Thursday 28 January 2021

Competition: BBC National Short Story Award 2021

Competition deadline: 15th March 2021

This year’s BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (NSSA) is now open for submissions, with novelist and former Radio 4 Commissioning Editor for Arts James Runcie chairing the judging panel.

Runcie will be joined by a group of acclaimed writers and critics: Booker Prize shortlisted novelist Fiona Mozley; award winning writer, poet and winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize, Derek Owusu; multi-award winning Irish novelist and short story writer, Donal Ryan; and returning judge, Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Radio.

The BBC National Short Story Award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and four further shortlisted authors £600 each. The stories are broadcast on Radio 4 and published in an anthology by Comma Press.

Terms and Conditions

Please read the below in full to ensure that the author whose work is due to be submitted and their short story are eligible for the Award. Instructions on entering can be found in the Entry Instructions here


1.1 In order to establish a manageable longlist all entries will initially be read by at least two (2) sifters, all of whom have expertise in the literary field, against reading guidelines set by the BBC and Cambridge University. The best 50 stories will be put forward to the judges who will be responsible for compiling a shortlist of five (5) outstanding short stories submitted for the BBC National Short Story Award 2021 with Cambridge University (“the Award”), from which they will select the winning story.

1.2 The winning award is worth £15,000 and this will be presented to the author of the best, eligible short story, in the opinion of the judges.

1.3 There will be four (4) awards of £600 for the other four (4) shortlisted stories.

1.4 The five stories shortlisted are recorded, produced and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 (see section 3 for further details).

1.5 The five stories shortlisted are published in an anthology (see section 3 for further details).

2.1 The Award is open to British nationals and UK residents, aged 18 years or over on the submission deadline (9am GMT Monday 15th March 2021) only, who have a prior record of publication in creative writing in the United Kingdom (see clause 2.8). Proof of nationality and/or residency may be requested of shortlisted writers.

2.2 The story must not exceed eight thousand (8,000) words.

2.3 Entries may be submitted by the author or by their publisher or agent on their behalf.

2.4 Stories which were previously entered into any of the following are ineligible:
(i) the National Short Story Prize 2006 or 2007;
(ii) the BBC National Short Story Award 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017;
(iii) the BBC International Short Story Award 2012;
(iv) the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University 2018 , 2019, or 2020.
It is the entrant’s responsibility to check they have not entered a story previously.

2.5 No more than one story per author may be submitted. It is the responsibility of the author to make sure that there is not more than one of their stories submitted in total. If more than one story is submitted, only the first story received will be considered.

2.6. Authors can only enter individually and not as part of a writing team.

2.7 The story entered must either:
(i) be unpublished; or
(ii) be first published or scheduled for publication/broadcast on or after 1 January 2020: in print by an established UK publisher; first published online by an established newspaper, magazine, journal or periodical; first broadcast on a national radio station or television channel. See 2.8 for definitions.

2.8 The author must have a prior record of publication in creative writing in the United Kingdom before the closing date for entries, Monday 15 March 2021. This means the author must previously have had a work or works of prose fiction, drama or poetry published by an established UK book publisher (including e-book and audio publication), published in print or online by an established printed newspaper, magazine, journal, periodical in the UK, or broadcast by a UK national broadcaster or content provider. The prior record of publication must be the sole work of the author and not written as part of a writing team.

2.8.1 For the avoidance of doubt, ‘established UK publisher’ means a publishing house or company that publishes a list of titles by different authors, that produces titles with an ISBN and sells them in pounds sterling, and that distributes them through established retail outlets.

2.8.2 For the avoidance of doubt, ‘established newspaper, magazine, journal or periodical’ means a periodical that is printed regularly (at least annually) that has been in circulation for at least the past 12 months, has an ISBN or ISSN number and is not self-published; or has a paid subscription-based website.

2.8.3 For the avoidance of doubt, ‘a UK national broadcaster’ means a national radio station or television channel. It does not include podcasts.

2.8.4 None of the following will constitute a ‘record of prior publication’:

(i) self-published material of any kind;
(ii) work published via commercial arrangement through which the publisher is paid by the author;
(iii) online publication via an author’s own website or blog, or a writing community site;
(iv) translation of a fictional work;
(v) a piece of creative writing pending publication.

2.8.5 The work/s that constitute a prior record of creative writing can be a work/s for children, but the short story submitted must be aimed at adult readers and listeners. Other acceptable creative writing forms are poetry and plays.

2.9 The story submitted must be, and by submission of the Entry Form is warranted to: (i) be original, fictional, and entirely the author’s own work; (ii) not have been submitted for an earlier BBC National Short Story Award, as detailed in 2.4 above; (iii) not infringe the copyright or any other rights of any third party; (iv) not be defamatory of any living person or corporate body; and (v) and be suitable for broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
2.10 If the story has been adapted, extracted or extended from an existing piece of published/broadcast fiction, including a piece published/broadcast or scheduled for publication/broadcast after 1 January 2020, please indicate where specified on the Entry Form. Further, by submitting the Entry Form the entrant warrants that they or the story submitted will not bring the BBC or Cambridge University into disrepute. Breach of any of these warranties will result in disqualification of the entry.
2.11 The Award is not open to employees of the BBC, BBC Group company, Cambridge University or anyone connected with the Award or their direct family members. Proof of identity and eligibility may be requested.

