Competition Results

2020 Poetry Results

To read the winning poems, go HERE

Organiser’s Report

It is always a crying shame when entrants do not do the two absolutely fundamental things one must do when entering a writing competition (apart from putting pen to paper):

Follow the rules.

Proof read thoroughly.

There were… a few this year. That said, there were many people who did do those two things and produced excellent work to boot. It was very difficult to pare down the shortlist, with many outstanding entries from worldwide locales, as well as a good selection from the UK and even a handful from Southport itself! The theme this year was ‘City Life’ and entrants took that topic in all kinds of interesting directions, with poems about birds, invading wildlife and other, sadder issues such as what ills might be transpiring behind closed doors which led to some powerful work.

We thank all those who entered and look forward to your future entries and welcome your thoughts on the winners.

Judge’s Report

Tough. That one word describes every aspect of the task of judging this competition, with every nuance it contains. The shortlist included poems about violence, about loneliness and about loss. They also included lighter themes such as the magic of the silver screen and the eccentricity of having a good brew. All had some aspect of the life in the city, whatsoever that happened to be, and it was enlivening to engage vicariously in the little windows of other people’s experiences. With such a high standard of entries the final call had to be partly made on merit, partly on personal preference, as it was especially hard to separate the winners from the other deserving work in the sift.

Humour –

Mothball Express – Tony Oswick

Few people want to get old, but if it ever happens one could do worse than be a bit like the bus clogging, ticket snatching, yakkety-yakking geriatrics featured in this amusing observation from the point of view of the driver. The image of the old folks competing over benches conjures thoughts of squabbling seagulls and overall this well-described poem has excellent economy of language. It could have gone on for longer, following the adventures in town, but wisely does not, focusing on the short scene well.

1st –

Oldies – Alex Hand

This poem, while also about the elderly, draws instead on the intimacies of an obviously long-standing relationship, painting a picture of a couple who have gone through their adult years learning to understand the important things, like still holding hands and having activities in common. It is a tender portrait, using details that the poet found a certain commonality in; full of comfortable silence and affection. It is also a well structured poem with the right beats and gentle expectations, challenging the reader to look differently at their elders, because they clearly are doing something right. The poem does such a fine job that you want to meet the pair featured in it, to listen to their life experiences. Perhaps that is the mark of a good poem; that you forget you are reading it and instead dwell on what it could still show you.

2nd –

The Pearls and the Paste – Linda Ford

Short, to the point and inspired by a photograph of a turn of the century Spanish actress stood on a  balcony much later in her lifetime. The poem, as it stands, is a poignant description, carefully chosen words evoke a sense of grubbiness in what should be glitzy surroundings, echoing the life of its subject. It is a fragment of a what-could-be story, a reminder of the tragedy of looking past the glamour and still finding beauty in something like pigeons coming to eat seeds. Nicely handled.

3rd –

Ballad – Michael Newman

This piece flows through what seems to be an industrial cityscape, taking in the rain, the factories and the lack of sunshine, letting us glimpse the stunning countryside that lies beyond before forcing us to go back to work in the dreary employment once more. It is a threatening piece, full of ill-will and cruel ambition, but at the same time contains enough hope to qualify for an escape from the hardship it depicts. The writer has an almost train of thought method of construction, but this lends itself to the sprawling nature of its subject, the clanking of the factory echoed in the unforgiving rhythms of the lines.

Highly Commended –

White Tea Cups – Steve Singleton

A staple of city life – the cafe, in which the teacups pass observation upon the denizens that choose to enter the threshold. There are signs of good construction here with the matching opening and close, but the perspective wobbles and the rhythm does not seem to be consistent. There are some strong images and archetypes shown (penniless writers is right!) and the overall scene setting has strong merit. Unfortunately it feels like some of the cup’s judgment is missing, some element of their observation withheld, leaving the reader to guess too much. Otherwise a very interesting piece.

Commended –

Siren in a Night Street – Christopher M James

The Forgotten People – Sue Gerrard

To read the winning poems, go HERE

Short Story 2019 Results

Read Winning Stories Here

Organiser’s Comments

I was overwhelmed – both figuratively and literally – by the number of entries which were received for this year’s competition: at the final count, we had over 300 entries from 200 writers. Many of those who entered made great use of our money-saving “four stories for a tenner” entry facility. It’s a great way of getting lots of entries in, and I was delighted to see so many writers doing so.  

