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BBC Radio 4 commissions1 about 150 short stories per year, half of the approximately 300 they broadcast. Presumably you or your parents have to be in the right Masonic Lodge, or wear the right old school tie to get the call. A blessed scapular from Mrs Haverty Clerical Outfitters and Nylon Factors (UK) Ltd to anyone who can find out how to get aboard this particular gravy train.
Di Speirs, Radio 4's commissioning editor for short stories and other literary readings, admitted under aggressive questioning from the audience in her interview at the Small Wonder short story festival earlier this year, that there is no way for anyone in London to send in anything for the Afternoon Story. The regions contribute half of the daily, year-round stories and she commissions the rest.
Joint-interviewee Rana Dasgupta read "The Flyover", from his book "Tokyo Cancelled". The story was chosen as one of five finalists for the £15,000 National Short Story prize. Di Speirs was also on the jury for that. She said it was the only one out of the over 1,400 entries, which had a sense of folk-tale about itsomething for which she had been looking. She subsequently commissioned a story ("The Horse") from Dasgupta for the Afternoon Story.
The reading bombed in the hall and the panel discussion afterwards turned to why it didn't work as a live reading, whereas it did "off the page." Four people got up and walked out at the same time, whether out of boredom or to convey a message, I don't know.
Di Speirs also said that, out of all the stories entered for the £15,000 National Short Story prize, there wasn't a single humorous one or one with a political edge, something for which the judges were longing. But the rules of the competition were such that only established authors could enter, so what does that tell you?
I like to think that I'm a sceptic and not a cynic but maybe I'm just bloody-minded, maybe it is too easy to throw rotten tomatoes. This article is a revised version2 without the exhortation to "rush the stage". I had my arse deservedly kicked over the earlier one.
1 Commissioning is the process of paying the idle offspring of a friend of the family to write, in a genre that he or she doesn't like, stories that are utterly inauthentic. Ed
2 Updated 14/11/2006, thanks to corrections in letter from Rana Dasgupta. Ed