2.12 Entries are limited to stories written in English, or if written in Gaelic or Welsh must include a translation.

2.13 A short story that was published and/or is entered posthumously will not be eligible for the Award.

3.1 By submitting a story for the Award the entrant hereby acknowledges and agrees that the winning or any other shortlisted story:

3.1.1 may be read out or reproduced in a BBC programme, podcast, website or app, that is then:
(i) broadcast (in whole or in part) (including repeats and trails) on the BBC’s publicly funded services which includes its radio services and via the BBC’s website and on-line services (including on BBC Sounds), as well as featured in a BBC podcast available for permanent download; and
(ii) (should the BBC decide to do this) made available, sold and distributed (in whole or in part) together with other content and on compilations for audio publication;

Such uses would be subject to a separate agreement between the entrant and the BBC, including payment of broadcast fees and royalties in accordance with the BBC’s appropriate standard terms and conditions for use of the work. The entrant agrees to accept the BBC’s appropriate standard terms and conditions for these uses. Further to this, by submitting the story the entrant confirms there is no restriction in respect of the story, which would prevent the above

3.1.2 will be available on the BBC’s website.

3.1.3 may be used for publicity purposes around the Award, (including Student Critics – see clause 3.4) and published in full or as an extract in print or online.

3.1.4 will be listened to, discussed and critiqued by groups of 16 – 18 year olds participating in Student Critics with Cambridge University (see 3.4).
3.1.5 will be used by Cambridge for teaching purposes and (including but not limited to course publicity and promotional purposes in print or online). In addition, the BBC’s recordings will also be shared with Cambridge for the above purposes.
3.2 By submitting a story the entrant agrees that the BBC may in its sole discretion edit, adapt or abridge it for the sole purposes of broadcast and other activities set out above.
3.3 In the event that an official BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University Anthology containing the shortlisted entries is published, the author or publisher will be deemed to have granted a non-exclusive license for such publication and distribution (including via electronic distribution such as Kindle, Kobo or Nook devices), and for future award publications, and they or their agents will clear the necessary rights for such publication and distribution. The rights for publication of each shortlisted story will be non-exclusive, with no bar on publication rights elsewhere, and the Anthology will include full acknowledgement of any existing publication containing the shortlisted and winning stories. The copyright of each individual story featured in the Anthology remains with the authors, and they retain the moral right to be identified as the authors of the stories.
3.4 Schools from across the UK may take part in Student Critics with Cambridge University which is a shadowing scheme enabling 16-18 year old students to listen to and critique the shortlist of the BBC National Short Story Award 2021 with Cambridge University. The audio of the stories will be available to schools via BBC Sounds, along with supporting resources, to afford the students an enriching experience that brings literature to life.

4.1 The BBC National Short Story Award 2021 with Cambridge University will be looking for the best new writing emerging since 1 January 2020, and will consider all entries on the basis of quality and originality of prose and narrative voice. The Award aims to support and celebrate excellence in the short story form.

4.2 Judging of the Award will be in five stages:
Stage 1: All eligible entries will be read and judged anonymously by at least two (2) readers against the Award reading guidelines. Readers will be from a mixture of backgrounds, with literary expertise, and drawn from across the BBC and Cambridge University’s networks;
Stage 2: A longlist of approximately the best fifty (50) stories will then be put forward to the judging panel (this longlist is not officially published). The judging panel will read all longlisted stories anonymously.
Stage 3: Judges may also review the full list of authors who entered to the Award, in order to call in a maximum of five (5) entries each which were not longlisted in Stage 1. This collective pool of a maximum of twenty five (25) stories will be randomly and anonymously allocated to individual judges for consideration alongside the longlist. Should an individual judge decide that an entry merits collective consideration, the entry will be circulated to all judges.
Stage 4: The judges will together discuss and select a shortlist of five (5) outstanding short stories submitted for the Award;
Stage 5: The judging panel will together discuss and agree on the winning story from the shortlist of five (5). In reaching its decisions, the judges will adopt a preferential voting system. In the unlikely event of there being a tie, the Chairperson will have the casting vote.

4.3 Shortlisted writers will be contacted personally by email or by telephone.

4.4 The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

4.5 The judging will be fair and independent. The judging panel will be appointed by the Award team, comprised of representatives from the BBC and Cambridge University. The judging panel will include a representative from the BBC and distinguished literary professionals. All judges are required to declare any financial interests in relation to any entrants.

4.6 This Award complies with the BBC’s editorial guidelines. Any permitted reference to the Award by the winner and shortlisted writers will be outlined by the BBC. Please see:

5.1 The BBC is responsible for administering the Award, supported by the Award team which consists of representatives from the BBC and Cambridge University.

