POETRY WINNERS - Judge: Roger McGough - Report
1st An Elegy for Lace - Kathy Miles, Ffos-y-ffin, Aberaeron
2nd The division of labour in pin manufacturing - Mark Fiddes, London
3rd How can I tell if the bluebells in my garden are Spanish - Julia Deakin, Flockton Moor, W Yorks
Highly Commended (alphabetical order)
Eels - Matt Barnard, London
British Bulldog - Tom Collingridge, Haarlem, The Netherlands
How not to see Bears - Ken Evans, Matlock, Derbyshire
Aunt Lois astonishes us all - Ian Harker, Leeds
Drunk in bed playing with an empty antique revolver - Michael Derrick Hudson, Fort Wayne, USA
Michelangelo’s David - Liz Lefroy, Shrewsbury
How to save a singer - Helen Paris, San Francisco, USA
The Kung-fu Master’s Resume - C.E.J. Simons, Toyko, Japan
manta ray poem - James Stradner, Bury-St-Edmunds
Kraken Rising - Eoghan Walls, Carnoustie, Dundee
SHORT STORY WINNERS - Judge: Jane Rogers - Report
1st Ping at the Zoo - Judith Edelman, La Jolla, California, USA
2nd Mannington May Be Mad - John Hobart, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
3rd LOL - Helen Morris, Essex
Highly Commended (alphabetical order)
Beyond the Blind - Cait Atherton, Bankok, Thailand
The Land of Make Believe - Lisa Blower, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
The Bad Sex Awards - Nicholas Burbidge, London
Paint - Sarah Burton, Cambridge
Allomother - Melanie Cheng, Melbourne, Australia
Ice Injuries: Halvmanoeya Island, Winter 1970 - Joanna M. Herrmann, Ludlow, Shropshire
Pig Swill - William Konarzewski, Colchester, Essex
Kwality - Annie MacConnel, Minneapolis, USA
Amir’s Story - Wendy Riley, Melbourne, Australia
The Yellowstone Bear - Alison Wray, Chepstow, Monmouthshire
FLASH FICTION WINNERS - Judge: David Gaffney - Report
1st Crushing Big - Kit de Waal, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
2nd The Witness - Aileen Ballantyne, Edinburgh
3rd Sense of Smell - Sandy Tozer, Lewes, East Sussex
Highly Commended (alphabetical order)
The Price of Truth - Sherri Turner, Thames Ditton, Surrey
Good at Crisps - Sarah Taylor, Haddenham, Bucks.
Encounter - Franny French, Portland, Oregon, USA
THE DORSET PRIZE
Chess - Maria Donovan (flash fiction)
Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel
1ST PRIZE - (please click the title to read the opening chapters from this novel)
RUNNER-UP - (please click the title to read the opening chapters from this novel)
How not to get pregnant - Jennifer Campion
Heartwood - Heather Chadwick
A corner of the artist’s room - Sinead Mooney
LONGLIST (alphabetical order)
Bad Habits - Jennifer Antell
Tilt - Adam Bennett-Keogh
Polishing Harpo - Drew Bryson
The Toad Prince - Elizabeth Cripps
The Fault Line - Alistair Daniel
The giddy career of Mr Gadd (deceased) - Lyn Gameson
Constant - Joe Holroyd
Searching for Elizabeth Loaming - Avril Lappin
Echo Hall - Virginia Moffatt
The Lunatic’s Ball - Stuart Roberts
Godforsaken - Mark Sandford-Wood
The Truth - Stefanie Sidortsova
The Flag on Tilicho La - Susan Vittery
I Am Here - Kieran Westwood
If everyone knew every plant and tree - Julia Wren-Hilton
Biographies - Judges 2015
David Gaffney lives in Manchester. He is the author of several books including Sawn-Off Tales (2006), Aromabingo (2007), Never Never (2008), The Half-Life of Songs (2010) and More Sawn-Off tales (2013). He has written articles for the Guardian, Sunday Times, Financial Times and Prospect magazine. 'One hundred and fifty words by Gaffney are more worthwhile than novels by a good many others.' The Guardian. www.davidgaffney.org
Roger McGough is one of Britain’s best-loved and prolific poets. He first came to prominence in 1967 when his work was included in the Penguin anthology The Mersey Sound: Penguin Modern Poets 10 which has since sold over a million copies. Much travelled and translated, his poetry gained increasing popularity, especially from its widespread use in schools. He is twice winner of the Signal Award for best children’s poetry book and recipient of the Cholmondeley Award.
