A £15,000 competition designed to rejuvenate interest in the short story has generated more than 1,400 entries and produced a shortlist headed by the 77-year-old literary knight William Trevor.
The National Short Story Prize was established this year by Nesta (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), with the support of BBC Radio 4 and Prospect magazine, to re-establish the importance of the British story after years of perceived neglect.
The first shortlist of five included one newcomer and a clutch of more established names. The winner will be announced next month.
Francine Stock, the broadcaster who chaired the judges, said: "We need more short stories in our lives. When you find a good one you simply drop into another world. All five of these stories do that in a few thousand words.
"Our award's first shortlist demonstrates the breadth of talent for the short story in the UK, from William Trevor, elder statesman of the form, to Rana Dasgupta, whose first novel was only published last year." Trevor, 77, who was born in Ireland but lives in Devon, is in the running for his story Men of Ireland, about a homeless man's appeal for help, which was published in The New Yorker magazine last year.
Although he has won prizes including the Whitbread, he describes himself as a short-story writer who also writes novels.
The other contenders are Rose Tremain, James Lasdun, Michael Faber and Rana Dasgupta.
Tremain, born in 1943, lives in Norfolk and London, and is shortlisted for The Ebony Hand, about a woman's efforts to look after her late sister's daughter.
The story was published last year in a collection of her short stories, The Death of Wallis Simpson. Tremain has also written nine novels including Music and Silence, which won the Whitbread Novel Award and is being developed as a film.
She said: "Anything that focuses on the short story is really good. It's a neglected form. I know publishers feel it's as hard to sell as poetry, and it's probably almost as hard to write." Many writers began with it because they did not realise it was "very exacting," she said.
James Lasdun, 48, a British writer who lives in New York, has published two collections of short stories and his second novel is being published this year. He is shortlisted for An Anxious Man, a story which originally appeared in The Paris Review.
Michel Faber, 46, a Dutch author who lives in Scotland, is in contention for The Safehouse, the tale of a man who wakes up far from home, destitute, but with details of who he is written on his T-shirt. It was in his short-story collection, The Fahrenheit Twins and Other Stories. His work includes the bestselling novel, The Crimson Petal and the White.
The final contender is Rana Dasgupta, 35, a former marketing executive who was born in Canterbury, Kent, but lives in Delhi. His story, The Flyover, about a young man in Lagos whose only talent is for knowing other people's business, is taken from his first book, the collection Tokyo Cancelled.
Each of the stories , set at a maximum of 8,000 words, will be broadcast on Radio 4 and all of the stories will be published as a collection next month. The winner of the £15,000 prize will be announced on 15 May.
Ms Stock said: "If we have any advice for future entrants, it's that they should not be afraid to experiment or be humorous. It would be good to see more entries from younger writers, too."
RANA DASGUPTA The Flyover
Based in a market in Lagos, Marlboro - who was abandoned by his mother - enters corrupt business to escape
MICHEL FABER The Safehouse
A man wakes far from home, knowing nothing of the past, not caring if he lives. The Safehouse is his last refuge
JAMES LASDUN An Anxious Man
Joseph Nagel, nervous about his wife's investments, makes friends in Cape Cod. But they vanish with his daughter
ROSE TREMAIN The Ebony Hand
Mercedes takes in her niece Nicolina, seeking her maternal instinct. But her hopes are unexpectedly dashed
WILLIAM TREVOR Men of Ireland
A homeless man seeks help from a priest to tackle the church's guilt over its dealings with boys like himReuse content