In the upstairs balcony bar the pre-notified winner and 10 runners up milled about with friends and loved ones, grazing on wine and canapés. Author, artist, musician and runner upJeb Loy Nicholls chatted to a behatted Richard Gwyn in one corner, while in another nook childhood friends Joâo Morais (another runner up) and rising Cardiff art star John Abelobserved the room.
I grabbed a glass and caught up with one of the judges for the evening, Niall Griffiths. He’d just been to see The Road: ‘Harrowing but brilliant.’ At a sighting of John Williams – festival organiser, crime writer, Serpent’s Tail editor and general literary good guy – our thoughts turned to the next Laugharne Weekend, our annual slice of literary heaven. Our usual drinking den-slash-green room The Three Mariners will be closed for refurbishment: where will we socialise between the reading sessions?
Award ceremonies would not be right without speeches and so Academi Boss and avant-garde poet Peter Finchgave one, saying lots of good things about the short story form and pondering why it sells even less than poetry today and noting tricks used by science fiction publishers who disguise short story collections as a novel to boost sales. Then Welsh Book of The Year winner Deborah Kay Davies and judges Stevie Davies and Niall Griffiths led a discussion on the short story form.
Finally, to the winners: Cardiff’s own Siân Preece won First Prize of £1,000, and ten equal runners-up in the competition each receive £100: Angela Graham from Cardiff; Robert Hunt from Caerphilly; Clementine Hollister from Newcastle Upon Tyne; Craig Hawes from Briton Ferry; Mike Jenkins from Merthyr Tydfil; Sam Kemp from Blackwood; Dave Lewis from Pontypridd; Joâo Morais from Cardiff; Jeb Loy Nichols from Welshpool and Sarah Wishartfrom London.
I asked Kate McAll, Senior Producer for BBC Radio Drama, what had marked Sian’s story out as a winner: ‘It was a beautifully composed piece and perfect for radio, despite potentially confusing time-shifts. Her main character was clearly a ‘bad boy’ but he was so sympathetically drawn that you couldn’t help rooting for him.’
After all the winners had been whisked off for photos, I grabbed a very smiley Siân for a chat. Originally from Neath, Siân had been out of Wales for about 18 years before returning to Cardiff to do an MA in creative writing. ‘I don’t tend to enter competitions,’ she told me, ‘but I had a story that I’d written and really developed on the MA course, so I had a punt.’ A First Prize punt indeed.