UEA Creative Writing lecturer Naomi Wood wins literary prize

UEA Creative Writing lecturer Naomi Wood wins literary prize
Naomi Wood winner of the NSSA award , presented at the BBC Theatre during a broardcast of Radio 4s Front Row. 26/9/23. Photo Tom Pilston

Bestselling author Naomi Wood has won the eighteenth BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (NSSA) with ‘Comorbidities’.

The winning story examining the difficulty of maintaining love and intimacy in a marriage, is from her forthcoming debut collection, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Orion, June 2024).

The Norwich resident was presented with the prize of £15,000  on Tuesday 26 September) by the 2023 Chair of Judges Reeta Chakrabarti at a ceremony held at BBC Broadcasting House and broadcast live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. ‘Comorbidities’ is available to listen to on BBC Sounds

Praised for its ‘contemporaneity and humour’, ‘Comorbidities’ is the story of a married couple, Mackenzie and Mason, exhausted by the reality of parenting their young children, six-year-old Aida and one-year-old Casper. With a rare 24 hours alone with Aida and Casper at their Granny Cherry’s, and desperate to reintroduce some intimacy and passion into their relationship, the couple decide to make a sex tape. The judges were charmed by Wood’s ‘light and refreshing’ and ‘seriously funny’ storytelling, which with wit and verve explores all the anxieties of modern parenting; the climate crisis, privacy intrusion, teenage mental health and the physical demands of motherhood.

Talking about her story, Naomi Wood says: “As the best and most prestigious award for the short story in the country, of course it means a huge amount for my story to be recognised for the first time in this way. I love writing short stories, but it has taken me three novels and over a decade to get there. Only now do I feel like I understand them. I started writing this story three years ago, when my kids were one and five, which is a crucially exhausting time for parents when you don’t have any time for yourself, or your relationship, and the only vibrato that buzzes through everyday life is just this constant hum of sleeplessness. I guess the main thrust of ‘Comorbidities’ is how to maintain intimacy and love when you’re assailed with caring responsibilities, work, climate change, family – this supermassive cluster of 21st century anxieties and tensions.”

Chair of Judges, BBC News journalist and presenter Reeta Chakrabarti, says: “‘Comorbidities’ is a sparkling gem, written with a light and wry touch, but which tackles serious themes. It stood out because it felt bang up-to-date and contemporary, with its exploration of the anxieties we all live with – about the planet, the internet, parenthood, and sex. Each character is beautifully defined, and the panel felt this was a story with lots of ‘edges’ – that is, with many points of contact for the reader. Naomi Wood faced stiff competition in an exceptionally strong shortlist, but she is a very worthy winner. Many congratulations!”

Alongside the BBC NSSA, the winner of the ninth annual BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University, an award created to inspire and encourage the next generation of short story writers, was also announced. A cross network collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and Radio 1 and open to all 14 to 18-year-olds, the award was won by Atlas Weyland Eden, 18, from Devon for
‘The Wordsmith’. It is also available to listen to on BBC Sounds.

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