In 1997 Roger was awarded an O.B.E. for his services to poetry and he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University and an Honorary Professor at Thames Valley University. He has an MA from the University of Northampton and D. Litts from the universities of Hull, Liverpool, Roehampton and The Open University. He was recently honoured with the Freedom of the City of Liverpool. Roger presents Poetry Please on BBC Radio 4 - the longest running poetry programme broadcast anywhere in the world. His latest book ‘It Never Rains’ is the 100th to be published.
Jane Rogers has written eight novels including Mr Wroe's Virgins (which she dramatised as an award-winning BBC drama serial), Her Living Image (Somerset Maugham Award), Island, and Promised Lands (Writers Guild Best Fiction Award). Her most recent novel The Testament of Jessie Lamb was longlisted for the 2011 ManBooker prize, and won the Arthur C Clarke Award 2012.
Her short story collection, Hitting Trees with Sticks was shortlisted for the 2013 Edgehill Award. She also writes radio drama and adaptations. Jane is Professor of Writing at Sheffield Hallam University and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. www.janerogers.info
Jane Feaver is a novelist and short story writer. Her first novel, According to Ruth (Harvill Secker, 2007) was shortlisted for the Author's Club Best First Novel Award and the Dimplex Prize. Love Me Tender (Harvill Secker, 2009) was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Her latest novel is An Inventory of Heaven (Corsair, 2012). Jane has been a regular tutor in fiction writing for the Arvon Foundation and is a patron of the National Academy of Writing. She is a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Exeter.
Biographies (alphabetical order)
Cait Atherton (born on the Isle of Man) worked for many years for the NHS in Cambridge and London as an audiological scientist. Moving to SE Asia with her family however enabled her to scratch the long-felt itch to write. In recent years her stories have found success achieving a win with Meridian Writing (2012); long list for the Fish Prize (2011); short list for the Fish Prize (2012) and a Highly Commended in the Bristol Prize (2012). Her story “The Homecoming” appears in A Tail for All Seasons vol IV published by Priory Press Ltd. (2015). She was selected for mentorship by Cinnamon Press and is working on her first novel. She helped organise the first English language Literary Festival in Bangkok, edits SALA Magazine for the National Museum Volunteers Bangkok and also creates websites for charity. More about Cait can be found at: www.watercolourwords.com
Aileen Ballantyne is a former national newspaper journalist turned poet, based in Edinburgh. She was the staff medical correspondent for the Guardian, then The Sunday Times. She now works as a tutor in English and Scottish Literature at the University of Edinburgh where she recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing and Modern Poetry. She was a Reuters Journalism Fellow studying medical ethics at Green College, Oxford, and her investigative journalism for the Guardian has twice been commended in the British Press Awards. Aileen won the University of Edinburgh Sloan prize for poetry (2009) and the National Galleries of Scotland poetry prize (2011); she was commended in the Edwin Morgan international poetry prize, (2011) is a past winner of the Wigtown Book Festival poetry competition, (2012). In 2015 Aileen won first prize in the Mslexia Poetry Competition, the short poem category at the Poetry on the Lake competition at Orta St Giulia and was commended in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine. ‘The Witness’ was her first attempt at flash fiction - but won't be her last - she is currently working on both poetry and prose and on the "final editing and honing" of her first collection of poetry.
Matt Barnard is a poet and short story writer. His poems have been published in a number of magazines, including Acumen, London Magazine, Magma, Other Poetry and Outposts. He featured in the Poetry School’s 2004 anthology Entering the Tapestry and in 2006 won The Poetry Society’s Hamish Canham Prize with his poem ‘The Sore Thumb’. In 2015, he won the Ink Tears national short story competition with ‘The Last Damn Peach’. He is married with two children and two dogs. www.mattbarnardwriter.com
Lisa Blower is an award-winning short story writer and novelist with a PhD in Creative & Critical Writing (Bangor University, 2011) where she taught on their creative writing programme for 5 years. She won The Guardian’s National Short Story competition in 2009 and was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award in 2013. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Comma Press, The New Welsh Review, The Luminary, Short Story Sunday and on Radio 4. Her debut novel ‘Sitting Ducks’ is out Spring, 2016. She is currently working on her first short story collection ‘It’s Gone Dark over Bill’s Mother’s’. She regularly hosts creative writing workshops on short fiction and continues to pursue her academic research into the role of gender and identity in online self-narratives. She lives in Shrewsbury.