5.2 If entries for the Award are submitted by post, then a Postal Entry Forms and eight (8) copies of the short story must be received at The BBC National Short Story Award 2021 with Cambridge University, Books, Room 6015, Radio Drama, BBC Broadcasting House, W1A 1AA by 9am (GMT) Monday 15 March 2021. For entries submitted online, an Entry Form must be completed at by 9am (GMT) Monday 15 March 2021.

5.3 The Award team will not acknowledge receipt of entries and does not accept any responsibility for late, lost or damaged entries. Proof of sending is not proof of receipt.
Entries successfully submitted online will receive an automated acknowledgement message on-screen; entrants will not receive a message to the email address provided.

5.4 Please note that no stories entered can be returned.

5.5 The shortlist is likely to be announced on Friday 10 September 2021 and the winner on Tuesday 5 October 2021 (dates are subject to change). Both announcements will be published on the BBC website ( Please check back on the BBC website for updates. In addition, if it is deemed appropriate, a list of stories highly commended by the judges will also be published on both websites as an addendum to the announcement of the shortlist. By entering the Award, the entrant agrees to their name and the title of their story being published on these websites in the event only of their story being shortlisted or commended by the judges.

5.6.1 Shortlisted finalists may be asked by the BBC Editor of Books to disclose details of any criminal proceedings pending against them, including any unspent convictions. The BBC will not require shortlisted finalists to provide information relating to spent convictions. Finalists asked for this information must keep the BBC informed of any changes to that disclosed up to the point the winner is announced. This information will be shared with the BBC’s editorial policy advisor for the BBC National Short Award and be handled in the strictest confidence and as with all personal information, in accordance with the BBC’s privacy notice, please see below. If asked to disclose, the duty to disclose remains up until November 2021: if anything relevant occurs between the initial disclosure and November 2021, entrants should inform the BBC.
5.6.2 Following standard industry practice, the Award team may undertake background checks (with the exception of criminal proceedings pending and unspent convictions – see 5.6.1) of the shortlisted finalists. Information discovered or that may have been disclosed by the entrants themselves will inform the decision as to the selection of the finalists. Disqualification will not be automatic but the decision is in the sole discretion of the BBC.

5.7 Entrants must supply full details as required above, and comply with all rules to be eligible for the Award. Ineligible, obscene or fraudulent entries will be automatically disqualified.

5.8 The Award team reserves the right to cancel this Award at any stage, if deemed necessary in its opinion, or if circumstances arise outside of its control.

5.9 The Award team reserves the right to refuse entry to the Award for any reason at its absolute discretion.

5.10 By submitting a story the entrant agrees in the event of being shortlisted or winning the Award to (or if the entrant is the Author’s publisher or agent has secured the author’s agreement that the author will) make every attempt to attend the Award ceremony on 5 October 2021(date is subject to change), and to also undertake a mutually acceptable limited programme of activities to promote the Award particularly immediately after the shortlist and winner are announced. Entrants are responsible for all reasonable costs associated with attending the Award ceremony.

5.11 For the avoidance of doubt, any publisher, agent or other submitter who submits an Entry on behalf of its author shall be responsible for inviting and making every attempt to ensure their author’s attendance at the Award ceremony (if one is held) and any further activity agreed. Entrants are responsible for all reasonable costs associated with attending the Award ceremony.

5.12 The entrant agrees that they will contribute to publicity and promotional activities, including events, for the Award and hereby grant the BBC all necessary rights in their contribution for press/publicity activities for the Award for all media in perpetuity. The entrant agrees to obtain the BBC’s prior written agreement before taking on any of its own publicity or promotional activity relating to their involvement in the Award. In the event that the entrant is informed that their story has been shortlisted or won the award, the entrant must not publish or otherwise let it be publically known of this fact (such as via online forums, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) until such time as the official announcement is made, failing which the Award team may at its sole discretion disqualify the entry and revise the shortlist and (if applicable) winning entry.

5.13 Entrants will be deemed to have accepted these rules and to have agreed to be bound by them when entering this Award. The Award team may at its sole discretion disqualify the entry and/or reclaim any award and revise the shortlist and (if applicable) winning entry, if it considers that the entrant has not complied with the terms and conditions contained herein (such as that the work is not original, fictional, and entirely the author’s own work).

5.14 A publisher or agent who submits a story on behalf of an author shall be deemed by the act of submitting that author’s story for the BBC National Short Story Award 2021 with Cambridge University to have obtained the author’s informed permission and approval of all terms and conditions contained herein and to have taken on the responsibility of guaranteeing and procuring the author’s compliance with the terms and conditions set out herein. If such publisher or agent has failed to do so, the Award team may at its sole discretion disqualify the entry and/or reclaim any award and revise the shortlist and (if applicable) winning entry.

5.15 The entrant acknowledges and agrees that to the extent permitted by law, the BBC, Cambridge University and any other person(s) in connection with the Award will not be liable for any loss or damage (whether such damage or losses were foreseen, foreseeable, known or otherwise) including financially and/or to reputation and/or disappointment, suffered by any entrant or publisher or agent on behalf of an author, entering the Award or as a result of accepting any Award.

5.16 These rules and the entry submitted in accordance with them shall constitute a contract governed by the exclusive laws and the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.

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