By Commonwealth Foundation with Ogova Ondego
Published June 1, 2013
The 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize was won jointly by Sharon Millar of Trinidad and Tobago and Eliza Robertson of Canada.
The awards—in an all female sweep—were presented by John le Carré at Hay Festival in Wales, United Kingdom.
Receiving the prize, Lisa O’Donnell said, “I am incredibly proud to have won the Commonwealth Book Prize. It’s a huge leap for me in what seemed an impossible step. The prodigious voices I stood beside overwhelm me, so many towering stories out there.”
The book that won O’Donnell the plum prize is The Death of Bees that is published by Random House. She has previously won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for her screenplay, The Wedding Gift. The Death of Bees is a story of two young sisters living in Glasgow’s Hazlehurst estate, trying to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents.
Godfrey Smith, Chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, said of the winner, “The Death of Bees emerged the overall winner virtually by acclamation. This coming-of-age novel is at once a grim, dark, entertaining story about gnawing emotional neglect in the lives of the young protagonists as they struggle to keep their deadly secret—the two young sisters bury their parents in their back garden—literally from being unearthed. The Death of Bees is effortlessly fresh and original; it is fiction that provokes and shocks; it is innovative in its narrative style and told in a natural convincing voice, maintaining the high standards of the Commonwealth Book Prize.”
Razia Iqbal, Chair of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, said of their choice of Millar and Robertson, “It is a measure of the quality we had to choose from in the shortlist that we unanimously settled on two joint winners. It was impossible to decide between them, though each one is quite distinctly different from the other. Both fulfilled our criteria of excellence in style, originality and tone. The Whale House, by Sharon Millar, has lush descriptions of landscapes as well as emotion. It is striking how even minor characters are drawn vividly in quick, tightly written strokes. We Walked on Water, by Eliza Robertson, is an exhilarating story about the relationship between a brother and sister, both competitive swimmers. The descriptive writing is nothing short of strikingly beautiful, in terms of emotions felt, the natural environment and the structure. Both these stories stay in the imagination and the heart, long after they have been read.”
Sharon Millar’s The Whale House is a story of a woman recovering from a miscarriage, which in turn resurrects an old conflict and a long kept secret. Bush medicine, teenage sexuality, and difficult moral choices culminate in this uniquely Trinidadian story – one of marriage and the secrets we keep from the ones closest to us.
“When a story grows legs and begins to run, it’s both humbling and enormously exhilarating. It’s almost impossible to describe the delight and excitement of winning The Commonwealth Short Story Prize,” Millar said. “I’d like to thank Commonwealth Writers for their continuing support of new and upcoming writers. For writers who live far from the metropolis prizes such as this are a dream come true. They also provide a powerful motivation to continue writing.”
We Walked on Water by Eliza Robertson, on the other hand, is about a boy who loses his twin sister during the Ironman competition in Penticton, British Columbia. The story begins the year after Liv’s death, when the boy decides to compete again.
Robertson said of her joint win, “I feel both grateful and not-quite-believing to be selected as one of the overall winners of this prize. I am thrilled and thankful for the opportunity to share my work.”
Part of Commonwealth Writers, the Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize are aimed at unearthing, developing and promoting the best new writing from across the Commonwealth, developing literary connections worldwide.
The three winners—all female—of the 2013 prizes wrote stories set in Trinidad and Tobago, Canada’s British Columbia and Glasgow’s Hazlehurst estate in Scotland – a diverse range of geographies and backgrounds that reflects the global nature of the accolade.
While the winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize receives £10,000, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize comes with £5,000.