Competition Results

Short Story ’22 Winners

Winning Stories no longer available to read

Organiser’s Comments:

The quantity and quality of entries for the 2022 competition was very high. Over 220 stories were sent in, and many thanks must go to the members of the Circle who generously gave their time to select the very best for our guest judge.

The quality of entries was such that many very good stories did not make it past the first sift. If you story did not make the cut, please don’t be discouraged: your story may do well in another competition.

Entries were received from across the world. France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were amongst the international entries this year. Still nothing from Antarctica, though we live in hope.

A big thank you also to Professor Birch. Due to  a medical emergency, getting the final batch of stories to her was delayed, but she was able to judge the stories and list the winners in double quick time.

Judge’s Comments:

It is a convention of creative writing competitions that judges will remark that their job was a hard one.  In this case, the cliché is absolutely accurate.   The overall standard of the entries was very high, and I didn’t read a single story that was without qualities to absorb the reader’s attention: unexpected twists, haunting details, points of humour or tragedy, moments to catch the imagination and resonate within the memory.  Every entrant has reason to be proud of their work, and to feel motivated to continue to write.  Reading this impressive body of short fiction was a rewarding task.

First Prize: ‘Pushed Buttons’ – by David Hartley

A thoughtful and carefully shaped story, unfolding a central metaphor with remarkable force and imaginative control, and delivering a real emotional punch in its conclusion.  This is an impressive piece of work, and a worthy winner.

Second Prize: ‘The Swapling’ – by Steve Wade

This disturbing story hovers between the conventions of a supernatural tale and those of an unflinching account of postnatal breakdown.  Its unsettling implications build gradually, and a chilling conclusion lingers in the mind.

Third Prize:  ‘The Silver Gilet Was my Downfall’ – by Cara Kliman

Deceptively down-to-earth in tone, this was a story that developed its exploration of the family dynamic revealed in a domestic incident with subtle sensitivity, building to an affecting final moment.  Its disciplined approach to a challenging topic paid dividends.

Highly Commended: ‘The Geese Knew Exactly What to Do’ – by Tony Davies

A confident and skilful approach allows for an apparently unadventurous pastoral setting to develop into an unexpectedly Grand Guignol conclusion.  Narrative conventions are handled with winning panache, making this an experience for a reader to relish.

Commended: (removed at request of author)

Lively and engaging, this story combines contemporary social commentary with a developing emotional depth.  Its conclusion is gratifying without being facile.  An accomplished story.

Dinah Birch

January 2023

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Poetry 2022 Winners

Winning poems will be available to read HERE soon (page currently not available)

Organiser’s Report

This year had the theme of “Visiting the Past” and many poets dug deep into their own recollections and historical events to bring us a wide view of visitations of times gone by. There were tales of dinosaurs and ancient lands, while others focused on the more recent past with Covid and forlorn glances across the Channel. Each one had something unique and as ever, the standard was incredibly high. From approximately 200 entries, our shortlisters had more than a lot of trouble picking out the sparkling jewels from the pile of other equally sparkling jewels.

We did have our usual rogue’s gallery of errors though, entrants who chose to interpret the rules more liberally than most and were disqualified because of their poor choices, but generally the vast majority of poets played along properly and had their work considered carefully.

Still no entrants from Antarctica, but we did have a smattering from Spain, Australia and America, keeping the ‘International’ part of the competition alive. It is worth noting that the shortest entry this year was 3 lines long and had 12 words in it, including the title. It made the shortlist but sadly others won through. We want to thank every single person who entered, it takes a lot to throw your words out into the world and enter a competition like this. Keep doing it, the world NEEDS your words.

Judge’s Report

How do you pick a good poem? Is it something to do with the title? The theme? The voice it speaks with or the message it sends? Is it something to do with the dripping symbolism or the raw emotion packed into a scant selection carefully sounded words? Is it subjective or objective, the way that it hangs together and taunts the reader’s imagination or sense of outrage, or titillation, or revelry or any other of a thousand feelings, each more complex than the one before?

