SWC International Short Story Competition 2016 Results

2016 Story Competition Roundup

This was an excellent year for entries and the shortlisters had a lot of trouble sifting out the final batch from the hundreds received. This year’s most distant entry was from Australia, with Cyprus being the next closest, the majority coming from the south of the UK. The favourite themes this year were ‘Ghosts’ (inevitably), ‘War’ and of course ‘Unlikely Romance’ which always gets our hearts pumping.

Of course a year of SWCSSC cannot go by without a spot of controversy, this time in the form of a very short entry that was practically a poem, but was accepted as a type of flash fiction after much debate.

In the end though, no matter a stories credentials or history, our Chief Judge has the last say and this year it is respected sci-fi author Robert Scott-Norton who has agreed to fill those heavy boots and tell us who has the honour of rising up from the literary mire to win this year’s comp.

To Read Winning Entries Click Here

Chief Judge’s Comments – Robert Scott-Norton

Third Place – The Dissolution by Theresa Curnow

A single setting. A man and his mother, and something bad outside the boarded up windows. A dead father who needs to be buried. This is bleak, yes, but the writer held my attention through this darkness. The characters were simple and true. There is no happy ending here; the story tracks on to its inevitable conclusion—but that scarcely matters.

There is an almost forgivable mini exposition dump towards the end that unbalanced things for me, but that ultimately doesn’t detract from an enjoyable read.

Second Place  – Maria’s Curse by Charles Warren

There’s a quest and a knight and a beast—there’s always a monster to be slain. In this tale we have a story within a story and it just about gets away with it because the author brings colour to the setting and characters. I felt like I was there, listening to the old woman recount her story. Description is handled well, with a strong sense of time and place created.

The final reveal is perhaps inevitable. The old woman archetype at play here was never going to be up to any good. And there’s a slight issue with pacing, I suspect due to the story within a story conceit. Those quibbles aside, this stood out from the pack as a strong runner-up.

First Place- An Act of War by Valerie Thompson

This had me from the first line. ‘Everyone was frightened, except me.’ OK, with such a strong hook, there’s every risk that the story fails to deliver, but the author delivered an impactful tale that drew me in immediately.

There’s a war. People are scared. What happens when the enemy gets a little too close for comfort? And what if you’ve got others in your care? Children?

It takes a young girl to solve the problem and her solution is all there in the story, but it still came as a surprise. The author obviously has a great understanding of feeding the plot.

With such a strong premise, the author had a great foundation for a tale that explored the ideas of losing hope and innocence. Language was tight and flowed simply and clean. Descriptions were evocative and characters brought to life with an effortless ease. Just enough of a sketch to make these characters breathe.

An Act of War is a worthy winner for this contest.

Southport Writers’ Circle Annual Poetry Competition 2016 Results

Note from competition organiser:

This year was a good one for entries, with some very high quality poems throughout the entire batch and many which could be worthy of prizes. Each respective poet should be proud of the work they have hopefully cast into the world and we have been glad to read each and every one. This year, the most distant entry came from California and the closest from about two roads over from where the group meets. The most obscure topic for a poem was an odd ditty about slippers and the most common topic was (surprise) relationships. Another noteworthy fact about this year over others was the number of people who took advantage of the 4 for £10 offer, boosting the numbers of very good verse we had to peruse significantly. Overall, the standard as ever was excellent and we wish you all well for future competitions.

Winning entries available to read HERE

 Judge’s Report from Lindsey Holland

It’s been an honour to judge the SWC Annual International Poetry Competition. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the entries, many of which stood out to me for their moments of insight, precise images or overall poetic sensitivity.

I’ll begin with the humour prize.

Humour in poetry is hard to get right. I was looking for poems which didn’t depend on easy rhymes and which showed a love of language and detail rather than simply cracking a joke.

The winning poem stood out for its narrative and detail as well as for its imaginative subject matter. We’re lulled into a sense of everydayness, and although we sense that something unusual will happen, the twist is surprising.

