Novelist and creative writing academic shortlisted for prestigious Commonwealth Short Story Prize

An award-winning novelist and academic at the University of Plymouth has been shortlisted for the prestigious Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Tom Vowler is one of just 21 writers to be selected from 6,000 entries for the honour of the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English.

Tom, an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing in the School of Humanities and Performing Arts, submitted his quasi science-fiction work entitled ‘An Enquiry into Morality’ into the competition.

He said: 

“It’s nice to have your work recognised by an international audience. Sometimes you are too close to appraise it, but I had a sense that this story might resonate. I worked on it for six to seven months, and it went through dozens of drafts.”
An Enquiry into Morality is, in Tom’s words, a rare foray into sci-fi for him, set in the near future and concerning “morality and what makes humans human”. It’s taken from his second collection of short stories, Dazzling the Gods, which will be published later this year.

His debut story collection, The Method, won the Scott Prize and the Edge Hill Readers’ Prize, while his novels What Lies Within and That Dark Remembered Day both received critical acclaim.
“The short story is somewhat marginalised in the UK, a hangover from our obsession with the Victorian novel,” 

Tom adds. 

“It is a much closer cousin to poetry, concerned more with what the reader feels than what is known. It must possess bite and kick and voltage, and function on a more immersive, chimeric level than the novel.”
An alumnus of the University’s MA in Creative Writing in 2008, and a subsequent PhD on the role of trauma and landscape in fiction, Tom is also editor of the literary journal Short Fiction.

Now in its sixth year the Commonwealth Short Story Prize saw a 50% increase in the number of entries this year, with writers from 49 countries submitting their work. The shortlist was chosen by an international judging panel, headed by novelist Kamila Shamsie, and the winner, who receives £5,000, will be selected in May.

Dr Rachel Christofides, Associate Head of School for English and Creative Writing, paid tribute to Tom’s achievements, saying: 
“Tom's inclusion in the shortlist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize underlines the international profile of writers in the department of English and Creative Writing, and in particular its expertise in fiction and the short story. We are especially proud that Tom is one of our own alumni, a graduate of both our MA and PhD programmes in Creative Writing. Tom is an outstanding example of the success of our graduates and the staff who teach them, and now, through his own teaching and his practice, Tom himself is helping to inspire a new generation of creative writing students in the department.”

From, An Enquiry into Morality:

She termed it ironic, though I suspect that wasn’t correct. How the one thing the human mind could not comprehend was itself. She didn’t mean the brain – that clod of moist beige tissue had apparently given up most of its secrets in the last few decades – but consciousness itself, which quite reasonably, she said, could be nothing more than a conjuring trick. And given our ignorance as to its origin, whether it even possessed a physical entity or not, it was entirely possible everything was sentient: cats, birds, insects. And without evidence consciousness required a brain at all, there was no logical reason to draw the line there. Plants, cars and desks could all be aware of their plantness, carness and deskness, merely unable to communicate it.

English and Creative Writing at Plymouth University

The English and Creative Writing department at the University encompasses experts on the Restoration, 18th, 19th and 20th century literature, contemporary poetry and fiction, American literature with research interests lying in literature and the environment and transatlantic literature amongst others. The teaching staff are published writers and poets in their own right and support future aspiring and emerging writers through their teaching, publishing initiatives such as Periplum Poetry.

Find out more about the English and Creative Writing department.