The stories entered were of a tremendous range, both in subject matter and style. We had an epistolary tale, a story told entirely in dialogue, a narrative in the second person, tales told from odd perspectives and even one which included “newspaper clippings” in the story. The inventiveness of this year’s entries has been astounding. The subjects have been the usual broad range: romance, science-fiction, historical escapades, mysteries in the art world, spine-chillers, family dramas and murder by the bucketload.

Just a quick note about where we had entries from: I think that the only continent not represented this year was Antarctica (husky postal services not being what they were). This year’s international writers came from such exotic locations as Hawaii, Illinois, Stellenbosch, New Zealand and the Ukraine. We had a sprinkling of European entries, and lots from the island of Ireland. I’m delighted that the creativity we have seen has come from all longitudes.

A big thank-you to everyone who took the time to enter one or more stories into the competition. By my rough estimate, the number of words you collectively sent us was the equivalent of five decent-sized novels.

One more note of thanks, this time to the brave volunteers of the Circle who read through a batch of stories each before passing their favourites onto our Chief Judge. Their sterling efforts deserve a hearty round of applause.

And talking of our Chief Judge, here are a few words from Dr Anna Maddison regarding the winning entries:

Chief Judge’s Feedback

I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the stories and I found the creativity inspiring. The standard was very high and made judging both pleasurable and difficult!

Thank you for the opportunity to be involved in the judging experience.

First

‘No Answer’ by Eamon O’Leary

This winning story had one of the strongest openings of the competition, pulling the reader in immediately with its striking language and highly visual (and sensory) description. In fact, despite an economic use of language, every last word felt saturated with vivid imagery, giving a strong sense of character and setting – and evoking quickly and strongly a physical and emotional response. As reader, a feeling of revulsion was brought out towards the unkempt, misanthropic character and his surroundings. However, counterbalancing that were humorous and poignant moments, which acted like guideposts through the sea of unpleasantness, which really humanised the character and drew the reader in to what was essentially a very moving tale. This was especially effective given how unpalatable the character was and illustrated the inherent skilfulness of the writing. Overall, this story had a strong flavour which stayed with me long after reading. A worthy winner!

Second

‘Living Stones’ by Elizabeth Pratt

This poignant story had one of the most moving endings, eliciting a strong emotional response. The style had a simplicity about it; a clean, clear use of language and a calm, steady pace throughout. The tone of slow determination reflected the main character and her style of painting, which was all about close observation and subtlety. The author clearly shares these attributes, with convincing characterisation and sense of place effortlessly drawn for the reader. The title, almost an oxymoron, signalled the use of juxtaposition of opposites throughout, which made for an interesting dynamic. For example the interplay between images of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’, which resonated with characterisation as well as setting. Images of both hardness and fragility were evoked through mention of materials such as wrought-iron and eggshell, and most particularly through references to glass throughout, which cleverly symbolised and reflected the character of the homeless girl. This is a thoughtful, nuanced and sophisticated piece of writing.

Third

‘The Curious Koi’ by Peter Kelly

This story was highly original, intelligent and amusing. Eloquently written, it had a philosophical quality, which read like a Buddhist tale, of Confucian fable. The curious koi in his pond, with his questioning mind, is a metaphor for human nature, its curiosity beyond itself and its quest for identity and meaning in life. The style had aspects that reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s short stories for children; loaded with more significance than is at first apparent. Its tone also reminded me at times of the philosophical playfulness of Lewis Carroll’s writings. The apparent simplicity of style and the light hearted tone belies the level of sophistication and refinement on show here. This is a carefully crafted, thoughtful and engaging piece which was a pleasure to read.

Highly Commended

‘The House of Resentful Women’ by Valerie Thompson

This story had a fluent and effortless style, it was easy to read and the subject was compelling. Believable characterisation combined effectively with a strong sense of place from the start. In the best tradition of dystopian fiction, the author established a world not so distant, having contemporary political resonance. The gut punch of a dark twist – which I didn’t see coming – was thrilling! Although successful as a short story in its own right, this piece felt very much like it could be part of a longer narrative. I found I wanted to read more about this character and her predicament. Well done!

