Costa ‘Shortlistee’, Sheila Llewellyn, Speaks to Blogaboutwriting!

Costa Book AwardsOk, we didn’t actually speak. But Sheila emailed me today to let me know that she is one of the shortlisted writers (revealed today) for the inaugural Costa Short Story Competition, which I told you about here.

She wanted to thank me for giving the stories a little plug and for saying nice things about hers.

And she’s kindly answered some of my burning questions, by email, so I thought I’d share some of that with you.

As you may remember, the new Costa Short Story competition caused a stir when it was launched. It was expected to attract some ‘big names’ but it was open to all and the judging was anonymous, giving rise to speculation that some famous novelists could get nudged out by ‘unknowns’.

And that, it would appear, has happened. (Although of course, the famous novelists, if they did enter and failed to make the shortlist, won’t be admitting it!).

Novelist Salley Vickers is on the shortlist but she’s the biggest name and there are 3 writers – including our own Sheila (see how I’ve sneakily adopted her?), who are ‘unpublished’.

If you want to read Sheila’s story, ‘Dislocation’, it’s available to listen to and/or read here, along with the other 5. I read it first and then listened to it and I got more from it the second time. In my humble opinion, it’s going to win or make ‘runner-up’ but the voting was down to the public, so who knows? (It’s worth looking at the Le Brocquy painting, A Family, which is featured in Sheila’s story, as or before you read it, here).

This is what Sheila had to say – and she’s happy for me to share it:

On keeping her shortlisted status a secret (since 22nd Nov!): I’ve been scrupulous and it’s been agonising. I’m a member of several writers’ groups and I’ve done courses and what not so I have a wide circle of contacts, but couldn’t tell anyone. Living in Northern Ireland, the writing community is very close-knit, and it was over Christmas when we tended to meet up and I thought I’d burst at times. I’m not on Twitter or Facebook so that helped. I wasn’t reminded of it everyday.

On being ‘judged’: It’s been quite an experience to have my work ‘out there’ in the public domain to be judged, rather than just looked at by a panel, at least for me it has, as I’ve only gone public with my writing over the past three years or so and haven’t grown the necessary skins yet.

On getting the idea and developing ‘Dislocation’: I love the National Gallery in Ireland and I love the Le Brocquy – I was ear-wigging near it one day and got loads of quotes – it’s very modern and not everyone’s cup of tea.

I was also doing research for another story about post war Vienna actually and came across this fantastic book ‘The Wall in My head’ written by quite well known Eastern Bloc (as was) writers and their reactions to the Wall coming down.

There was a story there of a writer whose father turned out to be a Stasi informer. The Le Brocquy painting really did make me wonder what the family had been through to be so fractured, so the two ideas kind of merged. I thought there was a lovely symmetry about the Le Brocquy painting in Dublin being linked through the Manet to the Giorgione in Dresden and that gave me my East German location so I did more research on the Stasi office in Dresden and Berlin which is where I came across that wonderful compound noun! It took me about three months to write – I had to work hard to get the two location shifts and two time shifts to feel ‘seamless’. I also had to work hard not to write too much about the art – probably failed there, but it was fun!

On the possibility of winning: I’m not holding my breath about my story – there’s a dazzling one, a disturbing one and a William Trevor-ish one I think will be vying for the the top three. I’ve decided being in the same room as Hilary Mantel on the 29th January* will be prize enough for me! I was just so pleased to see it shortlisted, particularly as Le Brocquy passed away last year, and I wanted to tell the story as well as I could. Whatever happens to it next will be a bonus.

Sheila may be an ‘unpublished author’(and by that, I think the Costa people mean, she’s not a novelist), but she still has a pretty impressive CV: she has an MA in Creative Writing; she’s written an award-winning radio play; in 2012, she was short listed for the Seán Ó ‘Faoláin International Short Story Prize and for the Bridport Prize, in both the Short Story and the Flash Fiction categories. She’s been printed in Myslexia and has also been published on-line, as she won second and first prize in two Writers Bureau competitions.

Sheila says her publishing record is ‘nothing major’ – at least, when she compares herself to the other 5 shortlisted writers – which makes her achievement even more impressive. As a ‘shortlistee’ for the Costa Short Story competition she has, no doubt, beaten off some very tough competition. We’ll never know exactly who, but if Salley Vickers entered, there must have been others of that ilk!

Well done, Sheila – thanks for ‘talking’ to us and letting us share a smidgen of your excitement. And the very best of luck for 29th Jan!

*the winner will be announced at the glittering Costa Book Awards ceremony on 29th January in London.

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5 Responses to Costa ‘Shortlistee’, Sheila Llewellyn, Speaks to Blogaboutwriting!

  1. Tracy Fells says:

    Interesting to see the names now released for this. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the stories by the well known writers. Really did like Sheila’s story so fingers crossed for her. Have to agree that having the chance to meet Hilary Mantell would be enough of a prize for me too, but I can dream. Thanks for this interesting post Helen.

    • Thanks Tracy. I agree with you about some of the stories. ‘Mown Grass’, for example, seemed like a condensed novel to me (ie: not a short story!) and, dare I say it…. a bit cliched? But the judges clearly liked it. I think perhaps too, they were trying to choose 6 very different stories, to try to appeal to lots of different tastes. But anyway, I’m a fine one to talk – I didn’t even enter!  


  2. Good luck Sheila, and thanks for an interesting interview Helen.

  3. SV Waterhouse says:

    I don’t know Sheila but please tell her that at least one Costa voter thinks she was robbed! Dislocation is beautifully crafted, affecting and important and as far as I’m concerned stands in a class of its own. I read/listened to all the stories twice and there was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that this was the winner. That’s not to say, I thought the actual winner, or any of the other stories, unworthy. Just that Sheila’s was better. I look forward to reading everything Sheila publishes from now on.

    • Sheila Llewellyn says:

      I’m a recent convert to Helen’s blog, and have only just seen this. Thanks so much for your kind comments, ‘SV’ – it was always going to be a bit of a lottery and the three winners were very worthy of their prizes. I had a few people come up to me on the night and say they’d looked up the Le Brocquy painting I referred to in the story, so that was really gratifying – he deserves to be better known. One thing being shortlisted brought home to me – if I can do it, then other writers out there certainly can, so when it comes round next year, have a go, you never know.
      Back to reality now – onwards and upwards. Thanks again,

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