The winner is Pamela Trudie Hodge for her poem ‘Be Careful Who You Pick Up’

The main prize entries impressed me for their variety of style and subject. I was looking for poems which demanded to be read and read again, which took an idea and did something new with it. I was also looking for poems with focus—I wanted to have a clear sense of what the poem was about—and which left me either with strong visual images or with a sense that I had experienced something powerful and authentic. It’s perhaps needless to say that I was also looking for poetic technique: control of rhythm, form, voice and language.

I’ve chosen to commend one poem. This poem stayed with me for the way it links two events, and for it’s precise use of language. The images are strong and when I thought back through all the poems I’d read, it was one I remembered each time.

Well done to Kitty Donnelly for her poem ‘Migration’.

My top three poems emerged quite early on but that’s not to say that my final decision was an easy one. Each of these poems truly is a winner. I see much to admire in all three of them. I’m excited to be able to bring them the attention they deserve.

My 3rd Prize goes to a poem which stood out for its confident voice and for the poet’s ability to add layer upon layer of detail. There’s a grittiness to the images but then they suddenly take off, using fantastical or mythological metaphor. Working class lives are made beautiful in this poem. It works on another level too, using a quotation to sensitively develop an idea, and threading this through the poem. The language is precise and steers clear of sentiment.

Well done to Peter Burgham for his poem ‘The Putter-Togetherers’.

2nd Prize goes to a poem which impressed me for the gentleness of its observation and keen eye for significant detail. There’s a curiosity in this poem and an unwillingness to accept its subject at face value. It’s an ekphrastic poem, and I think this is often an easy type of poem to write. this poem is successful because it doesn’t simply describe the painting, instead it brings it to life, questioning what goes on before and after the painted moment, looking for the real lives behind the canvas. Technically it’s a very adept poem: the language is spare but exact and the images are strong.

Well done to John Clarke for his poem ‘Pouring Milk for the Master’

My 1st prize and overall winner is a poem which haunted me. The voice is insistent and raw. It’s a brave poem in many ways, both in its subject and in the way it isn’t afraid to stumble, disagree with itself, loop back and forth. The poem questions itself and its subject and then questions again so that in a sense, the questioning is the essence of the poem. There’s something of Keat’s idea of negative capability here: life isn’t all about certainty. The voice of the poem conveys this so authentically—twisting and hesitating, repeating itself—that we could almost be listening to a person speak in the vernacular. But the poem is far more than this too. We’re given carefully chosen images which are surprising and precisely written, from the early stanzas to the final haunting line. The pain in this poem is so raw it’s palpable. There’s also love, fear, loss and determination in it. This poem would not leave me alone. I have great pleasure in announcing it as the winner.

Huge congratulations to Mary-Clare Newsham for her poem ‘Bed-Lined Corridor’

I’d like to thank you again for the honour of judging this competition, and also to congratulate you all for providing me with hours of reading wonderful poetry.

Lindsey.


The local prize was pulled due to insufficient interest and those entries put in for the main prizes. If you entered specifically with the ‘L’ mark and you wish for a refund on your entry fee, please contact us.

Short Story Competition 2015 Results

All winning stories available to read HERE

CRITIQUE by  Chief Judge: Dennis Conlon

Thank you for asking me to judge your competition again. The standard was very high two years ago and I enjoyed the task so much I was happy to undertake it again. This year, the standard was even higher. It’s pleasing to see there are so many good writers around. Naturally, even with a strict marking scheme, such as you use, the result is always going to be subjective. Nevertheless, I am satisfied with the choice of winner. Apologies to all those who didn’t win especially to those who thought they should. There were many good pieces that didn’t make it for a variety of reasons. As with any competition of this nature, there was a great degree of differing styles and abilities. Some appealed, some didn’t. Some pieces were very well written but then, as might be expected, spoiled by the usual mistakes, POV being the most regular. It’s difficult to empathise with a protagonist if the writer suddenly jumps into another character’s head. There was a quantity of stories where the writer was unable to RUE, ‘resist the urge to explain’ and the usual smattering of over exposition. Having said all that, there was also a good deal of promise.

