1st The Crossing - Jonathan Haylett, Acharacle, Scotland
2nd The Bastard William Williams, the Writer, Allen Jones - Alex Keegan, Newbury, Berks, UK
3rd The last days of Johnny North - David Swann, Brighton, Sussex, UK
Runners-up (alphabetical order)
In - Lucy Adlington, York, UK
Walking to Corfe - Rosalind Brackenbury, Florida, USA
Unfashionably Late - Steve Cook, London, UK
Shopping - Yvette Hatrak, California, USA
Number Five - Samantha Haycock, London, UK
A Fox in the Garden - Philip Jennings, London, UK
The 40-litre monkey - Adam Marek, Potton, Beds, UK
The A-Z Man - Mo McAuley, Speldhurst, Kent, UK
Left Over Right and Under - Jane Rusbridge, W Wittering, Sussex, UK
Zero to Thirty - Martha Schulman, New York, USA
1st Chocolate from the Famine Museum - Sheenagh Pugh, Cardiff, Wales
2nd Braille - Jenny King, Sheffield, UK
3rd After D-Day - Judith Barrington, Portland, Oregon, USA
Runners-up (alphabetical order)
Cockney Farmers - Martin Brown, Coventry, UK
The Net - Robert Carter, New South Wales, Australia
Mallard - Ann Drysdale, Blaina, Gwent, Wales
Ancestors - Stephen Duncan, London, UK
Evening Standard - Charles Evans, London, UK
Radnoti’s Notebook - Andrew Forster, Leadhills, S Lanarks, Scotland
Fink - Peter Knaggs, Hull, UK
The Supplicant - Helen Luson, Coventry, UK
Fairy-tale Ending - Frances Wilson, Ware, Herts, UK
Kevin de Medici - Michael Woods, Worcester, UK
The short story is a difficult and demanding form. It is perhaps as hard to write a really first-rate short story as it is to write a really first rate poem. Both need a strong informing idea. Both demand an economy of means. Both demand - line by line - a language appropriate to its subject, upon which the writer must never lose his/her grip.
Young writers often begin by writing short stories in the belief that, because they are short, they will be easy to accomplish. I began the same way. But it was only much later (and after many stories had, rightly, been rejected and I had progressed to the longer, more accommodating form of the novel) that I started to understand what the ingredients of a good short story might truly be.
Very few stories among the thousands submitted to the Bridport Prize had any poetic coherence. Very few had tight plotting. Very few sounded any original note and very few were either moving or funny. But it was a real delight to come across a band of talented writers whose work shows a real understanding of how the thing is done, and I am very happy with the list of winners.
The Crossing by Jonathan Haylett takes first prize. This is a beautifully plotted, impressively coherent story, set in Africa, about the fate of an old woman, once a level-crossing keeper, now made redundant and left to a bitter solitary life with her dog in a lonely house scorched by the winds. It's both a powerful drama, with a classic Mark Twain 'snapper' ending, but also a moving meditation on the world's indifference to those who have been left by the wayside on life's journey. It's told neatly and quietly, never striving for effect. It would make a very original and compelling short film.
The Bastard William Williams, the Writer Allen Jones by Alex Keegan wins second prize. This is a wry and amusingly told story (and in the voice of) an elderly Welshman visited by a young writer in search of his Welsh roots. Sceptical about the writer's motives and doubtful about his ability to understand the truth about the past, the old man takes the writer on a journey through the history of his town, once thriving around its coal mine and now left to dereliction. Gradually, the barriers of class and intellect which divide the two men begin to break down and the story moves towards a believable and quietly optimistic ending.
The Last Days of Johnny North by David Swann wins third prize. I particularly admired the original and playful voice in which this story is told. It charts the sorrows and eccentricities of a group of inhabitants of a windswept Northern town. Chief among them is Gran, who drives a pie van she's named the Gabriel Rachets, after the 'unseen creatures that screamed in the night'. The van has no brakes. Every day, Gran goes helter-skeltering over the hills and down the valleys, accompanied by her grandson, the narrator, Michael, who is splendidly fearless, inquisitive and wry. And the story is a clever meditation upon lives that are lived in a kind of wild free-fall and those that are static and anxious and closed.
Subjects among the Runners Up range from snapshots of Germany before and during the war, English family rituals observed by an American outsider; Friends with HIV staying miraculously alive and surviving their parents; thirty-something marriage angst; serial abortion; wife swapping; pet competitions; abusive fathers; the late loss of virginity and a loner going slowly mad in Regents Park.
All the stories selected have in common one essential quality; a sense that the writer knows what she/he is doing. Good writing is like a boat which doesn't leak, which has a sure hand at the helm. To get into such a boat and sail across so many stormy, luminous oceans has been one of the great pleasures of this summer of 2003.
A ferociously hot summer coincided with the arrival of the Bridport Poetry Competition entries. The postman began to look at us dubiously, as he delivered yet another box full of poems. As the pace hotted up, doors and windows were flung open (a mistake, since the stray breezes created havoc among the entries) and visitors weren't allowed into the sitting room, which was paved with stacks of papers bearing legends like YES, NO, MAYBE, RE-READ. The heavy responsibility of judging became part of the whole house: dreams, diet, the telephone, evenings off were all subject to the fascinating burden of other people's poems. Over five thousand of them.
It is discreditable to admit this, but in the early stages I longed for poems for the NO pile. A good poem should be easily recognized. As Fleur Adcock says in 'The Prize-winning Poem', it...will be typed, of course, and not all capitals; it will use upper and lower case in the normal way; and where a space is usual it will have a space. It will probably be on white paper, or possibly blue, but almost certainly not pink. It will not be decorated with ornaments scroll-work in coloured ink... The Bridport poets were far too fly to make that sort of faux-pas. And in general the work was of a high standard, without any particular theme being dominant, not even the Gulf War.
I like the Bridport method of adjudication; one person judges the whole lot. It makes for a very heavy work-load, but it avoids the kind of horse-trading I've met in three-judge competitions, which can result in the top prize going to a compromise candidate no one thinks is the best.
As the poems continued, and the pile marked YES increased, it became harder to choose, and also to shake off many of the poems, some of which pursued me in all I did. The best poems may leap off the page, or they may be deceptive, and clinch, or undercut, all that has gone before; they are written by people who have an ear for the incomparable cadences of our language; they read aloud well. Those written as a dramatic monologue will have chosen a particular, often a striking, voice. Most difficult of all, they will be consistent with themselves; no wobbly starts, no soft centres, no collapsed endings. this said, the poems create their own worlds, their own laws, and this may include deliberately subverting all the faults I've mentioned. There are no rules really, except that the poem must work. Most poems, in fact, went their own way. A clutch of sonnets, rhyming couplets, terza rima, a rubai, some villanelles and sestinas were all present, but the majority were in free verse. There were also some splendid comic poems. It is hard to prefer them to the more sombre poems about Alzheimer's, suicide and loss, but I tried to strike a fair balance. Sometimes serious subjects lie concealed under apparent simplicity; equally, serious subjects, through awkward handling, lose their impact.
One thing I do wish; that I'd had more prizes to play with. There were so many good poems that deserved a public place - I could have used an anthology for a hundred, not just a short list of thirteen. It was a sad thing to have to set so many fine poems aside.
What came to the top in the end were the poems that wouldn't leave me alone. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did.
U A Fanthorpe