I enjoyed reading these stories, and as usual, was amazed at the variety of topics they covered. I have read lists of ‘stories you must not write’, and very few fell into the categories given. There were only one or two that I was instantly able to reject, and of the rest, nearly all were well-written and showed imagination and, occasionally, flair. However, there were some disappointments when a story failed to live up to its promise. The writer would start off in fine style and then seem to run out of steam, leaving the story somewhat floundering or without a lot of point, and or with an ending that could be spotted a mile off.
In many cases, I was aware of a lot of exposition going on which took up too much of the story. You haven’t got time or space for back story and most of it doesn’t matter. Start your story half way in and cut to the chase.
Another common factor was lack of dialogue. I have remarked in a previous report that a short story is a little drama and your characters should talk to each other. You can get across a lot of characterisation and plot in a few well-chosen words, and they add interest, particularly at the start of a piece.
Paragraphs seem to be another stumbling block, and too many stories didn’t have them, or had them intermittently, which was worse. Indenting adds to the look of the page and distinguishes one para from the next.
So many of these faults could be put right and stories raised to the level of excellence. I would always recommend joining a good writers’ group, where your stories will be analysed, dissected and improved.
On to the stories.
1st prize. My out-and-out winner is Temperance Tune by Sharon Boyle, a stylishly written piece about the evils of drink. On the surface, quite slight, but the writing carries it along to the conclusion the reader is waiting for. I loved the imaginative, original narrative, and would be happy to read more by this writer.
2nd prize. Honey Versus Custard by Helen Victoria Anderson is a slow burner that I initially put aside, but had to keep returning to. It’s not a story that you get everything out of at first read, but it becomes more compelling as you go on. What is this woman doing? Why are her thoughts so disjointed? Where are we going with this? It’s a lovely mood piece, perfectly expressing the apparent inconsequentiality of what is going through her head at a time of crisis.
3rd prize. I chose Bee Keeping in Alaska (like the title) by Lynne Voyce because of its unusual subject matter. The lyrical opening paragraphs draw you in and there are nice parallels within the story - Queenie arrives in the spring at the same time as the bees in their black and yellow parcel, and like the bees, she is also a dancer. (I’d like to hear a bit more about her dancing career which might show more of her character.) The middle of the story is heart-rending, especially after all Allen’s unhappiness, and we begin to fear that things will end badly, but the writer avoids wallowing in more misery and gives us the ending we were hoping for.
The Urban Fox by Pete Pitman A quirky story of virtue rewarded, very well written, with a surprise at the end.
The Murder and Suicide of Red Mist by Martin Fuller This story of redemption and a new path takes a bit of working out - who is Red Mist and who is Danny? - but it became clearer by the end. The story is vigorously told, but the writer’s punctuation and layout could do with some attention.
Fat by Val Ormrod. Perhaps the theme has been slightly over-worked lately - woman thinks she’s fat but turns out to be anorexic - but this is a very readable version that leads nicely into the end. I wouldn’t have minded it being a little longer.
The King by David Woodfine Very atmospheric. I could clearly see the mediaeval banqueting hall and all the guests, until it began to change towards the bottom of the first page. A simple, energetic story, with a twist.
Dragon fruit by Eithne Cullen. A neat take on Beauty and the Beast, but I felt that it didn’t really start until page three, when it ran out of words and left me wondering what happened next.
Congratulations to the winners, commiserations to those who weren’t chosen, and well done to everyone for being brave enough to try.
- Clare Girvan www.claregirvan.co.uk