WINNING ENTRY – “GREEN VELVET PORCELAIN” by Mary Prior

A very poignant tale that reminded me of John Boyn’s “Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”. It had an interesting structure, using the story of three Wartime children to follow the journey of a doll. It deceptively draws you in to think you’re reading a simple children’s story before subtly revealing the horror of the Death Camp. The motif of the doll’s description keeps us in the story, bringing together the three children and creates a character of the doll itself.

SECOND PLACE – “INVISIBLE” by Helen Matthews

Well-written story, perfectly formatted, always a good pointer to any publisher’s reader. Astute use of character to set up the plot, totally believable, best highlighted by the introduction of the Polish security guard, the key that secures the clever denouement. At no point before the reveal is it predictable. The writing is of good quality, creating a well-structured page-turner.

THIRD PLACE – “NOT WITH A BANG” by Eileen Gilmour

Very cleverly told with a unique style that demands the reader’s attention. The pace is very well controlled and the dialogue and language really suits the piece. Easy to empathise with the protagonist character, even when she appears to get her comeuppance.

HIGHLY COMMENDED – “VASHTI” by Steve Brodie

A really well written page turner, would’ve definitely been placed had the female character’s motivation been better disguised.

HIGHLY COMMENDED – “FRIDAY NIGHT LIFE” by Laura Dippie

Although it wasn’t placed due to the story not being strong enough, I couldn’t let this piece pass without mentioning the writing, which was extraordinary.

SHORT LISTED – “SOUP OF THE DAY” by A.J.H. Martin

Unfortunately, this competition doesn’t include a ‘Humour’ section or this would’ve surely been the top contender.

SHORT LISTED – “THE JOURNEY HOME” by David Short

Another really well told page turner with very satisfactory ending.

SHORT LISTED – “AMAZON ADVENTURE” by Tony Oswick

Very clever

SHORT LISTED – “THE WATCHER” by Frank Catchpole

Well told

SHORT LISTED – “THE FAMILY JEWELS” by Hannah Spencer

Accomplished ending

SHORT LISTED – “STAR GAZING WITH THE GREEN MAN” by Lynne Voyce

Nice fairy tale

SHORT LISTED – “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” by Valerie Robinson

Quirky well delivered story

SHORT LISTED – “MAN FROM THE MINISTRY” by Joan Denise Bayes

Strong characterisation, would’ve made good opening to a novel

SWC Poetry Competition 2015 Results

Thanks to one and all who entered! Once again we were overwhelmed by the volume and quality of submitted entries, though this year the ‘international’ part of the competition only stretched to Ireland and Spain. Nevertheless, every poem was scrutinised, shortlisted and submitted to the chief judge who in time gave us what he considered to be the best of the bunch. Comments are below, most winning entries will be available to read No longer available.

Chief Judges Report

It is often said that poetry is a subjective force, waxing and waning according to those who look, listen and dwell upon it and in many regards that holds true. The standard of entries this year upholds that thought, as no two were alike in form and function and were nearly all without a doubt extremely well written.

There were songs of woe, ridiculous assertions, attempts to capture the essence of base sensations and at least one that made me blush somewhat. But as ever with the flurry of competition, individual snowflakes must be found and plucked from their brethren and be presented as slightly more snowflakey than the rest (which is where the comparison falls down). Out of several hundred entries, we whittle down to the following.

Humour Prize

Farewell to the Barber – Tony Oswick

Short, sweet, to the point and with definite strains of the familiar, this piece makes use of occasionally quite abrupt rhymes and has one wobble with the metre, but certainly expresses perfectly well the secret agony of the oncoming baldy. Some might say a topic that strikes close to my own heart, to which I can now hide my cans of spray on hair, point to this poem and proudly say ‘It’s not just me!’

Local Prize

Body Polish – Jacqueline Pemberton

An unusual, yet compelling piece of work, on one level simply a lady(?) having a wash and contemplating her navel as she does so. On another level, this speaks of rebirth by water, the action of sea and effort transforming the object into a wonderous thing. On a third level, the impression of some form of beach debris being worn down, polished and refreshed into a natural piece of art. Only the original poet probably knows what this is actually about, and that is perfectly fine, highly enjoyable regardless.

