Interview with Judith Wilson
Winner of the London Short Story Prize 2019

Interview

Judith Wilson is the winner of this year’s London Short Story Prize 2019 for her brilliant short story ‘Jacking Sea Fruits in the Dark’. From 574 entries, our judging panel: writers Eley Williams and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, and agent Charlotte Seymour, chose Judith’s story as the winning entry. 

Eley Williams said that: “The story chosen as winner by the judges is a formidable study in control: of voice, atmosphere and tension. With sprightly and spirited sophisticated prose, the winning piece is a taut and compelling story that lingers long in the mind.”

Charlotte Seymour said that: “Jacking Sea Fruits in the Dark stood out for so many reasons: the most intriguing title; sparkling, poetic lines juxtaposed with the more colloquial; a glimpse into a troubled life; and a teasingly ambiguous ending which we each read slightly differently. This was an intriguing, unsettling and also funny story, carried above all by the voice of its narrator – loner, voyeur, collector, trickster, and what else, we’re never quite sure… “

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan said that: “Jacking Sea Fruits in the Dark was chosen as our winner. The words of this story were carefully chosen, spare, with the occasional sparkler lunations or winkle tucked in. It is a language that felt appropriate for beach-combing. And the lonely, ominous atmosphere the story created struck us all.”

Spread the Word’s Aliya Gulamani caught up with Judith to congratulate her and ask a few questions…

Aliya: How do you feel being selected as the winner for this year’s London Short Story Prize?

Judith: I am completely shocked and also utterly thrilled! It’s a huge honour to be selected.

Aliya: Can you tell us a bit more about your short story ‘Jacking Sea Fruits in the Dark’ and its inspiration?

Judith: The story is set on a beach in Cornwall.  I’ve walked on it several times; during a visit last year, I felt a tremor beneath my foot. I subsequently discovered there had been an earthquake in Wales at exactly that moment and its shockwaves reached the South West. This is the inspiration behind the story’s first line. The beach is two miles long, treacherous and lonely, with riptides. I wanted to explore how an individual, forced onto the fringes of society, might be drawn to wild expanses of coast, how they might engage with the solitude of a beach. The stranger narrator in ‘Jacking Sea Fruits in the Dark’ was the result. When I’m writing short stories, I like to start with a snatched moment from real life – or a memory – and weave it into fiction.

Aliya: Tell me a bit more about your writing; why do you write and what are you currently working on?

Judith: Writing is a compulsion; I would be bereft without access to a paper and pen. I’ve written a diary since I was ten, still do. I came to fiction comparatively late; my career has been in non-fiction journalism and writing. Once I’d started writing fiction a few years ago, I couldn’t stop!  I’ve just completed the MA Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, and that shared experience working with other writers has been enormously helpful. I am currently completing the historical novel that I began on the MA, which has been inspired, in part, by my great-grandmother.

Aliya: Who are your writing inspirations? 

Judith: I read eclectically. Some of my favourite contemporary novelists are Colm Toibin, Sebastian Barry and Sally Rooney; but I also love Rosamond Lehmann and Daphne du Maurier. I’ve recently discovered the genius of the novelist Shirley Hazzard.

Aliya: And finally, what top tips would you share with budding short story writers out there?

Judith: I find writing short stories is a brilliant vehicle for experimenting with a new voice, or a fresh style. Write, edit, write, edit.  Once I’ve written a short story draft, I cut and edit rigorously. I put the work away, then I read and edit again. And it’s vital to enter competitions! These offer such a good discipline, because most require a set word count, a deadline, and the necessity to polish your work.


The London Short Story Prize anthology will feature Judith’s winning short story as well as the entire longlist, and will be launched in April 2020. Watch this space for updates…

Published 3 December 2019