'I feel like I've already won'

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'I feel like I've already won'

Heap pleased with Commonwealth writers nomination

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 26, 2020

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FOR local dramaturge Dr Brian Heap, just being among the final 20 writers shortlisted for this year's Commonwealth Short Story Prize qualifies as a win in his book.

“I'm amazingly surprised...absolutely astonished. When I was told I was shortlisted from the 5,107 entries I couldn't believe it... I was like, 'What?' “ he shared with the Jamaica Observer.

His level of surprise with the recognition comes from the fact that he had, as he put it, walked around with the story in his head for quite some time and eventually started putting pen to paper about five years ago.

It was the call for submissions for this competition that provided Heap with the impetus to complete his story Mafootoo.

“When I checked the computer I realised that I started writing the first page in January of 2015. That was a revisit, so I must have started it back in 2014. It was one of those characters that was always in my ear and just would not leave. I kept saying I need some kind of deadline in order to push myself to get the work done. Last year I saw something on the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and decided that would be my deadline to get the story finished.”

Heap joins another Jamaican, Sharma Taylor, and Trinidadian Brandon McIvor, as the three writers from the region who have been shortlisted. The list takes in writers from 15 countries across the Commonwealth including, for the first time, The Gambia.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth's 54 member states.

It is the only competition in the world where entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, English, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish.

Such linguistic diversity in a short story competition in part reflects the richness of the Commonwealth, not least its many and varied literary traditions.

Chair of the judges Ghanaian writer and editor, Nii Ayikwei Parkes shared his thoughts on this year's slate of writers.

“Beyond their basic plots, the best stories are elevated by the language in which they are told. In this judging process, the fine language has also undoubtedly been that of my fellow judges, who add nuance, colour, fun, and a profound knowledge of trends in their regions to discussions. The result of the time we've spent indulging in the submissions to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is a shortlist of 20 unique stories. These stories, drawn from all over the globe, are as harrowing as they are uplifting, funny while being tragic, and defiant in the face of politics, bigotry, and injustice. But, crucially, at a time like this, with the world beset with myriad challenges and a devastating virus, the stories are grounded in faith, hope, and the humanity we all share.”

The judges will go on to choose a winner for each of the five regions. These regional winners will be announced on Tuesday, June 2. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, July 7.

The prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction. Regional winners receive 2,500 and the overall winner receives 5,000.

Heap's story, Mafootoo captures the reflections of a Jamaican woman living in London just before and during a taxi ride to undertake a life-changing decision.

“She is reflecting on her marriage and move to London and the racism and bigotry she has had to deal with in the process. Like every good story there is a little twist in the plot. The title, Mafootoo comes from the mafootoo vine used by the Maroons to camouflage themselves in their war against the British. In this context it is a metaphor for how as humans we often camouflage ourselves, hiding our emotions and our true selves,” Heap explained.


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