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.