Pip Robertson wins regional Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Pip Robertson

The Commonwealth Foundation has announced the regional winners of the world’s most global literary prize. Pip Robertson, from Te Whanganui-A-Tara, New Zealand, has won the 2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for the Pacific region. The 47-year-old was named winner over strong competition from Australian writer Jennifer Severn, and fellow New Zealanders, M Donato and Anna Woods.

Pip goes through to the final round of judging and the overall winner will be announced on 26 June.

Robertson’s regional-winning story, ‘A River, Then the Road’, tells how Alexis, a 12-year-old girl and her brother visit their troubled father for the weekend. Mistrust of her own body and a duty to protect her father from the consequences of his actions lead her into danger.

Commenting on the background to her story, Robertson said, ‘The starting point was always 12-year-old Alexis. Her age directly affects the decisions she makes and the direction of the story. She has a growing understanding of the world, but still areas of misunderstanding—including, crucially, about her own body.

The image of a dog following a scent trail through the forest was also part of the story early on. I write with one dog beside me and another lying at my feet, so I don’t have to look far for the source of that.’

She added, ‘One of the challenges I love in writing short stories is conveying the complexity and contradictions of characters’ lives in just a few pages. In this story it was important to me that the increasing danger Alexis finds herself in doesn’t come from someone seeking to harm her, but from other characters doing what they think is right, however misguided.’

The judge representing the Pacific region, award-winning Australian Bundjalung writer Melissa Lucashenko said: ‘This entry is an exceptional story of two young siblings navigating the consequences of their parent’s divorce. The portrayal of how homelessness affects their father’s one night a month access—“motels in wet weather, camping when it’s dry”—is both rare and valuable in the literary landscape. The pubescent daughter’s point of view—neither fully adult nor naive like her young brother—is brilliantly realised. Her heartbreaking attempts to contain her own fears while protecting her young sibling during parental abduction are among many strengths of ‘A River then the Road’. This story reminded me of so many young people I’ve known who are forced to grow up too fast because their parents haven’t. And it’s an oblique but biting commentary on capitalism, and the powerlessness of the unorganised working class to fight for a better life.’

The story was selected as the regional winner for the Pacific by an international panel of judges, chaired by Ugandan-British novelist and short story writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, who is joined by five judges drawn from the five regions of the Commonwealth. They are South African writer Keletso Mopai (Africa), Singaporean short story writer, screenwriter and novelist O Thiam Chin (Asia), Canadian writer and editor Shashi Bhat (Canada & Europe), poet and author Richard Georges from the British Virgin Islands (Caribbean), and award-winning Australian Bundjalung writer Melissa Lucashenko (Pacific).

About Pip Robertson

Pip Robertson has had short stories published in journals and anthologies in print and online. She has a Master of Arts from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. She lives in TeWhanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa New Zealand, with her partner, daughter and dogs.