The shortlisters used some or all of the above criteria as well as looking at simple form and function to sift the top 10% and each of those few remaining all had a certain special something about them that drew the mind’s eye to gaze upon whatever the poet held to be important, to enshrine a thought in a case of words. The pieces that did not make it were no less worthy than the winners, but the final few simply had some intangible quality to them that resonated in just the right way at just the right time, as art often does.

1st -Funny How – Daphne Larner

While intended for humour, this piece is very poignant and reflective of the way the world is viewed. It has a great perspective on identity and in some ways, mental health. The main speaker has a set of beliefs, which are sometimes gleefully shared by her partner and sometimes, when confronted by the unvarnished mirror, are challenged. The writer has a keen observation of healthy relationships, whether through experience or otherwise and the character here demonstrates an internalised media-influenced self-image which is all too familiar.

2nd – Chelsea Boots 1958 – Martin Parker

Found this poem amusing, imaginative and very thought provoking. There is a deep history here, filtered through a very specific set of circumstances. The writer here has bravely constructed their verses entirely from pieces of context, which come together cohesively to illustrate a life lived through their blistered feet. Excellent description is used, lending vividness to the experience through a memory.

3rd – Birthplace – Roger Noons

This poem has an interesting construction. It is thought provoking and comforting in a strange way; the growth of an unknowingly oblivious child into an adult who smiles at their own foolishness. There is a very familiar thought at the core here, echoing the old sentiment “If I knew then what I know now…”. Some very strong images here to lend colour to the three brief scenes, giving us thought and backdrops to dwell on and live vicariously through.

Catherine Fenerty Humor Prize –  My Party Animals – Martin Parker

Highly amusing spring on favoured Disney characters which is lifelike and relatable in more ways than one. It is more pensive than humorous in a lot of ways, but is certainly very enjoyable with familiar faces being remembered through the cracked lens of adulthood. There have been a few screen adaptations of a grown-up Christopher Robin over the years, but this written example has a certain amount of grit and sting which resonate strongly with any jaded adult who misses a simpler time with the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood without all the pomp and circumstance of a “grown-up” party.

Poetry 2022 Winners Read More »

Short Story 2021 Winners and Reports

Organiser’s Comments

There were over 220 entries received, nearly 90% of which arrived digitally. Regrettably, some entries had to be disqualified: either for want of an entry fee, inclusion of the author’s name on the script, or for having seen light of day elsewhere first. If one is to stand a chance of winning a competition, reading and adhering to the rules are a must.

Thanks must also go to members of the Circle who read through initial tranches of stories, selecting those which went to the final judging. Their efforts, reading between them the equivalent of Books 2, 3 and 4 of the Harry Potter series, are greatly appreciated. My thanks also to Spencer Leigh, who had the hardest job of all in deciding the winning stories. He has carried out his duties with professionalism and good humour, and has been a delight to work with. Please enjoy his words of wisdom, and his selection of the winning stories.

Chief Judge’s Comments: Spencer Leigh

I was flattered at being asked to judge the short story entries for the Southport Writers Circle’s competition. I’ve never belonged to a writers’ club but in my mind, I suspected the entries would be romantic short stories influenced by Mills and Boon. How wrong could I be? A few of these stories could even have been graphic novels.

Although there weren’t many direct references to Covid, several stories related to people who were claustrophobically living together and getting on each other’s nerves. There was domestic violence and murder aplenty. In one story, a man buries a live dog to get back at his partner, an image that will stay with me for some time. As well as violent deaths, there were several stories involving elderly people dying of loneliness and/or dementia in care homes.

What did I look for in a story? Well, first of all, it had to keep me reading: I write newspaper obituaries and one of the key rules is “Don’t start with so-and-so being born in 1936.” Grab the readers with a notable event from their life and then maybe another one. The end results sometime appear disjointed, but the important thing is that the readers stuck with it.

I’ve written several biographies and the only one that starts with the subject being born is the one for Billy Kinsley of the Merseybeats and Liverpool Express. When we started the book, he said, “My birth certificate has the wrong date of birth on it.” That gripped my attention, and I opened the book with that sentence because the reader would want to know what’s going on. So be prepared to break the rules if it works better.

A key rule in writing is to engage the readers at the start and don’t let them go. My friend Hunter Davies is still writing books at age 85 and he tells me that his main principle is still the same. When he gets to the end of a chapter, he says, “Have I still got the reader with me?”