Commended

‘White Sky’ by Jocelyn Kaye

This story had strong characterisation. It effortlessly established a psychological depth in the main character and made effective use of first person narrative throughout. It also had a striking simplicity in its use of imagery which effectively conveyed the climate and atmosphere of England, not just how it looks, but how it feels. As the story progressed, the interplay between the representation of England and its projected antithesis, The Gambia was particularly vivid. Overall, this was a touching story with a pleasing, hopeful and poignant ending.

Commended

‘Fleur’  by Jez Hodesdon Despite its contemporary setting, this story had a timelessness about it. The subject and character had shades of Thomas Hardy in their tragic poignancy, particularly in the evocation of loneliness. The closeness of the man to his horse and the land also made me think briefly of D.H. Lawrence. The slow and steady pace reflected the simple, methodical nature of the character and his work. This story didn’t hurry, but it wasted no time either. I thought the Gothic and macabre elements were handled with sophistication and were truly affecting; the use of colour in these sections being particularly bold, enhancing the drama.

Poetry 2019 Judge’s Report

To read the winning poems CLICK HERE

Organiser’s Report

This was a difficult year, with many talented poets taking a chance that their work would catch the eyes and hearts of our judges and to make it through to the final sift. As ever we had a good spread from across the globe, though more than a couple came from France. The south of England and Scotland had good representation also, leading to a wide mix of cultural influences in the work we received. There is something special about how the differing experiences of individuals give birth to these 40 line windows into other types of lives.

Popular themes this year included Cats (going to show that people did their research!), Religion, DIY, Age and for some reason quite a lot of poems around the Sea and similar nautical themes. Very few about Love or War this time round, which is an oddity in itself, but nice to see writers branching out in their art.

A side note – Every year we have entries whose writers are a little loose with their interpretation of the rules, in terms of line count or things as fundamental as not putting their name on it. I’m happy to say this time round we had the least disqualifications on record for this competition, which is great, because as everyone is aware, you don’t stand a chance of winning if your entry does not even get read. Well done to everyone who entered correctly and please know, it was very hard to decide the shortlist indeed as the majority were excellent.

Chief Judge’s Report – Daniel Riding

It is never a difficult task to explain why you love or loathe a certain piece of poetry, for some, it may be the emotional tone that evokes long lost memories, or it may be the intelligent use of form and structure that alerts me to the talent behind a poem’s creation. However, when greeted with numerous poems that exhibit such a level of intelligence and passion, that the task of choosing winners proves somewhat difficult. Given the difficulty of said task, I am thrilled to say that it was a complete joy to see so many people still writing and enjoying the art of poetry. 

1st Place – Mistaken Identity – by Hannah Stephenson

First place goes to the wonderfully constructed, and charmingly visual ‘Mistaken Identity’. It quite simply made my heart sing, with its delightful childlike quality and the use of a normally overlooked piece of nature to effectively get across its message.

2nd Place – Finally – by Laurence Hughes

Second place goes to a poem that enabled me to see the beauty of beginnings hidden in endings. Finally is a piece of poetry that is small in stature but big in presence. Each sentence, each word, and each syllable is used carefully and with thought. Not a single moment is wasted in this small but poignant piece. 

3rd Place – The Space Between – by D.C.Tunstall

This poem had a smoothness about it that drove home hard this idea of love, it’s limitations and its limitless power to change everything. Be it familial, plutonic or even passionate, love is explored cleverly and with heart in this lovely piece of writing.

Humour Prize – No, don’t tell me – by Dan Hicks

I would like to tell you what I enjoy about this poem, but I may have forgotten! In all seriousness, this poem made me chuckle with its razor-sharp observations about memory loss. Something that all of us can admit to dealing with every now and again. It had a nice rhythm which kept the pace of the poem ticking along nicely and only added to its very funny take on a sometimes serious subject matter. Cleverly done. 

Highly Commended – Fingers for Eyes – by John Morris

Commended – 

Grenfell Tower: The Day After – by Jacqueline Pemberton

Still Water – by Michael Hobbs

Journey – by Helen Jeffery