Nicolas Burbidge has laboured in the some of the deeper, canary-killing mines of the media, public and charity sectors for 20 years. In 2014, he completed with distinction an MA in Creative & Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London where his portfolio was shortlisted for the Pat Kavanagh Award. Nick writes short stories and poetry and has recently begun the messy business of writing a novel. He also writes articles for culture and fashion magazine She Ra, which you can find at www.sheramag.com/author/nick-burbidge/.
Sarah Burton teaches Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. Her publications include: Impostors: Six Kinds of Liar (Viking, 2000); A Double Life: a Biography of Charles and Mary Lamb (Viking, 2003); The Miracle in Bethlehem: A Storyteller’s Tale (Floris, 2008); How to Put on a Community Play (Aurora Metro, 2011); The Complete and Utter History of the World by Samuel Stewart, Aged 9 (Short Books, 2013). Her next book, H, is a novel.
Heather Chadwick lives in Devon where she coordinates a local writers' group and runs a website Raddonlines, featuring some of her short stories and bringing together images, fiction, poetry and memoir from people who live and work in the Raddon hills in Devon. Heartwood is one of two novels Heather has written inspired by living in Paris. She is currently working on a novel on the theme of Retribution and set in Devon.
Melanie Cheng is a writer, mum and general practitioner based in Melbourne, Australia. Her writing has appeared in many Australian literary journals including the Griffith Review, Overland and Sleepers Almanac. She is currently working on a short story collection. melaniechengwriter.wordpress.com
Tom Collingridge read Philosophy at Hull, worked as a teacher in Zimbabwe and England, at various local authorities, and for Sport England helping set up the World Class athlete programme. He moved to the Netherlands in 2003, where he works as a freelance copywriter and translator. He was also the driving force behind the creation of the Dutch National Poetry Competition, now a major event in the country’s literary calendar. Over the years Tom has won a few minor prizes in smaller poetry and short story competitions, and had the occasional poem published. This poem was the first work he had submitted to anyone in nearly a decade. www.tomcollingridge.com
Julia Deakin was born in Nuneaton and worked her way north via the Potteries, Manchester and York to Huddersfield, where she began writing poems on a poetry MA. Her three acclaimed collections are The Half-Mile-High Club (a 2007 Poetry Business Competition winner), Without a Dog (Graft Poetry, 2008) and Eleven Wonders (Graft Poetry, 2012). Widely published, she has won numerous prizes and featured twice on Poetry Please. ‘Reading is a perk of the job,’ she says. ‘If only it were a job.’ More details at www.juliadeakin.co.uk
Michael Derrick Hudson lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA where he works for the Allen County Public Library. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Boulevard, Georgia Review, Gulf Coast, River Styx, New Ohio Review, and other journals. He was co-winner of the 2014 Manchester Poetry Prize.
Kit de Waal is published in various anthologies (Fish Prize 2011 & 2012; ‘The Sea in Birmingham’ 2013; ‘Final Chapters’ 2013’ and ‘A Midlands Odyssey 2015) and on Radio 4 Readings. She came second in the Costa Short Story Prize 2014 with ‘The Old Man & The Suit’, second in the Bath Short Story Prize 2014 with ‘The Beautiful Thing’ and second in the Bare Fiction Flash Fiction Prize. She won the Readers’ Prize at the Leeds Literary Prize 2014, and the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction 2014. Her first novel My Name is Leon will be published by Penguin in June 2016.
