Adam Thorpe and Jane Gardam
head the shortlist for the National Short Story prize, the world's richest single story award, announced earlier today.
They are joined on the shortlist for £15,000 prize by Richard Beard, Erin Soros and Clare Wigfall.
The chair of the judges, Martha Kearney, hailed the depth and quality of the 635 entries received this year, calling it an "immense pleasure" to be involved with judging "the perfect art form for an age when people are so short of time".
"Our very strong list demonstrates the incredible versatility which the short story can encompass," she said, "whole worlds conjured up in the tautest of structures. Our writers have deftly created powerful voices and characters in stories which range from the satirical to the gothic."
Thorpe's story, The Names, follows a Swedish student travelling through the French countryside in the 1970s. He picks up a bottle in a secondhand sale and begins a search for its orginal owner which eventually reveals a brutal wartime murder.
Gardam, who was awarded the Whitbread novel of the year award twice for The Queen of the Tambourine and The Hollow Land, tells the story of an old barrister in her shortlisted story The People on Privilege Hill. Other stories on the shortlist range over a misbehaving MEP, children playing on a beach and a woman on a sparsely-populated island.
As last year, the shortlisted stories are due to be broadcast on Radio 4 between Monday July 7 and Friday July 11. One of last year's stories, Hanif Kureishi's Weddings and Beheadings - about was cancelled at short notice over fears for the safety of the BBC Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston.
The winner will be announced on Monday July 14. The runner up will receive £3,000 and the remaining three authors £500 each.
Julian Gough won the 2007 award with Tipperary Star Wars.
from the Guardian books Web site