The standard of entries for the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition April 2012 was high. I was particularly impressed by the quality of the writing. The stories were engaging and comical, dramatic and heart-rending by turns and evoked a variety of different cultural settings. With such a good standard of writing, it was hard to choose winners! Those I’ve chosen all made bold choices about their subject matter as well as the perspective from which the story was narrated.
The First Prize Winner, ‘Duopoly’, is narrated in the second person – a daring choice followed through with conviction. A story of bereavement, ‘Duopoly’ begins with brief, punchy sentences used to depict the monotonous existence of a character who appears to be emotionally frozen. The author’s stylish prose propels the reader to an unexpected conclusion in which the reason for the main character’s trauma is revealed. In contrast to the apparent cynicism and economy of the story’s style, the ending is startlingly poignant.
The Second Prize-winner, ‘The Naked Fisherman’, tells of a young photographer’s formative experience in Lima. Simply and directly written, this story also builds emotional effects by means of contrast. In this case, the matter-of-fact tone of the first-person narrator is juxtaposed with a shocking turn of events towards the end of the story. Intentions are lost in translation and events spin out of control, but the day is ultimately saved by a special moment of understanding between photographer and fisherman.
The Third Prize goes to a beautifully written story about an elderly couple on holiday in their caravan. ‘Sand’ is lush and melancholy in style and has a dreamlike feel as the couple ponder their current relationship and remember the past. The seaside landscape is delicately evoked as the faded love between husband and wife drifts over the dunes and shore like endless white sand.
The three Highly Commended stories, ‘Nature or Nurture’, ‘That Split Second’ and ‘Guilt Sweets’ are all very well-written stories that use bold characterization. ‘Nature or Nurture’ evokes the lives of children growing up on a farm in the 1940s. ‘Guilt Sweets’ explores the various excesses of a jaded marital relationship to darkly comic effect and ‘That Split Second’ tells the story of an isolated elderly couple provoked into extremity after an unexpected accident occurs.
The non-winning entries were often interesting and well-written, but tended to spell the meaning of the story out too much, especially at the beginning. Some stories were richly wrought in terms of description – perhaps too much so – but unfortunately the very complexity of the description overwhelmed the narrative and made it difficult to read. A few writers neglected to check spelling and grammar or made peculiar word choices that detracted from their story’s appeal. In order to improve these (often very good!) entries to make them into winning stories, writers should make sure to double check their presentation before submission and should focus some energy on creating an arresting and unexpected first paragraph that doesn’t give too much away.
‘The Naked Fisherman’
‘Nature or Nurture’, ‘That Split Second’ and ‘Guilt Sweets’
Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition (July 2012). Closing Date: 20 June, 2012. Judge: Rosemary Dun. Enter here.
Sentinel Annual Short Story Competition 2012. Closing Date: 30 November 2012. Judge: David Caddy. Enter here.