The Short Story Challenge

The Reading Agency worked with Booktrust and the Story Campaign on a project to stimulate debate around short stories with readers.

Stimulating debate

Running from October 2006 to April 2007, the Short Story Challenge involved 100 reading groups (recruited through public libraries).

All the participating reading groups were invited to enter the Short Story Challenge by devising their own anthology of five short stories, inspired by a particular theme, or the top five must-read short stories as selected by their reading group.

The winners were The Bookies, a group of prisoners from Birmingham, brought together by the Birmingham Prison Library Service. They chose the following stories for their anthology:

Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker
Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
Death on Denial
by O’Neil de Noux
Happy Valley by John Cleese and Connie Booth
Being Frank by Ian Rankin

'Some prisoners have never read for pleasure before, and find the idea of a full length novel too daunting. We think that short stories are a great way into reading and have developed a list of stories to inspire other readers.

'We set a limit of twelve pages or fewer, because a lot of our library users have difficulty concentrating. The five stories above are the ones that stood out for us. We have tried to get together stories that reflect the diversity of material available and will suit the many tastes in here.'

For obvious reasons, the winning group was unable to use its prize of 12 tickets to attend the National Short Story Prize ceremony in April 2007, but the members of the group did each receive a copy of the 2007 National Short Story Prize anthology. In addition, Julian Gough, the National Short Story Prize winner, agreed to visit the group.

The runners-up were Barrhead Library Reading Group, East Renfrewshire; Notting Hill Gate Library Reading Group, London; and the Wednesday Afternoon Group from Fife. Each group received 12 copies of the 2007 National Short Story Prize anthology.

Barrhead Library Reading Group chose:

The Trojan Sofa by Bernard Maclaverty
The Assessment by Bernard Maclaverty
The Girl who Reversed Progress by Liz Jensen
Hieroglyphics by Anne Donovan
The Irony of Hate by Ruth Rendell

"We are nominating these five short stories because as a group we feel that they cover a wide range of themes and styles. After reading well over a hundred short stories between us it was a difficult decision to select just five! However, the five stories we have chosen are the ones that stuck in our minds and provoked the best discussion within the group."

Notting Hill Gate Library Reading Group chose:

The Janeites by Rudyard Kipling
The Reverent Wooing of Archie Mulliner by PG Wodehouse
Forever Overhead by David Foster Wallace
The Wrong Side by Deborah Moggach
The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe

"Who doesn’t love Wodehouse for cheering up a dull wintry afternoon? We laughed hearing of Archie’s attempts at wooing Aurelia. We embraced Kipling’s story of soldiers reading Jane Austen in the trenches, a true form of escapism.

"In ‘Forever Overhead’ and ‘The Wrong Side’ we were overwhelmed by the tension as the boy prepares to take his first dive into adulthood and the couple driving through France before the crash. Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter’ had us gripped until the end with its simple denouement. We chose a wildly varied anthology – humourous, tense and full of suspense."

The Wednesday Afternoon Group chose:

Hello, Goodbye by Joanne Harris
Squirrels by Angela Huth
Miss Pinkerton’s Apocalypse by Muriel Spark
The Scarf by Carol Shields
The Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro

"We decided to read books by women. We read a wide variety of short stories and had some difficulty in only selecting five. The stories chosen affected the group the most. They all evoked different emotions and memories. The discussions were lively and sometimes heated.

"Not everyone agreed as to what the author was writing about but we all agreed that the collection chosen were the ones that had made us all want to read more by the authors. The Project has made us all appreciate the Short Story."

Online reading diaries

Beddow Library Evening Reading Group, Portsmouth

Torbay Library Services Short Story Challenge Reading Group

Widnes Library Reading Group

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