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 I And The Village by Catherine Edmunds
3rd Prize Marriage by Robert Knox
The Other Side of the Ocean by Sara Green
John’s Thing by John D Rutter
The Resemblance by Jeremy Hinchliff
My Friend Simon by Charlie Britten
Mother Knows Best by Ian Burton
The Engagement Ring by Charlotte Davis
Walghvogel by Clare Hawkins
Making Amends to a Fallen Angel by Lynne Voyce
A Wolf at the Door by Alan Shine
After Eight by Edward Sergeant
Canada by Rebecca Kemp
Paradise by Ken Elkes
Judge’s report by Emma Darwin http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/
I hugely enjoyed reading such a variety of stories, and seeing real writing talent in action, and it’s always so hard to judge because I’m looking at so many different things. Some are objective: how well the writer’s decisions about tenses, point-of-view and psychic distance, the engineering of the plot, pace and structure serve the story. Some are semi-objective: is this a new idea to me, or a classic idea with something genuinely new to say about it? Is the voice compelling, are the settings vivid, are the characters the mixture of what-you’d-expect, and surprising, that people are in real life? Is the prose fizzing off the page or just quietly, freshly, exactly right for what the story’s saying? Some are largely subjective: did a story make me feel something, whether it was laugh, cry or think? Is it, for a change, not about death or ghosts?
And yet the stories which win are the ones which I read and forgot to notice how the writer had written it. All the writer’s choices suit what the story’s trying to be so well, that they work on me despite myself: they turn me, as it were, back into a reader. So what is going on in the stories that succeeded in doing that? They’re all very different.
I gave first place to “I And The Village” not because it’s about a writer, but because it’s a beautifully-paced and structured close-up exploration, with a simple but very compelling voice which allows for lovely prose. There’s black humour too, and it avoids triteness in either despair or hope. It also uses visual art really well: it’s easy to use pictures and music as shorthand for emotion or theme, but harder to make them part of the forward-movement of the story itself, as is is here.
I gave second place to “The Last Days of the Minotaur” because it brought a lump to my throat, and because it isn’t really about death. It’s about life, it seems to me: about the loss of Eden as we grow up and grow old. It’s very fully imagined and beautifully written, but very disciplined in how it’s developed from the sources. It covers a lot of ground in terms of time, which, again, isn’t easy: too often either the “then” or the “now” of the story suffers, but here they work beautifully together.
It was a fight to the death between these two for first and second place, and Minotaur only lost because I didn’t feel the handling of the tenses quite worked.
Third place goes to “Marriage” partly because it made me laugh, and partly because even though the story is simple, it does what not all the stories formed by memories of the past quite manage. Without elaboration or heavy-handedness, the narrator’s voice and point of view give us a very strong sense of the life which followed this story of its beginning, and has formed his view of the past.
And finally, honourable mentions to “The Other Side of the Ocean”, and “John’s Thing”, both of which shared that essential, Tardis-quality with the prizewinners: that there’s far more inside than the outside, apparently, could possibly contain.
Shorter Story Category
Stories up to 1000 words
1st Prize Handy Stop by Will Ingrams
2nd Prize Giraffe High by Ken Elkes
3rd Prize A Daniel by Moya Green
Blood Relations by Anne Oatley
One by Paul Sheppard
All Her Tears by Catherine Edmunds
I Woman by Jen Squire
We, the Royal by Dan Micklethwaite
Gone by Anne Oatley
From the Back Streets of Havana by Jo Carroll
When Luck Runs Out by Susan Corfield
Leap of Faith by Tina Williams
The Collage of Acceptance by Jen Squire
Stopping by Woods by Sarah Steele
Park View Road by James Turner
Judge’s report by Sam Jordison http://www.theguardian.com/profile/samjordison
Special mention - Blood Relations
Handy Stop is a quality piece of fiction. It takes you right inside the head of its protagonist, enables you to think and see as he does, and to feel correspondingly uncomfortable about the world he inhabits. It has a sense of threat and danger as well as smart observation and comedy. It heads cleverly and nearly to a really good pay-off in the conclusion and seems like a really coherent, wonderfully complete whole.
Giraffe High felt familiar in theme and content - and yet the author brought real poignancy and fresh sadness to the story. It's touching and cleverly assembled and contains some memorable images and moments of quiet drama. In short, it struck a chord.
A Daniel is admirably strange and creepy. Some of the mechanics of the story may not have worked for me, but that didn't diminish from its disturbing effect and the quality of its humour and observation. It also has a quite brilliant final sentence that throws the rest of the story into yet darker relief.
Blood Relations is full of compassion and cruelty, lush in its imagery, and is smartly put together. It felt like an awful lot of time passed in a very short space and it was a story that could have done with 10,000 rather than 1,000 words, otherwise it might have edged into my top three.
Shortest Story Category
Stories up to 250 words
1st Prize Flight Path by Mandy Huggins
2nd Prize When the BeesDied by Pauline Brown
3rd Prize Copper by Jessica Gregory
Cables by Joanne Fox
A Vision of Knighthood by Tina Williams
Mapped by Marie Gethins
The Panda by Filipa Komuro
Destruction by Will Ingrams
Bear-Dog by Denny Brown
Developments by Adrian Hall
The Lost by E. Lowri Woods
Fading Colours by Anne Elder
Enough to Wake the Dead by Richard Bond
Residue of Night by Terry Kerins
Clockwork by Russell Reader
Judge’s report by Debbie Young http://authordebbieyoung.com/author/youngdebbie/
Five highly polished, tightly told stories stood out for me from the shortlist, apparently written by authors who relish the slim word count rather than resenting short rations.
This tiny love story about an unexpected connection with a stranger layers sparse prose with carefully coordinated detail. The bright orange wall in the opening paragraph is echoed by the streetlight halfway through, then by potential flames sparked by the closing word. The fiery images shine like a Belisha beacon in fog, against the cold grey of the geese on a wintry afternoon, reminding the reader to be alert to sparks amidst the ash of humdrum everyday life. I felt as if I’d read a painting, as much as a story. The well-timed crescendo leaves the reader wondering not only about the outcome for the narrator and her “bird man”, but also about one’s own near misses in life.
When the Bees Died
By contrast, this story’s focus was on global catastrophe. In the post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy that follows the extinction of bees, the main character’s greatest treasure is “half a jar of honey” (a powerful refinement, adding that “half”). With the foresight of a latter-day Noah, a former beekeeper has created a nuclear-style bunker, in which he smugly takes advantage of his apparent status as sole survivor. The author pulls off the impressive technical challenge of presenting the story entirely in the second person, which intrigues us to wonder who, then, is telling the story. This memorable, subtly campaigning story will make me think twice before dismissing the latest bee-crisis report in the news.
From the opening paragraph, this story is full to bursting point of rich, multi-sensory imagery, piling on texture as it packs in reflections on mortality, triggered by the back-story of a copper plaque on a humble park bench. While grounded in prosaic references to pubs and Tupperware, the narrative soars by the end to philosophical heights, with echoes of John Donne’s assertion that “no man is an island”, with a potted version of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man implying that we will all eventually by returned to dust by the busily “churning worms” - fabulous phrase! - beneath the bench. All in just 250 words - wow!
Special mention and commendation also for “Cables”, a magical realist story about a daughter’s unusual coping strategy for dealing with her manipulative mother’s death, and “A Vision of Knighthood”, a playful historical fable whose delightful closing twist returns full circle to the opening line.
The team at Words with JAM Towers would like to thank everyone who entered and all of our judges. If you're a winner or a runner we'll be in touch soon.
All the best,