Known by many critics as the quintessential short-fiction stylist, William Sansom evoked high praise from Elizabeth Bowen, who called him a “short-storyist par excellence; the short-storyist by birth, addiction and destiny.” His stories display a keen interest not only in surrealism and grotesque horror but also in fantasy, comedy, and downright playfulness. Influenced by music and art and by his work in film, Sansom wrote cameo portrayals of all social classes, both English and continental. His two collections of short stories, South and The Passionate North, are innovations in travel stories, a blending of the travel article and fiction. Rather than following the traditional pattern of character and plot, Sansom favored the aesthetic of places, objects, and people, not the emphasis on conflicts and feelings. Sansom said this of his literary ethos:A writer lives best, in a state of astonishment. Beneath any feeling he has of the good or evil of the world lies a deeper one of wonder at it all. To transmit that feeling, he writes.
He received the Society of Authors Award in 1946 and 1947. The Royal Society of Literature elected him as Fellow in 1951.