1st Prize

Gran’s Living-Room Triptych – Roger Elkin

This may be a contentious winner, but this set of three brief studies on the grace of a grandmother and her possessions speak volumes about family, necessity, personal taste, respect and is positively oozing with whispered backstory, given as subtle word choices and overt examples, hinting at a history most chequered. Each section focuses on the choice of a particular painting upon her wall, using the very description of the paintings’ contents to enable the true subject, the grandmother to express her life story through her choices. Excellent.

2nd Prize

The Elephant Game – Angela Platt

One gets the impression this one is based on true events, of a child getting a bit too up close and personal with a (less than) gentle behemoth and the strength of a mothers love winning through. Whether it is or isn’t, the poet captures the mothers observations, panic and triumph very well, with some very strong language choices (‘reptile fury spits’ is wonderful). I would have preferred a more consistent structure, but good nevertheless.

3rd Prize

Bearing Fruit – Val Ormrod

An idea oft used is about ideas themselves and this short piece does well to equate the spirit of idea with fleeting fruit, which one day might stop growing (a terrifying prospect!). Inspiration lost falls to rot and the overall arch of the Seasons peeks through the words, the life of an idea hidden in soft juicy flesh. Very nice.

Highly Commended

An Illustrated Book – Angela Platt

Commended

Three Strange Birds – Anne Harding

Angel of the North – Peter Cash

Runners-Up

Journey – Ailie Wallace

Goldfinches – Anthony J. Matthews

Eruption – Frances Whiteman

Short Story 2014 Results

Once again the standard of entries to the Short Story competition was astounding, with many tales of intrigue, romance, adventure and at least one with pirates in it. We had entrants from France, America. Australia and others (one entrant who hailed from very far away wrote in a flawless Yorkshire accent which was impressive), all of whom added colour to the overwhelming pile of manuscripts that we received.

However, only so many people can win and after a lengthy sifting process our final judge picked the top three as well as some Highly Commended entries. See below for winners, judges comments, and as ever, any highlighted titles can be clicked on to link to the winning stories themselves.

 

First – ‘Before After’ by Michelle Brown

Great title, and an intriguing opening that pulls the reader in. A moving story about a life event that, for the narrator, will change things forever. A story about life beginning and life ending. Very well written with some memorable phrases. Good tension in the relationship between the narrator, her partner and her sister. Left me thinking about the story long after I’d finished reading.

 

Second –‘Tuesdays’ by Carly Schabowski

An engaging story that pulls you in and makes you care about the characters, written fluently with good style.  Vivid, atmospheric descriptions with realistic, believable characters and good dialogue. A surprising but apt ending that leaves you wanting to know more.

 

Third – ‘Damp Grass and Forward Rolls’ by Heather Allison

An absolutely delightful story involving two charming elderly characters. The story is alive with engaging and amusing dialogue, with the final promise of a deliciously unlikely romance. Very enjoyable and well written.

 

Highly Commended:

‘Address Unknown’ by Joyce Walker

‘Cycle Lane’ by Sue Hoffmann

‘Eye of the Beholder’ by Bruce Harris

‘Letters from Happy Land’ by Richard Kelly

SWC Poetry 2014 Results

With a big thanks to the talented Stephen Beattie, find below the winners, commendeds and judge’s thoughts on the Southport Writers’ Circle International Poetry Competition 2014


 

‘Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’ T.S. Eliot.

Chief Judge’s Report – Stephen Beattie

“As final adjudicator I was delighted to receive over 120 poems from a total of 300. Firstly I would like to thank my fellow poet Denise Randall for selecting the final batch of poems and for her hard work running the admin side of the competition. All the poems Denise selected had merit and it was pleasing to see set forms represented, (Sestina, Sonnet and Villanelle), as well as Free Verse. I read all the poems at least three times and each one had something to say, in fact the hardest part of the adjudication process is letting a poem go knowing that the author has striven to produce their best work.

