Naomi Wood’s ‘Comorbidities’ Wins BBC’s National Short Story Award

In News by Porter Anderson

Called ‘bang up-to-date and contemporary,’ Naomi Wood’s winning story ‘Comorbidities’ is to be published by Hachette’s Orion in June.

A graphic representing the five shortlisted works in the 2023 BBC National Short Story Award. Image: BBC

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘This Supermassive Cluster of 21st-Century Anxieties’
In London this evening, (September 26), author Naomi Wood has won the 18th edition of the BBC National Short Story Award, a program produced with Cambridge University.

“Comorbidities” is a story included in Wood’s forthcoming debut collection, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, scheduled for publication in June by Hachette UK’s Orion Publishing Group.

The jury chair, Reeta Chakrabarti, has announced the award in an event at BCC Broadcasting House, in conjunction with a live feed on BBC Radio 4’s program Front Row. Wood receives a cash prize of £15,000 (US$18,244).

Wood’s four colleagues on the shortlist each receives £600 (US$729).

The shortlistees with Wood:

  • Kamila Shamsie for “Churail”
  • Nick Mulgrew for “The Storm”
  • K Patrick for “It’s Me”
  • Cherise Saywell for “Guests”

Winner Naomi Wood’s fellow shortlistees for the BBC National Short Story Award 2023 are, from left, Kamila Shamsie (image: Alex von Tunzelmann); Nick Mulgrew (image: Adam Mays); K Patrick (image: Alice Zoo); and Cherise Saywell (image: Julie Tinton Photography)

‘Stiff Competition’

As the BBC’s competition organizers describe it, Wood’s “Comorbidities” is “the story of a married couple, Mackenzie and Mason, exhausted by the reality of parenting their young children … With a rare 24 hours alone, and desperate to reintroduce some intimacy and passion into their relationship, the couple decide to make a sex tape.”

Naomi Wood is the author of three novels, one of them the 2014 Mrs Hemingway (Pan Macmillan/Picador).

Reeta Chakrabarti

Chakrabarti was joined as jury chair by a panel comprising Jessie Burton; Roddy Doyle; Okechukwu Nzelu; and Di Speirs.

In a prepared statement, Chakrabarti is quoted, saying, “‘Comorbidities’ is a sparkling gem, written with a light and wry touch, but which tackles serious themes.

“It stood out because it felt bang up-to-date and contemporary, with its exploration of the anxieties we all live with—about the planet, the Internet, parenthood, and sex. Each character is beautifully defined, and the panel felt this was a story with lots of ‘edges’—that is, with many points of contact for the reader.

“Naomi Wood faced stiff competition in an exceptionally strong shortlist, but she is a very worthy winner.”

Naomi Wood. Image: Christa Holka

Wood, on being named winner of the competition, is quoted, saying, “As the best and most prestigious award for the short story in the country, of course it means a huge amount for my story to be recognized for the first time in this way.

“I love writing short stories, but it has taken me three novels and over a decade to get there. Only now do I feel like I understand them.

“I started writing this story three years ago, when my kids were one and five, which is a crucially exhausting time for parents when you don’t have any time for yourself, or your relationship, and the only vibrato that buzzes through everyday life is just this constant hum of sleeplessness. I guess the main thrust of ‘Comorbidities’ is how to maintain intimacy and love when you’re assailed with caring responsibilities, work, climate change, family—this supermassive cluster of 21st-century anxieties and tensions.”

In its 18 years, the BBC National Short Story competition’s winners have included In its 18-year history, Sarah Hall, K J Orr, Jonathan Buckley, Julian Gough, Clare Wigfall, Cynan Jones, Lucy Caldwell, Ingrid Persaud and David Constantine. Among its shortlisted authors are Zadie Smith, Jackie Kay, William Trevor, Rose Tremain, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Naomi Alderman and Jacqueline Crooks.

Cambridge University supports the BBC short story program through its Centre for Creative Writing, based at the Institute of Continuing Education, alongside the faculty of English, in the university’s arts and humanities school and university library.

More from Publishing Perspectives on book and publishing awards is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s book market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.