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Trinidadian writer wins Commonwealth prize

SHORT STORY WINNER: Trinidadian author Sharon Millar

A CARIBBEAN writer has scooped an award at a prestigious book festival for her short story.

Trinidadian-born Sharon Millar was jointly crowned winner at this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

“The win is incredibly exciting,” she told The Voice.

“Any international award is wonderful validation, but to be co-awarded the Commonwealth Short Story Prize carries a particular stamp of credibility.

“It is enormously validating especially when you are writing far from the metropolis.”

Millar won the award for her story The Whale House.

She was named overall winner at the Hay Festival on May 31 – along with Eliza Robertson from Canada – having battled off the competition from writers across the globe.

The Whale House is a tale about how a woman copes with losing a baby late in her pregnancy. However, the award-winning author said the story is more than this: “It is also a story about a marriage and the secrets we keep from those closest to us.”

Millar, who lives in Port of Spain with her husband and daughter, said her inspiration for the story came from the wild landscape of the small islands that lie off the north coast of Trinidad.

She added: “The landscape drove the story and when the characters turned up, it was up to me to decide why they were all there.

“It is often how I start and I am frequently struck by the stories that emerge. I am lucky that I live in a place where the landscape is a living, breathing presence that begs to be drawn on the page.

“Inevitably this affects my characters and their struggles.”

The competition aims to inspire writers, storytellers and a range of cultural practitioners to work for social change.

Its organisers claim to unearth, develop and promote the best new writing from across the commonwealth.

The commonwealth book prize, worth £10,000, is awarded for the best first novel and the commonwealth short story prize, worth £5,000, is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction.

The prizes have a global reach, attracting entries from across the commonwealth and members of the literary community join the international judging panels. The entries are judged within the five regions of Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, Caribbean and the Pacific.

The diversity of the award is the main reason why Millar entered.

“The 54 states that make up the commonwealth pledge to principles such as human rights, democracy, egalitarianism and other noble ideals,” the winning writer added.

“By extension, the judges are always made up of a multinational group of literary professionals. I didn’t feel that my story would be obliged to have a particular market appeal to be accepted and recognised. It’s also good to know that you are up against writers from such a diverse mix of nations.”

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