Angela Readman - Women's Short Story Competition 2016 winner

Angela Readman ‘The story that was never told’

I was making tea when the phone rang to tell me I’d won. I was in a half awake state, it took a while for it to sink in. I may have swore on the phone, then spent an hour thinking, ‘Oh no, please tell me I didn’t swear in front of Debbie Taylor.’ I’ve submitted to the Mslexia Story Competition almost every year since it began. I tend to enter a couple of competitions a year, just to make myself finish things, but I never expect to get anywhere. I don’t want to be disappointed. There’s so much wonderful work out there.

I was particularly surprised because it’s a fairytale sort of story. I’ve never had much success placing that sort of work. I couldn’t have been more delighted. I was sworn to secrecy, so I could only tell my husband. I loved seeing his reaction. He believes in my work more than I do I think!

ANGELA READMAN, who lives in Newcastle, is a full-time writer of poetry and fiction, who also provides feedback on other writers’ work. Chronic anxiety limits her activities in some ways, but means she spends more time at home on her creative work. She won the Mslexia Poetry Competition in 2013 (it paid for the log-burning stove in her writing room), as well as the 2013 Costa Short Story Competition. Her short story collection Don’t Try This At Home (And Other Stories, 2015) has been shortlisted for the Edge Hill Story Award. Whenever she wins something, she buys a Moomin mug to remind herself (on bad days) that she’s heading in the right direction. 

What did the judge say?

‘This is a beautifully political work – political in a subtle feminist sense – about the power of language and who owns or disputes that power. It’s a story that works on the levels both of content and of comment. Set in a 19th Century rural landscape that may be Germany, it’s set also in the landscape of imagination, told with deceptive simplicity and brevity. In fact it’s a story about stories: who invents and tells them, who writes them down, who guards them or steals them.

Can an illiterate woman win in a contest with an exploitative male scholar? The story is suggestive rather than spelt-out. Only gradually is the ‘truth’ revealed; but the reader has to work out what is truth and what is imagined – and what imaginative truth might be. The story’s images linger in the mind and raise many questions for the reader to consider, to do with gender, literacy, cultural politics and cultural tourism. All this is achieved with the deceptive lightness of fairy tales.’

Michèle Roberts is the author of 12 highly acclaimed novels, including The Looking Glass (Little Brown) and Daughters of the House (Virago), which won the WHSmith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Her memoir Paper Houses (Virago) was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week in 2007. She has also published poetry and short stories, most recently collected in Mud – stories of sex and love (Virago). She is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia


Congratulations to the shortlisted writers!

  • 2nd PRIZE: Jo Wells, Me girl bad
  • 3rd PRIZE: Margaret Morton Kirk, The seal singers
  • Sybilla Harvey, Let me tell you about a girl I know
  • Natasha Preskey, Incision
  • Isha Karki, Sister
Thank you Mslexia for Little Ms - what a lovely lunchtime read. And I feel more informed about all things writing too!