You need to be careful with titles as they can give away the plot. The Southport writer Ron Ellis wrote a crime novel Grave Mistake and so you know before his detective does that the wrong body has been buried. Beware of giving too much away.

Two thousand words doesn’t sound like much for a short story but it is eight minutes of speech. Just because 2,000 words is the maximum length, you don’t have to write that many. A story has its own length and you should finish it at that moment. Some of these stories were good ideas but would have been more effective condensed to 500 words.

You also have to know how to build up the drama. One of my favourite stories is by the Merseyside horror writer, Ramsey Campbell. His protagonist goes walking though St John’s Shopping Centre in Liverpool late at night. There is no one else round and he hears a rustling behind him. It builds up and builds up until he realises he is being pursued by a huge ball of rubbish. He goes one way and then the other and another ball of rubbish comes after him. It is horror fiction grounded in reality and it is hardly surprising that St John’s Shopping Centre is now closed at night.

Remember too the effectiveness of just one sentence. Ramsey wrote that story in the 1980s while in 1995, Bill Bryson wrote his travelogue of the UK, Notes From A Small Island. He started a chapter, “I took a train to Liverpool. They were having a festival of litter when I arrived.” That is drop-down-dead funny; it tells you all you want to know about public services in Liverpool at the time and it is done in 16 words.

Think of the start of Midnight Cowboy where people are bustling down a crowded New York street. They are too preoccupied to notice somebody has died on the pavement. You could write up that story in 50 words and that would be enough. Less can be more.

I’ve just read something where a character refers in passing to an auction where someone was selling an air guitar autographed by Brian May. The writer missed the story. There must be a dozen ways to develop that story, one of them certainly akin to The Emperor’s New Clothes.

I was wary of being a judge because I remember a children’s TV show with Steve Race in the 1950s. He gave out the winners of some new instrumental pieces and played their work. He was shocked a couple of days later to find that one of the entrants had submitted something by Mozart under their own name. What’s more, Mozart had only come second.

So, thanks to everybody for competing and giving me such a good time and such hard choices.

1st Prize

The Battle For Jennings Grange by Dave McVey

This was an exchange of letters between the lord of the manor and the leader of some activists who felt that the building should be given to the homeless. The correspondence is deftly handled and one surprising punchline follows another.

It reminded me Mike Hart’s brilliant ‘Shelter Song’ from 1969. The Liverpool singer/songwriter wondered why the two cathedrals could not be given to the homeless.

2nd Prize

A Week Ago Last Tuesday by John Bunting

There were two things going on here – firstly, the protagonist’s friends who meet every week to talk about nothing at all and secondly, the surreal adventures that the protagonist had endured during the week. During a knee operation, the surgeon had added a new muscle-enhancer which created havoc and was so difficult to switch off. We laugh at its ridiculousness, but we know those two friends won’t even notice.

3rd Prize

The Gobbledygook by Richard Hooton

This felt like a contemporary update from George Orwell’s 1984, and is very effective. It shows how someone succumbs to office life and can no longer be rebellious or hold any original ideas.

Highly Commended

Silence Is Really Dark by John Glander

Systems like Alexa and Aurora have warm, welcoming human voices so that they can befriend us. This story is about a power cut. Maybe it would have been better if the disembodied voice had an argument with the subject and fell out. Aurora could ask for an appointment with a psychiatrist. There could be a book of Aurora stories.


Groundhog Day by Alan Heys

This is a childhood reminiscence of the Sunday morning conflicts between mother and father and how they always developed in the same way. In this case the title was misleading, perhaps deliberately so. The point of the original Groundhog Dog is that the previous day was repeated but with a difference which turned out to be significant.


David Beckham’s Boxer Shorts by John Bunting

Top marks for an intriguing title, although it is only a passing comment in the story. If ITV were still filming Rumpole, the ramifications of badly worded legislation could be worked into a very amusing storyline. It is a good example of how you can present serious ideas whilst still being funny.

Right, that’ll do – 1,200 words. I’ll submit it to that new short story exhibition. Damn, I’ve missed the entry date.

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Southport Writers' Circle