After the initial readings I was left with a long list of 50 which I then reduced to a short list of 20. All of the 20 were well crafted pieces and I’m sure many of them will have success elsewhere. However winning poems have to be chosen and although I am aware that poetry is very subjective I believe that the winners have produced work that provokes, entertains and enriches.

Thank you to all who entered the competition, your work has given me many hours of pleasure and quite a few, ‘Why didn’t I think of that!’ moments.”

 

1st Prize, Squinting at Fish by Pat Borthwick

Written in un-rhymed couplets with careful use of precise language Pat Borthwick tells the story of a blind person who partially regains their sight. This beautifully crafted poem never lapses into sentimentality and contains many wonderful images, I particularly like, ‘Frames as cold as Skegness sea’.

 

2nd Prize, Birdman with young owl by Jackie Wills

A poem that draws in the reader with a description of a couple meeting with a man

who has hand reared an owl. The poem appears deceptively simple until the final three

stanzas when themes of gender roles and control are introduced taking the work into a

much darker area.

 

3rd Prize, Invisible Man by Al Mcclimens

A playful poem with disturbing undertones about the loss of identity. The use of language is witty and direct and works well as a poem for the page and in performance.

Highly Commended, Descendents by Roger Elkin

Highly Commended, Dawn by Vaughan Rapatahana

Commended, Another Place by Ken Sullivan

Commended, If This Scene Were Two Dimensional by Pauline Hawkesworth

Commended, on the morning of my death by Jim Bennett

 

Local Prize, Tick Tock, Time’s Clock by Lynne Sutton

A feel-good poem describing a family sitting together after Sunday lunch. The entire piece is laden with imagery and the poet consistently shows rather than tells. The description of the grandparents in the second and third stanzas is stunning.

Highly Commended, In Care by Brian Wake

Commended, Taking Root by Lynne Sutton.

 

Humour Prize, A Bit On The Side, by Loraine Darcy

A delightful poem that made me laugh out loud but just as importantly the poet has taken care to ensure that the work conforms to the rules of poetry, something many writers of comic verse fail to do. The subject matter is saucy without ever descending into vulgarity and concludes with an excellent punch line, another poem that would work equally well on the page or in performance.

Highly Commended, Silverbacks by Darren Cannan

Commended, The man in the Moon by Joanne Fox

Short Story 2013 Results

Thanks to all those who entered! We had hundreds of entries from all around the world, including Germany, Australia and even the Netherlands, and many were considered for the shortlist. However only a select few made it to the final cut, so congratulations to the skilled few.

Below, please find the judges comments and any highlighted story titles are available to read if you click on them.

SOUTHPORT WRITERS’ CIRCLE – SHORT STORY COMPETITION

CRITIQUE by Dennis Conlon

 

Thank you for asking me to judge your competition. It was an enjoyable task and good to see there are so many good writers around. The standard was very good. Naturally, even with a strict marking scheme, the result is always going to be subjective. Nevertheless, I am very satisfied with the choice of winner. Apologies to all those who didn’t win especially to those who thought they should have. There were many good pieces that didn’t make it for a variety of reasons. As with any competition of this nature, there was a great degree of differing styles and abilities. Some appealed, some didn’t. Some pieces were very well written but then, as may be expected, spoiled by the usual mistakes, POV being the most regular. It’s difficult to empathise with a protagonist if the writer suddenly jumps into another character’s head. There was a quantity of stories where the writer was unable to RUE, ‘resist the urge to explain’ and the usual smattering of over exposition. Having said all that, there was also a good deal of promise.

 

WINNING ENTRY – “DEAD SPACE” by David McVey

What I enjoyed most about this piece was the structure: very original. The writer uses an excellent device to separate the gaol location from the rest of the island and then brilliantly uses this device to execute the twist in the ending. At no point before the reveal is it predictable. The descriptive passages are very well done, giving a good flavour of place and time. Again, by use of the structure, the opening subtly draws the reader in without them knowing where they are being taken. The characters are confidently drawn and the action and pace evolves perfectly. Dialogue not only assists with characterisation it also enhances the plot without a hint of over exposition. Original and professional.

