Edgar Allan Poe once claimed the greatest literary works were those that could be read in one sitting. Brevity must be in direct ratio of the intensity of the intended effect, he argued, once the effect has been established, of course. The stories shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award 2013 all use brevity with striking results, whether presenting a complex family history through the snapshots of a time-honoured, annual holiday, or using the form of a letter to demonstrate that a life mourned by a solitary woman is worth no less than one mourned by a nation. Each story sparks into life instantly and, like a struck match, leaves a vivid impression of its characters burning on the retina, long after the story has concluded. The landscapes they play out in also make their mark from the panic-stricken streets of New York on 9/11, to the eerie quiet of a wood on the outskirts of a city, the haunted corners of an old Cornish house, to the rubble of a bombed-out office block in a country at war with itself. This year's shortlist was drawn up by a panel of judges that included novelists Deborah Moggach, Mohsin Hamid and Peter Hobbs, as well as BBC Editor of Readings, Di Speirs, and the broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, who chaired the panel and who also introduces the collection.