Maria Donovan is from Bridport and went to school at the Visitation Convent, St Catherine’s Primary and Colfox. She trained as a nurse while living in Holland and speaks fluent Dutch. In another life as a musician and performer she travelled Europe and later switched careers to become Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan. Maria has published a collection of flash fiction, Tea for Mr Dead, and a collection of short stories, Pumping Up Napoleon. ‘Chess’ is a spin-off from her unpublished novel, The Chicken Soup Murder, which is a finalist in this year’s Dundee International Book Prize.
Judith Edelman is a native New Yorker, who now splits her time between La Jolla, CA, Nashville, TN, and – periodically - a Maine island twelve miles out to sea. The daughter of a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and a kindergarten teacher, she has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and was the recipient of The Pinch Journal’s 2011 Literary Prize in fiction, as well as a finalist for the Calvino Prize and the Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize. Her stories have appeared in the Gettysburg Review, the Bellevue Literary Review and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among other journals. She received her MFA in fiction from the Bennington College Writing Seminars in 2011. In her years as a touring singer-songwriter, she recorded four albums in Nashville on the Compass Records and Thirty Tigers labels, as well as touring extensively in the U.S. and U.K. She has also composed music for documentaries showing on PBS’ Nova, Channel Four London, and at the Sundance Film Festival, among other venues. www.judithedelman.com
Ken Evans completed his Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester in 2015. He works part-time as a lead-mine guide at the Heights of Abraham to what is laughably called help ‘support’, his poetry habit. When not underground, he teaches Creative Writing classes for the WEA.
Mark Fiddes lives in South London and works in Soho. His first poetry pamphlet The Chelsea Flower Show Massacre (Templar Poetry) was published in March. Shortlisted in the 2015 Saboteur Award, it also featured as poetry book of the month by Lovereading.com. Awards and commendations include the Gregory O’Donoghue, Philip Larkin, Charles Causley, Live Canon, Wasafiri and Frogmore Prizes. https://markfiddes.wordpress.com/
Franny French lives in Portland, Oregon, USA. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in national and international literary journals and anthologies, including The Ledge Poetry & Fiction Magazine, Enizagam and St. Petersburg Review. She is the recipient of Portland State University’s Burnham Award for Fiction and an Oregon Literary Fellowship.
Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott was born and raised in Houston, Texas, before coming to call first Los Angeles and then London her adopted homes. She earned a BFA, Drama from Carnegie Mellon University and studied screenwriting at the University of Southern California. Kelleigh has been honoured by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences as a finalist for the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. Numerous screenwriting honours include the Zoetrope competition judged by Francis Ford Coppola and the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference, where she has twice been honoured as a finalist. In 2006 Kelleigh was the recipient of the Abroad Writers’ Conference Fellowship in Provence, where the germ of an idea for a book about the author Truman Capote’s betrayal of his Swans was born; nearly a decade of research and gestation later, Swan Song is her first novel. She developed the collective voice of the narrative over a six-month UEA / Guardian masterclass, led by novelist James Scudamore. Swan Song was shortlisted for the 2015 Myriad Editions First Drafts Competition and is longlisted for the 2015 Historical Novel Society Award for a New Novel. Kelleigh is married to English actor and writer Dominic Jephcott.
Ian Harker lives in Leeds. His work has appeared in Agenda, Other Poetry, The North, and Stand. He was shortlisted for the Bridport prize in 2014, as well as for the Troubadour and Guernsey International competitions. Shortlisted for Templar Poetry's Straid and Portfolio awards, he was chosen as one of the 2015 Pamphlet Award winners, and his debut, "The End of the Sky", is forthcoming from Templar later in 2015.
Joanna M Herrmann lives and works in the Welsh Borders. Her professional background is in mental health, where she hears many remarkable stories of ordinary lives. This has led her to have an interest in narrative as a basic human need. She also has an interest in short fiction, and in developing the creative boundary of non-fiction. She is working on a collection of short stories, and ‘Ice Injuries, Halvmaneoya Island, Winter 1970’ is the first of these to be published.
William Konarzewski was born in Bexhill-on-sea, Sussex. His father was Polish. He was educated at Winchester College and studied medicine at Guy's Hospital. Currently he works as a consultant anaesthetist in Colchester. Outside medicine, his main interest is writing and he has self-published three novels since 2014. He is married with two children.
