Story Prize contact
Joe Melia
07708 095414