 

SECOND PLACE –  “AT REFRIED BEANS” by Betty Weiner

Well-written story, perfectly formatted, always a good pointer to any publisher’s reader. Clever use of character to set up the plot, totally believable. The writing is of good quality, creating the page-turner this piece is. Subtle introduction of third character that later becomes important. The pace is very well controlled and the dialogue and language really suits the piece. There is a danger that the denouement is flagged too early, which could have spoiled the piece but the writer gets over this with a nice but simple twist at the end.

 

THIRD PLACE –  “THE CAPE DOCTOR” by Carol Duncan

Beautiful piece, simply written or simple piece, beautifully written, either suits. Good title. Sets off at a gentle pace, true to life characters. Although not properly formatted, this didn’t make it difficult to follow or detract from the story. Would need to be addressed if submitting for publication; however, the clarity of the dialogue makes it fluent and easy to read. The plot demands attention and is strongly moving. The pace is effortless.

 

HIGHLY COMMENDED – “DYING TO SPEAK” by Andrew Campbell Kearsey

Effectively written piece, laid out professionally and well set up with good language and dialogue. However, I felt the wheelchair was revealed unnecessarily early. Given that it was the main point of the plot, it didn’t need to be mentioned until the punch-line. Nevertheless, the characters were confidently drawn, the style was good and the piece was engaging.

 

HIGHLY COMMENDED – “THE SHILLELAGH” by Sheila Clift

I couldn’t decide which piece should be highly commended so I chose two. I really liked this story and feel it could have been placed had the writer taken more care of the protagonist narrator; which was a shame because the other characters were true to life, credible and instantly involved the reader. However, I didn’t discover the character was female until three quarters of the way through, a vital point given the relationship with the other two male characters: in particular, the antagonist. Nonetheless, it was professional, the plot was handled assuredly and the language was excellent, showing the writer’s sensitivity with words.

2013 Poetry Competition Results

Southport Writers’ Circle International Poetry Competition 2013

“I like to use simple words, but in a complicated way”. Carole Ann Duffy.

As Final Adjudicator I received over 130 poems, from a total entry of almost 400, safe in the knowledge that the initial readings had been carried out by a team of experienced and accomplished poets. So, firstly, I would like to thank Denise Randall, Karen Paling, Phil McNulty and Dave Williams for their hard work, for presenting me with a body of high quality poems and for making my task a very difficult one!
I believe that the best poetry provokes, confronts and challenges the reader in a way that other forms of literature does not and many of the poems submitted to this competition did just that. I also agree with Roger McGough in that poetry should be accessible and understandable, I see no future for poetry that is wilfully obscure or written to please a few people in high academia.
As to the adjudication process, I read each poem many times over a three week period reducing the number of contenders to a short list of 20. The poems I rejected all had merit and I’m sure many will go on to success in poetry magazines or anthologies but somehow they lacked the vital spark that all competition poems should have. From the short list of 20 the winners, highly commended and commended gradually emerged, each poem again having been read and re-read, often in different locations and at different times of the day, until I was satisfied that I had chosen the best work. Finally I would like to thank everyone who entered the competition and wish you all success in your future writing careers and remember keep sending work out because poets need to be heard!

1st Prize, Chimney-bird by Noel Williams

A poem which at first appears deceptively simple but on subsequent readings reveals deep layers; the poet makes excellent use of metaphor and rich imagery to convey a sense of confusion, denial and loss. The poem consistently shows without telling and we are drawn into a world where a difficult truth has to be confronted.

2nd Prize, Widower by Claudia Jessop

This poem explores the cathartic properties of grief told from a human and animal point of view. The scenario of a widower and his dogs could easily have slipped into over-blown sentimentality but by careful use of language the poet avoids this and gives us a powerful piece of writing.

3rd Prize, Words and mud by Anna Mills

A sparsely written piece that reveals to the reader a complicated personal relationship; the poet makes subtle use of ambiguity and leads us through the highs and lows of the subject matter before revealing an unexpected truth.