Liz Lefroy won the 2011 Roy Fisher Prize resulting in the publication of her first pamphlet, Pretending the Weather. Her sequence, The Gathering, was set to music by Brian Evans and first performed at the St Chad's Music Festival, Shrewsbury, in 2012. Mending the Ordinary (2014) is published by Fair Acre Press. Liz's work has appeared in Mslexia; The Frogmore Papers; Magma; Shoestring; Ink, Sweat and Tears; Wenlock Poetry Festival anthologies 2013 and 2015; The Emergency Poet Anthology and on the Writers' Hub. She reads regularly at poetry festivals and literary events, including performances at the Edinburgh Fringe of her dramatic sequence, The Seven Rages of Woman. She hosts the Poetry Busk at Wenlock Poetry Festival, is organiser of Shrewsbury Poetry and presents ‘Poetry Round-up’ on Ryan Kennedy's show on BBC Radio Shropshire. Liz is a senior lecturer in Social Work at Glyndwr University in Wrexham. http://lizlefroy.wix.com/liz-lefroy
Annie MacConnel is a graduate of the MFA Program For Writers at Warren Wilson College. She is a freelance editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and son. This is her first published story.
Kathy Miles is a poet and short story writer. Born in Liverpool, she moved to Wales in 1972 and lives near Aberaeron. A trained librarian, she is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. Her first collection, The Rocking Stone, was published by Poetry Wales Press, and The Shadow House by Cinnamon Press in 2009. Her third collection of poems, Gardening With Deer, is due to be published by Cinnamon Press in June 2016. Her work has appeared in many anthologies and magazines, and she has also been highly placed in several competitions, including first place in the 2014 Welsh Poetry Competition and the 2013 Second Light Short Poem Competition. Kathy Miles is a founder-member of the Lampeter Writers’ Group, run by Gillian Clarke, and a member of Wales PEN Cymru and The Welsh Academy. She reads with the Red Heron performance group, and has read at many festivals and local events. http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/kathymilesbiog.shtml
Sinéad Mooney is an Irish academic who, having spent years commuting between the west of Ireland and London, and stints living in the US and the Middle East, now lives in rural Leicestershire with her husband and their three year old son. She works as a research fellow in English at De Montfort University where she is a specialist in Irish literature and women's writing. Her 2011 book on Samuel Beckett, A Tongue Not Mine, won the American Conference for Irish Studies Robert Rhodes Prize. A Corner of the Artist's Room is her first novel.
Her stories have been published in Solstice Shorts by Arachne Press, Goose published by the University of Toronto, Crooked Holster published by Crooked Holster,
And Fresher Writing 2015 published by Bournemouth University and in the
Bedford Writing Competition: Short Story Anthology 2014. She is on Twitter @mortaltaste if anyone wants to say ‘hello’.
Helen Paris is co-artistic director of Curious theatre company. Solo performances include Family Hold Back, which toured in the UK and internationally, including Sydney Opera House, Guling Street Avant-Garde Theater, Taipei and the Center for the Contemporary Arts, Shanghai. Curious has produced over 40 projects in performance and film. The work has been presented and supported by institutions including the Royal Shakespeare Company, British Council Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival and film festivals including the London Short Film Festival and Hors Pistes at the Pompidou Center. Curious is produced by Artsadmin. Paris is a professor of performance at Stanford University, USA.
Alison Powell grew up in Blackwood, a small mining town in South Wales. She left life in the Valleys in 1994 to study English Literature and Philosophy at the University of Hull. From there she went on to live and work in a variety of roles, from English teacher to parachute packer, in Denmark, Greece, New Zealand and Spain. In 2004 she trained as an English and Drama teacher and has taught at secondary schools in Bristol, her adopted home. She currently works as a freelance education writer and consultant and has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University where she has been developing When the Mountain Swallowed the Morning.
Wendy Riley was brought up in the English town of Hereford and now lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and son. A journalist, she loves writing of all kinds, but creative writing is her passion, with two novel manuscripts now finalised. 'Amir's Story' belongs in a completed compilation of 12 short stories, A Book of Broken Pieces, currently seeking a publisher.
