WE were a happy and united family until the day my sister Imelda gave birth to the reincarnation of Clement Attlee. That was when our troubles began.

It fell to me to make the announcement because I was the one who recognised him. On the evening after the birth I went into the ward at St George's, Tooting, a bunch of freesias in my hand, and I looked at my nephew, my only nephew, lying in what seemed like a plastic milk crate. "Clement Attlee," I said.

Imelda was sitting up in bed, her hair newly washed, looking pleased with herself. By her side was her husband Raymond, looking even more pleased, and by Raymond's side was his brother Psycho Dave, who had come along to support him. My mother was sitting opposite; she looked pleased too.

"Clement Attlee," I said.

"Looks more like Mao Tse-tung," Psycho Dave said.

"Not looks like - is," I said.

I had never considered reincarnation before, but now it was as though someone had put an information disk into my head that contained all I needed to know. There was not a shred of doubt in my mind. "He's Clement Attlee," I repeated.

from "Welcome Back" by Patrick Cunningham

The Independent on Sunday/Bloomsbury Short Story competition was won by Joe O'Donnell for "Seraphim Preening", which was printed in the Sunday Review in March. The judges - Margaret Atwood, Will Self, Bloomsbury publisher Liz Calder and Jan Dalley, literary editor of the IoS - felt that the standard of entries was so high that we decided to publish the best of the rest in this collection. The 14 stories in IOS represent a wide range of styles. Liz Calder's Introduction quotes Margaret Atwood's list of what she was looking for in judging the stories:

"Well written within its style. Convincing detail. Not too predictable. Story holds my attention. Story holds together. Originality. Believable within its genre. That intangible something."

"Ah yes," Liz Calder continues, "that intangible something."

IOS is published by Bloomsbury at pounds 7.99. To obtain a copy at the special readers' discount price of pounds 5.99 (with free p&p) please call the Bloomsbury cash sales department at Exel Logistics on 01634 297123