This year’s standard of entries was just as high as previous ones and our shortlisting team had real trouble filtering out the best for Joanne to peruse. The most common theme this year was ‘Divorce’ which was a new one for us, but the perennial ‘Ghost story’ showed its face more than a few times in the literary mix. Globally, entrants were fairly spread out, with France, Spain and New Zealand being represented this year and also a small story from the Isle of Skye.
Every entry though had a different idea as to what was a good story and many of them were exactly that, however, as ever, the massed ranks of creativity were whittled away to leave us with but a scant handful of winners. Well done to them and to everyone else who entered.
Those who did not make the cut, we encourage you to keep trying, as one day it could be you on that ethereal winner’s podium claiming a prize for your excellent writing.
Judges Report – Joanne Reardon
First Prize: Giving Him Back – Valerie Bowes
Understated and assured writing which pulls the reader into a world where nothing is quite as it seems. Three children spending an unremarkable day at the beach building sandcastles and playing football are disturbed by a young child who has wandered into their space. When the eldest child, Mara, tries to return him to his family she finds that this simple task is not as easy as she imagines. This is a gentle ghost story just strange enough to undermine our expectations but familiar enough to imagine ourselves in the same predicament. It does what all good short stories do and captures a whole lifetime in an instant and although the reader has to work to get to the final twist in the story, the trouble is worth it. The writer creates an engaging and believable world full of longing and regret.
Second Prize: Hara-kiri – Richard Stephenson
Another story where a familiar world becomes something completely unexpected and the reader is shaken out of complacency into a world altogether darker and more unsettling. The writer paces the narrative with care starting by establishing the familiar banality of office life where spreadsheets and data are analysed in detail and where one badly misjudged decision can bring down a corporation. So far, so familiar, but our sense of equilibrium is challenged by events in the story and the elegance of Japanese ritual combines with British stiff upper lip to take a dark turn, which lingers in the reader’s mind long after the story has ended.
Third Prize: Old – Marcia Woolf
This was a moving story where moment by moment emotions find themselves poised on a knife’s edge as though one wrong word or move could break the carefully wrought tension. This matches the content and tone of the story which takes place in the aftermath of a funeral where long held secrets remain stubbornly unresolved. Despite the final confrontation between mother and son being a little too predictable which tends to lessen the tension overall, the story nevertheless has credibility and honesty which would easily connect with a reader.
Highly Commended: Stranger, Stranger – Robert Kibble
Nothing is quite as it seems in this story where a parent’s worst nightmare is realised as a child disappears in the London Underground. There are some good narrative decisions here – the first person narrative voice creates genuine warmth and honesty and the use of the immediate present holds the reader in the grip of the narrator’s fears. Bringing in a second first person narrative does slightly undermine the control of the narrative, it being hard to convince of two personal stories in such a short space of time, but genuine promise in the writing here all the same.
If Walls Could Talk – Pamela Trudie Hodge,
Parka Billy – Juliet Hill