C.E.J. (Christopher) Simons is a British-Canadian poet born in Winnipeg, Canada. He is a Senior Associate Professor of British Literature in Tokyo. His previous jobs have included professional martial artist, rodent euthanizer, and M.P. staffer. In 2003 he held the Harper-Wood Studentship in Creative Writing at St John’s College Cambridge. He has published on Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Yeats, Emily Dickinson, and Sylvia Plath, most recently contributing a chapter to the Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth (Oxford University Press, 2015). Two of his previous pamphlets were nominated for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Canada Writes poetry prize. His poems have won prizes in UK competitions including the Cardiff International Poetry Competition and the Wigtown Competition. His criticism and poetry have appeared in publications including the Independent, Isis, Magma, Oxford Poetry, PN Review, and The Times Literary Supplement.
James Stradner graduated from Goldsmiths in 2014 with a BA in Fine Art and Art History. His poetry has been featured in ANTHOLOGY I and II (2014 and 2015) published by AOTCS Press. In March 2015 he curated small birds nest with blue eggs inside at MMX Gallery in London and was an Associate Artist at Firstsite, Colchester for 2015-16. www.jamesstradner.co.uk
Sarah Taylor recently completed an MA in English at Oxford Brookes University. Although she lives in the south of England with her three children, Sarah's roots - and much of the inspiration for her writing - are back in her native Nottingham. She was Highly Commended in the Flash Fiction category of the Bridport Prize in 2012. Writing Flash Fiction fits in well with mum-stuff and Sarah's three part-time jobs but her biggest goal in the coming year has to be to finish her first novel!
Sandy Ann Tozer writes fiction and poetry and is currently working on a graphic novel. She has published a few poems and a story in anthologies. A founder member of a writing group of four writers and artists she also has an MA in Creative Writing & Authorship from the University of Sussex. Sandy is new to flash fiction and lives near Brighton in the UK.
Sherri Turner was brought up in Cornwall and now lives in Surrey with her husband. She has had numerous short stories published in women’s magazines in the UK and abroad and has won prizes for both poetry and short stories in competitions including the Bristol Prize, the New Writer prize, the Writer’s Bureau Short Story competition and the Grace Dieu poetry competition. In 2015 she was the joint winner of the inaugural Plough Short Story competition. Her work has also appeared in a number of short story anthologies and her first short story collection is currently under consideration.
Eoghan Walls lectures in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. He has received an Eric Gregory Award, an Irish Arts Council Bursary and his first collection, The Salt Harvest, was published by Seren in 2011. It was short listed for the Strong Award for Best First Collection.
Alison Wray grew up in north-west London. She gained a first class degree and a doctorate in linguistics from the University of York, and during her early thirties developed dual career as a linguistics lecturer and professional classical singer. She currently works at Cardiff University, where she is a professor of language and communication. She has published numerous academic papers and several research and textbooks, including Formulaic language: pushing the boundaries (Oxford University Press, 2008) and Formulaic language and the Lexicon (Cambridge University Press, 2002) which won the 2003 book prize of the British Association for Applied Linguistics. Projects in Linguistics (Hodder, 1998) was shortlisted in 1999 for the same prize, and is now in its third edition. Another successful textbook, Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (Sage) will appear in its third edition in 2016. Alison’s current research writing concerns the patterns of communication between people with dementia and their carers.
The first thing a short story needs to do is to make me – the reader – turn the pages. My curiosity needs to be aroused, maintained and satisfied. It is only at a second reading that I really become aware of the craft in the writing; the ways in which the writer is engaging me – the language, the structure, the voice, the characterisation - the techniques which are in play. And then (assuming of course it is a good story) my understanding, enjoyment and admiration deepen.
On a second reading, there were seven Bridport entries which really stood out for me, and to be honest, any one of them would have been a worthy winner of this prestigious competition. All are very fine stories. Selecting first, second and third was very difficult indeed.
In general the standard was high and I really do congratulate all entrants. It’s hard writing and polishing a story and sending it off with all your hopes into the blue. I know, because I have done it myself many times, and often it has been like chucking a pebble into the sea. My stock response then is to blame the judges for poor taste, and I quite understand if you want to do that. Nevertheless, I will offer my thoughts on what made some stories weaker than others. A number of stories described a character who is lonely, bored and unfulfilled, and whose life feels rather pointless. I admit to feeling like this myself on a regular basis, but it isn’t interesting and there’s no suspense. A number of stories presented the viewpoint of an unfairly treated or misunderstood child. Again, this is true-to-life, but it has to be exceptionally well-handled to make it interesting. (See the winning story for this exception.) A number of stories featured violent, cruel and abusive men – but a good story needs to do more than shock and horrify; it needs to move toward some sort of resolution or catharsis, it needs a shape.