Highly Commended, Night-scented stock by Noel Williams

Commended, Bukes by Peter Branson
Letters From my Mother by Gwyneth Box

Local Prize, Mining by Lynn Sutton

A beautifully crafted exploration of dreams which, by the poets careful choice of words, leads the reader in an ominous direction until the last two lines end on an uplifting note.

Commended, Warning: Flashing Images by Glenna Thompson-Joannou
Old Photographs by Matthew Thompson

Humour Prize, My Dog Nearly Ate My Homework by James Woolf

A delightful poem which starts with a clichéd premise and then, by clever use of spiralling absurdity, gives the reader a convoluted explanation as to why a child has failed to hand in homework. I particularly liked the mixture of full and slant rhyme.

Highly Commended, Mushrooms by Kate Wise

Commended, Mamils by Mark Hodgson

Stephen Beattie, June 2013

SWC 2012 Short Story Competition Results

Val Williamson’s Adjudication

Pleasantly surprising to discover that a good number of stories had made it through to the ‘final cut’, and that so many of them are very competent pieces of writing. Two or three entries had attempted to turn anecdotes or memoirs into short stories, but there is a fundamental difference between the two forms. Anecdotes are structured around plot rather than character development; the best short stories often turn on a shift in the character’s perception, rather than the effect of a major event. This then provides an emotional impact.
Shortlisted entries included a number of murder mysteries, often twist-in-the-tail stories, at least one ghost story, and one or two Victorian-style tales, perhaps not surprising in Dickens’s bicentennial year. Three or four were homilies aimed at education rather than entertainment, I felt, and a few indulged in graphic violence or sex in ways that detracted rather than enriched. But strong writing brought them all into the final reading.

The best stories are often told through an interior or personal ‘eye’ combined with the unfolding of exterior events. A good short story engages the reader, immerses them in the world the writer has constructed, and delivers on their investment with a satisfying ending. A great story has a richness of texture to it, a way of weaving in layers of meaning through evoking setting and engaging the reader’s senses, as well as taking them on an emotional journey.
Of the twenty four short listed stories, there was one that ‘leapt off the page’ as the winner. It combines an interesting and incident-filled plot and a delightful viewpoint character whose wry humour and stalwart endurance offer a richness that most stories do not. By the end, the reader has shared such an epic series of events with the character that it seems impossible that it could be told in less than 2000 words, yet it is.

FIRST PRIZE – CITIZEN KHAN
By Tony Matthews
This entry is a richly textured and rewarding read. It is about a struggle for identity, for something more than to be known by a number, and at the same time picks away at a more universal sense of identity. Citizen Khan is a warm and gentle soul yet commits acts of great bravery as a decent human being. Through a subtle critique of bureaucracy the writer also conveys a sense of what it means to be British. This story has a strong voice and would make a good radio story, I believe.

SECOND PRIZE – DECISIONS MADE OVER MADELEINE’S TOAST
By Joanna Campbell
A really strong yet downbeat story, using mundane events and setting as a counterpoint to the internal drama and quiet desperation of a young woman caught up in a painful situation. This writer has delivered detail combined with subtle character studies interwoven in a tapestry of events, place and feelings. Emotionally, there is sense of inevitability that renders the less than happy ending strangely satisfying. A good ‘slice of life’ story, but what a terrible title!

THIRD PRIZE – THE WHITE WITCH OF WAGGA WAGGA
By Lynne Voyce
Emotional impact in this story depends on a slow build-up, it operates through a sense of colour and time; a poignant account of the joys and tragedies of one woman’s life, paralleled with the lives of her dogs and untameable Nature surrounding them. White and black with a shimmer of grey and a glimpse of pale blue, an effective device of world-creation and mood-setting on which the reader floats through this human condition story, with a very gentle twist at the end.

HIGHLY COMMENDED – THE SCENT OF THE OCEAN
By Mike Watson
A most poignant story, beautifully observed, and rich with sensory detail; I could smell the seaweed and hear the sea; I could hear the pebbles smack across the surface and feel the textures of the sandy shore. Its theme is the independence that both the viewpoint character and the character he observes on the shore every day strive for.

