1st prize in each category - £300
2nd prize in each category - £100
3rd prize in each category - £50
Short Story Category
Stories up to 2500 words
1st Prize Advertisement by JamesCollett
2nd Prize Guests by Alison Wassell
3rd Prize A Lonesome Snow Leopard byDavid McGrath
The Clock by James Harding
Apprentice Pillar by Ralph Jackman
Recycled by Marie Gethins
Drop-Dead Gorgeous by Helen Laycock
The Road to Repair by Gail Jack
Judge’s report by David Haviland, fiction agent for the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency www.andrewlownie.co.uk
It was a great pleasure to read this collection of extremely varied and impressive short stories, and very difficult to choose a winner from such a quality selection of new writing. It’s great to see such talent coming through.
It was also a particular pleasure to spend some time reading short stories, a format I don’t get to read as much as I’d like, given the publishing business’s almost total focus on the novel form, but short stories are a great medium for authors to play and experiment with different styles, voices and genres of storytelling.
Although the competition was extremely close, I felt Advertisement was a worthy winner. This is a shocking, graphic story of sex, death and madness, with a wonderfully unhinged and unreliable narrator. I love the way the author always keeps us guessing about what kind of world we’re in, and where this story is headed. There are lots of funny moments and lines, and a nice juxtaposition of the narrator’s nihilism and savagery with the po-faced self-absorption of Judith’s motivational mantras. The author also has a real knack for bringing characters to vivid life with very brief descriptions, or just a line or two of dialogue.
In second place, I chose Guests, a very different type of story. This is a powerful, emotional tale from an unusual viewpoint. Although this is clearly grown-up fiction, it’s written from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl, who faces the daunting prospect of having to host two strange girls in her home for the evening. The author does a wonderful job of evoking the confusion and uncertainty of childhood, and children’s potential for cruelty. The narrator remains credible despite being unusually sensitive and knowing – a difficult feat to pull off. And I love the resolution, in which we get a broader sense of a damaged family, and the mutual comfort they provide to one another.
My third choice was A Lonesome Snow Leopard, an absurd, comic riff on celebrity, art and social media. I really like the pace of this, the heightened sense of reality, and the tension between the poet’s vanity and the way the rest of the world sees him. And although the author pushes the story to absurd heights, it does have something to say about the world we live in, and the increasing superficiality of our culture.
Shorter Story Categories
Stories up to 1000 words
2nd Prize Sackcloth and Ashes by JustinN Davies
3rd Prize Beneath the Arches by LindsayBamfield
Biological by KM Elkes
Is There Anything You’d Like to Say to the Person Who Donated this Food Parcel? by James Collett
The Baron’s Elixir by Mahsuda Snaith
Let Me Pay by Bren Gosling
Symbiosis by Mark Wilkinson
Judge’s report by Polly Courtney www.pollycourtney.com
Convincing, compelling and concise, Street Kids Don't Have Birthdays is an extremely enjoyable read. The characters are very credible and the descriptions of life on the streets of Tanzania - the glue, the vigilantes, the shallow sleep - transported me immediately to Easter's night spot with The Rapper and his boys. I was particularly impressed with the dialogue and can't help wondering whether the author has some experience of this world, either through travels or through research. Having written about an equivalent world on the streets of south London, I know how hard it is to portray lives of depravation with conviction and without being condescending or crass, but this writer has risen above such traps. When Mary entered the story, I became concerned about the possibility of a 'rescue' ending, but again, the author delivered, presenting a far more poignant and realistic scenario. I can see further possibilities for this story, including a full-length novel, and I'm sure I'm not the only reader who would like to know more about the world of Easter and the other boys who don't have birthdays.
The 'Pause and Rewind' of Sackcloth and Ashes made me do exactly that. I read the story four times and found new things to enjoy each time. The plot is cleverly thought through, the descriptions vivid, the theme intriguing. I love the way the mystery deepens as Damien investigates the DVD, leaving the reader guessing until the very end. The writing is very economical, with descriptions that add real colour: the curdling puddle, the levitating congregation, the chained doorways. I like to be shown what happens and not to have it spelled out for me; this story did exactly that.
Beneath the Arches is an incredibly moving piece of writing that reminds us, in just a few hundred words, of why we should have faith in mankind. It is cleverly written, revealing just enough at each stage to keep the reader completely hooked and offering a satisfying - if heart-breaking - conclusion. It is rare to see such expansive themes (homelessness and loss) tackled in short story format and there is always a risk of trivialisation in such an endeavour, but this is certainly not a problem in this case. The beautiful simplicity of the story and the emotive style made this a real pleasure to read.
Shortest Story Category
Stories up to 250 words
1st Prize 99 Red Balloons by BarbaraLeahy
2nd Prize Cockles by A.M. Hall
3rd Prize Mustard Heart by L.A. Craig
Tell Me a Secret by Alison Wassell
Your Account is in Arrears; Take Action Now by Justin N Davies
A Pointed Question by Brindley Hallam Dennis
Trumpet Dreams by Hilary McGrath
Little Legs by Julia Anderson
Judge’s report by Susan Jane Gilman www.susanjanegilman.com
Every submission in this contest had some merit. Yet five, in particular were stand-outs to me, and I winnowed this down to three. In the end, I choose as the winners: 99 Red Balloons; Cockles; and Mustard Heart.
I selected these because each of these shorts had a poetry, an inherent plot, a keen emotional core, and a freshness to it. The stories felt complete – yet implied so much more. Each one surprised me in its own way.
99 Red Balloons managed to condense a whole novel into one page. The narrator paints an entire, horrific political situation – and an impoverished childhood – with a few elegiac phrases, and covers the trajectory of a small child becoming a drug smuggler out of desperation. I was impressed with how much territory and conflict was covered in such a small story – and how the speaker, whom the rest of the world will likely regard as a criminal, is so compelling. We understand exactly why she is doing what she is doing.
Cockles achieves something similar. It’s a harrowing portrait of immigrant workers falling victim to the tides. The scene and imagery are like nothing I’ve read before; it took me several reads to absorb the full horror of it. It also covers a distance between the shores of England and China, and between a desperate, drowning man and his devastated wife. There is a lot of narrative heavy-lifting and heartbreak achieved here with economy and lyricism.
Lastly, Mustard Heart is a more intimate and conventional story of the unrequited love that a deli-man feels for a drug-store worker; I like the very writing itself, and how such big emotions as love, lust, longing, and rejection are transmitted through the smallest of details: a sandwich, a glance, a secret message written with mustard, of all things. There is a sad humor here, too, and a visceral last line.
Good work, everyone!
The shortlists included:
Crazy Hazel by James Collett
Elephants in Flip-Flops by Julia Anderson
Into the Woods by Rebecca Kemp
Snag List by Barbara Leahy
A Poor, Empty Thing by Jason Jackson
Like Writing Letters to the Dead by Karen Jones
Barry by Lucinda Croft
The Collage of Acceptance by Jen Squire
The Witch Bottle by Jenny Knight
A Venue of Vultures by Teresa Leigh Judd
Car, Girls by Jason Jackson
Not Even Sex by Zoe Gilbert
Fear by Gosia Rokicka
The Philatelist by Lucy Shuttleworth
Three to Six Months by Janette Silverman
Dragon’s Breath by Lorna Riley
Water Wings by Marilyn Messenger
Rooftops by Sal Page
Crows by William Walker
The Language of Birds by Anne Corlett
Girl in Fish Bowl by Anna Beecher
The team at Words with JAM Towers would like to thank everyone who entered and all of our judges. If your name is listed above, we'll be in touch soon.
All the best,