Chair of judges Professor Dai Smith CBE, of Swansea University said: “From an exceptionally talented shortlist of six works, after a great deal of vigorous discussion, the judges recognised the mastery of form which is present in Fiona McFarlane’s unforgettable collection of stunning short stories. The High Places, the judges thought, was highly varied in tone and brought the reader to characters, situations and places which were haunting in their oddity and moving in their human empathy. This is a mature work by a young writer who exemplifies the international spirit of this prize.”
McFarlane’s stories skip across continents, eras, and genres to chart the borderlands of emotional life. In “Mycenae”, she describes a middle aged couple’s disastrous vacation with old friends. In “Good News for Modern Man”, a scientist lives on a small island with only a colossal squid and the ghost of Charles Darwin for company. And in the title story, an Australian farmer turns to Old Testament methods to relieve a fatal drought. Each story explores what Flannery O’Connor called “mystery and manners.” The collection dissects the feelings – longing, contempt, love, fear – that animate our existence and hints at a reality beyond the smallness of our lives.
The £30,000 prize was presented to Fiona McFarlane at a gala ceremony in Swansea University’s Great Hall on its new Bay Campus on 10 May 2017.
Sunday, 14 May, is International Dylan Day, an annual celebration of the life and work of Dylan Thomas, marking the date Under Milk Wood was first read on stage at 92Y The Poetry Center, New York in 1953.
2017 is the 11th year of the prize, which supports and nurtures young writing talent from around the world. One of the richest awards available for young fiction writers, the £30,000 International Dylan Thomas Prize is awarded to the best published literary work of fiction in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under.
The prize is named after Swansea-born writer Dylan Thomas and celebrates his 39 years of creativity and productivity. One of the most influential, internationally-renowned writers of the mid-twentieth century, the prize invokes his memory to support the writers of today and nurture the talents of tomorrow. Eligible works include poetry, novels, short stories and drama.
Professor Smith is Emeritus Raymond Williams Research Chair in the Cultural History of Wales at Swansea University and historian and writer on Welsh arts and culture; this year’s judging panel also features: poet and scholar, Professor Kurt Heinzelman; Alison Hindell, Head of Audio Drama, UK for the BBC; novelist and Professor Sarah Moss, and author Prajwal Parajuly.
This year’s shortlist combined short stories, poetry and prose. Alongside Fiona McFarlane, the five other shortlisted writers were Anuk Arudpragasam (Sri Lanka), The Story of a Brief Marriage, Granta; Alys Conran (UK), Pigeon, Parthian; Luke Kennard (UK), Cain, Penned in the Margins; Sarah Perry (UK), The Essex Serpent, Serpent’s Tail and Callan Wink (US), Dog Run Moon: Stories, Granta.