HIGHLY COMMENDED – MARKING TIME
By Margaret Greenwood
One evening in time, yet somehow a lifetime of reflection on the main character’s life, as we watch him slowly disintegrating within his own desperation; the mystery is, why? This writer shows great restraint in gradually allowing the reader information, first a subtle hint, then a clue, and almost at the end, the final piece of evidence we needed.

HIGHLY COMMENDED – THE BIG SISTER
By David Lake
A crime story with revenge as its theme, yet it manages to be entertaining and intriguing. Stylistically, the writer cleverly conveys the classic ‘mean streets’ tone in this story, and a classic PI. Something of a noir parody, with characters that seem fresh rather than stereotyped and the reader kept guessing to the end.

COMMENDED – JUST ONE
By Rosemary Mairs
What goes on in the mind of an emotionally unstable child? Here the writer attempts to explore one such mind, as the child flirts with danger and wrestles with jealousy, knowing she has the weapons of destruction in her hands. The suspense builds and builds as two foster children forge a friendship – maybe.

COMMENDED – MAKING SURE OF JULIE
By Josephine Howard
A story of sisters, their sibling antipathy that shockingly becomes rivalry, and a vengeful ghost. The writer gradually spins out the characters and events in this tale, skilfully building their emotions to a crucial crescendo – just before a jolting twist.

COMMENDED – THE NOVELIST AND HIS CENTRAL CHARACTER
By Gerry Boland
A convoluted account of a writer struggling with depression, interweaving his life with the life – and death – of his main character. Is he possessed by some kind of visitation, or expressing his feelings through the weird relationship that is forged? Either way, the result is deadly.

Poetry 2012 Competition Results

Chief Judges Report – Alison  Chisholm

Opening the file of entries in a poetry competition is like unlocking a treasure chest filled with a variety of gems – each unique, ready to be handled, played with and explored, and longing to yield the essence at its heart.  These poems shone with memories, philosophy, imagination, truth and exuberance.  Although it’s always sad to reject poems which are uninspiring, poorly written or revised, or technically flawed, the compensation for doing so lies in the mass of good writing that remains.

Poems can speak to you, make you laugh or cry, slide under your skin and change the way you see the world.  Every one of the winners and short listed pieces asserted its presence and left a message zinging in the air.

FIRST:

UNDER PRESSURE  by Pat Borthwick. Family dynamics, personality and nostalgia bring this powerful free verse poem to life, and the apparently simple story is full of evocative layers.

SECOND:

BLIND FROM BIRTH by Brian Young.  The reader is taken on a precarious and terrifying route through the unfamiliar, and shown the world from a new angle through a rich network of imagery.

THIRD:

ON THE STEP by Edyth Ward.  A quirky and imaginative poem, this piece starts with a surreal premise and then explores the possibilities in logical and absurd directions, before concluding with a telling punchline.

 

HIGHLY COMMENDED

GHOSTS by Frank McDonald

HIDDEN LOVE by Tracy Davidson

HOTSPUR   for P by Sheila Wild

 

COMMENDED

CODE OF THE FIREFLY by Mandy Pannet

DEEP CRYSTAL by Charles Evans

FEBRUARY HOARFROST by Dorothy Waite

LOOKING FOR SIBELIUS by Dorothy Waite

THE BALLAD OF DOT AND WILLIE by Alison Ringrose

 

HUMOUR PRIZE:

THE OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE OF A POTATO  by Cath Mason. An original idea with a delightful personification of the potato, culminating in the triumphant shout from a vigorous rap, this poem is feel-good and irresistible.

 

HIGHLY COMMENDED – HUMOUR

BULL by Keith Shaw

 

LOCAL PRIZE:  THE FRUIT MACHINE FROM SPACE by Derek Anderton.  A witty and clever narrative poem in rhyming couplets, this combines wickedly humorous content with masterly handling of form.

 

HIGHLY COMMENDED – LOCAL

MINUTES: EXTRAORDINARY MEETING OF PROSODY TOWN COUNCIL by H Burgoyne.