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“13 Feb 1991: Nadia Lawrence [my editor at Heinemann] rang.  I am the first Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, apparently, but it is a secret as the other people on the shortlist mustn’t know before the presentation dinner next month.  Relief — now I can carry on writing stories and not worry about publishers preferring novels.

“26 Mar 1991: I only got back at 4.30am — could hear the dawn chorus twittering.  The dress was worth it, comfortable as a tracksuit. [I’d spent some of the prize money in advance on a thin black stretch-velvet column printed up and down with gilt cherubs and curlicues — I still have it somewhere].  The judges were Penny Perrick, Valerie Grove and John Walsh, who described Four Bare Legs in a Bed flatteringly (though used the word gynaecological at one point to my horror). The worst bit was when they were doing the teasing running-up speech to the award. I thought I wasn’t nervous but I noticed my heart doubled its speed. Shook hands with Muriel Spark [giving the prize, along with Joan Collins — can that be right?].   Our table [Heinemann] was the last left in the room.  Helen Fraser and Nadia offered to go my way — but X & Y had said they were hungry so we three went off after midnight in search of food.  Chinese restaurant in Soho, illegal sake in a teapot, talk of life, love, freedom, travel.”

Other prizes followed but this Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year award was the first, giving a generous dose of encouragement and cash at the very point it was needed. Twenty-five years on I am still writing stories (my sixth collection, Cockfosters, is out later this year).

Buy Four Bare Legs In A Bed

Helen Simpson was born in Bristol and grew up in London.

She read English at Oxford University, where she wrote a thesis on Restoration farce, then worked for five years as a staff writer at Vogue before becoming a freelance-writer, contributing articles to newspapers and magazines and publishing two cookery books.

Her first collection of short stories, Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories(1990), won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and a Somerset Maugham Award and she was chosen as one of Granta magazine’s 20 ‘Best of Young British Novelists 2’ in 1993. Further short story collections include Dear George (1995); Hey Yeah Right Get a Life (2000), a collection of loosely linked stories about modern women and motherhood, which won the Hawthornden Prize in 2001; and Constitutional (2005).

She also wrote the libretto for the jazz opera, Good Friday, 1663, screened on Channel 4 television, and the lyrics for Kate and Mike Westbrook’s jazz suiteBar Utopia.

Helen Simpson lives in London and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.  Her latest story collection is In-Flight Entertainment (2010). In 2012, a new selection of her short stories was published, including stories from all five previous collections, entitled A Bunch of Fives.

Young Writer Award @YoungWriterYear

Follow us on twitter. The Young Writer of the Year Award is a prize of £10,000 for a writer under 35.

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