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.
‘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!
‘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.
‘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.
‘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!
‘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.
‘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.