The Galley Beggar Press
Short Story Prize 2019/20 

Five classic stories recommended by our 2019/20 prize judge, Toby Litt


Jennifer Egan, ‘The Stylist

 The first time I read it, this seemed a slight story about fairly trivial people. A stylist, a model, a photographer. But somehow the atmosphere of it just hung  around in my mind. I couldn’t forget it. Egan’s prose is elegantly brutal. And the more you re-read the story, the more melancholy, and the more substantial, it becomes.


Virginia Woolf, ‘The Mark on the Wall

There are lots of things a short story can do without. Plot is one of the most obvious. If you plot is ditched, then it becomes more about behaviour, or observation. ‘The Mark on the Wall’ is one of the great seeing stories. It starts from the smallest detail, but explodes from this into a torrent of associations and insights.


Claire Louise-Bennett, ‘The Lady of the House

When Claire Louise-Bennett’s POND came out, in 2015, a lot of people fell in love with the book’s main character – her voice, her life, her wayward mind. (It was the same character in each story.) ‘The Lady of the House’ unspools in a completely unpredictable and adorable way. The story is simple. There’s relationship between a woman and a man. It seems to be going well. But there’s also a monster.


Franz Kafka, ‘The Burrow

I like stories that are not just stories but also experiences. Kafka’s ‘The Burrow’ forces the reader into a very claustrophobic underground world, and then keeps them there. Even surrounded by nothing but dirt and danger, there’s something nightmarishly bureaucratic about the narrator-creature. It seems to be administrating its own imminent doom. Unforgettable.


Henry James, ‘The Beast in the Jungle

This is my favourite short story. It is an endlessly recursive parable of fulfilment and/or unfulfilment. In many of his fictions, James dramatized just how perverse people can be. People don’t always want what they want; people don’t even desire their own desires. Throughout their lifelong non-relationship, his genteel hero and heroine do nothing more than talk. But the bestial savagery of the title is there in their every exchange.

  • TOBY LITT is one of this year’s judges for the GBP 2019/20 Short Story Prize. Toby grew up in Ampthill, Bedfordshire. He has worked as a teacher, bookseller and subtitler. A graduate of Malcolm Bradbury’s Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia, he is a Granta Best of Young British Novelist and a regular on Radio 3’s The Verb. His story ‘John and John’ won the Manchester Fiction Prize, and his most recent short story collection, Life-like, was shortlisted for the Edgehill Prize and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize. Toby teaches creative writing at Birkbeck College. His memoir, Wrestliana, was published by Galley Beggar Press in May 2018, and his new novel, Patience, will be published by us in September 2019. You can read an excerpt here.

  • Full information on the 2019/20 Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize, and how to enter, can be found here.