East beats West: Bulgarian author Miroslav Penkov wins £15,000 short story award


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The Independent Culture

Bulgarian author Miroslav Penkov has won the £15,000 BBC International Short Story Award for his story East of the West.

The announcement was made live on Radio 4’s Front Row from a ceremony at the Free Word Centre in London. South African Henrietta Rose-Innes was the runner-up, winning £2,500 for her story Sanctuary.

Penkov emerged victorious from a strong global shortlist that included stories from Man Booker-shortlisted Deborah Levy as well as previous winner Julian Gough and M J Hyland, who was shortlisted in 2011.

Set in Bulgaria during and after the Cold War, East of the West explores the difficulties of love, relationships and identity in a region ridden with conflict and sectarian violence. The narrator takes us from his childhood through to present day, ruminating on the loves and losses which both constrain and define his life.

"I wanted to write a story about those Bulgarians who, at the will of the Great Powers, were severed from our country, and who inevitably will lose, if they haven’t already, their sense of being Bulgarian," Penkov said.

"At the same time, I wanted to write a story about myself, abroad in America and in many ways alone, with a huge body of water between me and the people I love."

BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Clive Anderson chaired the judging panel this year, joined by novelists Anjali Joseph and Ross Raisin, novelist and Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, Michèle Roberts, and Editor of Readings, BBC Radio, Di Speirs.

This year, as a one-off, and the first time since it launched in 2006, the judges invited authors from across the globe to enter alongside UK practitioners. To reflect the global breadth of the International Award in 2012 the shortlist comprised ten short stories rather than the usual five. The eight other shortlisted authors received £250.

"Storytelling lies at the heart of Radio 4 and I am proud to say that we broadcast more stories each year than anyone, anywhere in the world," said Gwyneth Williams, Controller, BBC Radio 4.