Whisper it, librarian wins top story prize
A PART-TIME librarian who makes notes about every book she reads has seen off fierce competition to win Britain's biggest open-entry short story competition.
Clio Gray, from Ballintore, near Tain, Easter Ross, was yesterday declared the winner of the 2006 Scotsman and Orange Short Story Award, beating 1,500 entrants to scoop a prize of 7,500.
Ms Gray's story, I Should Have Listened Harder, about a man facing death in a Siberian prison mine, was praised by author Bernard MacLaverty, chair of the competition judges, as "a bleak and powerful story, with the ring of authenticity".
Ms Gray, in her early 50s, started writing in earnest after the first short story she wrote was published in a competition run by Scotland on Sunday four years ago.
Two years ago, she won another competition, for the best first chapter of a novel set in London.
Last month, this led to the publication of her first novel, Guardians of the Key, a wide-ranging historical adventure about the search for a holy relic.
As an eight-year-old in Devon, Ms Gray showed signs of the meticulous eye for detail which would shape her future career as a librarian and writer.
A newspaper story about a pony jumping over a hedge and landing on a Mini being driven by a woman along a country lane was cut out and filed for later use.
Years later, the nucleus of her winning story in The Scotsman and Orange Short Story Award stemmed from the name of a town, Nertchinsk, mentioned in a book about the 19th-century tea trade with China which caught her eye in a book.
"Quite often I'll be reading something and I'll come across a name I know I'll be able to use later on. That's how it was with Whilbert Stroop [the main character in Guardians of the Key]. I could see him immediately.
"I've got files for literature, science, nature and expeditions. There's a whole file for images, too."
Ms Gray acknowledges her writing progressed tremendously under a mentoring project offered last year by the Scottish Booktrust for relatively new writers.
Ms Gray, the quiet, country-loving librarian, was teamed with her polar opposite, Alan Bissett, who teaches the Glasgow MLit creative writing course and is known for gritty, urban realism-style novels. Mr Bissett's nine-month masterclass included scything some of the 100 characters in one of Ms Gray's works and advising her to be more succinct.
Ms Gray's prize-winning story - along with those of the five runners-up in The Scotsman and Orange Short Story Awards - will be available next month in downloadable podcast form for scotsman.com's three million users. It is also published in today's Critique section.
This year's competition was based on the theme of "Work", and a book of that title containing the best 20 short stories submitted goes on sale today from Polygon, price 7.99. It also includes three specially commissioned stories from leading Scottish writers Janice Galloway, Brian McCabe and Duncan McLean.
David Robinson, The Scotsman's literary editor and one of the judges on the competition, said: "Clio's verve and imagination mark her out as a writer to watch out for."
• An interview with Clio Gray appears in this weeks Critique section.
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