And my final complaint concerns tenses. The present tense is popular, but it does not work if the writer lets past and even pluperfect come crashing into it at random. Choose a tense and stick to it, please (except when the story shifts in time, obviously).
And now to the winners … ‘Ping at the Zoo’ is deceptively simple; an adopted Chinese girl feels isolated in America. But we are in the hands of a very skilful writer. The narrative voice is third person, restricted point of view, shifting between Ping and her mother Meifen. Ping’s sections are written in such simple clear language that we can believe it is the mind of a child; and the child’s observations are so precise that we can identify things for which she has no name – like the food she is served in the morning, ‘tiny, hard, sweet dumplings floating in milk from a cow, which quickly go soggy.’ Ping thinks a lot about food, and the reader understands this to represent many sorts of loss. It is a fine illustration of Flannery O’Connor’s command that a short story should operate by showing not by saying, and by showing the concrete. The child’s story is heartbreaking but there’s not a scrap of sentimentality in the writing. Cutting back and forth in time, the tragic history of Ping’s family is revealed with impressive economy. We are already sympathetic to the poor mother who is forced by the birth of a son to give away her daughter, before that moment comes. When it does, and Ping is taken into a house, a single sentence relates, ‘Meifen watched the closed door until it disappeared in the dark, the whimpering baby hanging from her hollow chest.’ A lesser writer would have told us how Meifen felt, or that she cried. Here one word, ‘hollow’, does it all. In short story, especially when dealing with emotion, less is always more. As Raymond Carver says, ‘Get in, get out. Don’t linger.’ Amongst many other pleasures, I loved the way images of trees and references to their beauty and their strength are woven through the fabric of the story.
‘Mannington May be Mad’ is written in a very different way. It is third person again, but from the point of view of a highly educated, language-loving adult who revels in alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, complex sentence structures – every literary trick in the book. But the story does not feel tricksy. Instead it succeeds in making the reader see and hear language afresh, making connections and revealing meanings which are more commonly furred over into cliché by thoughtless daily use. And there is a sly humour which is as built into the choice of language as it is into the hall-of-mirrors subject matter of the story itself. Very slowly, very gradually, do we come to realise the similarities between our hero and his enemy, as tiny revelations are drip-fed through his perfectly-paced account.
In third place is ‘LOL’ which did indeed make me laugh out loud, and was my favourite story for quite a while. It could be described as science fiction, but it reads more as a satire upon the present, than as future fiction. Dystopian visions are generally gloomy, but here the potentially terrifying subject matter is handled with a delightfully light touch. I loved the use of text salutations, and the references to blinking. If I say anymore I will give the game away, and you need to read it yourself to understand and be amused by its cleverness.
The Highly Commended stories speak eloquently for themselves, but I would like to draw attention to the wonderful variety of their subject matter (from the polar bear hunter to the teenager trapped in her high-rise Bangkok bedroom). There is also impressive variety in the types of short story here, from the futuristic, experimental style of ‘The Bad Sex Awards’ to the highly conventional but blackly funny crime story ‘Pig Swill.’
Congratulations to all the winners. The imagination, skill and craft in your writing makes your work a joy to read. I’m pretty sure most of you are already published writers; if not, you will be soon.
And congratulations to all the entrants. After days of reading your stories my head is crammed with new ideas, images and voices. I have been privileged to enter a fantastic range of imagined worlds. There are many many stories here which contain elements of a good story, and we all know that it is incredibly hard to get all the elements right, so you are at least part of the way there. Keep writing, and may you go from strength to strength.
This year the standard of entries was so high that not one of the poems I submitted anonymously reached the top 50.
I jest (about my submitting poems, not the high standard). Although it must be said that Candy Neubert and her team of readers, to whom I’m grateful for sifting through the initial 7002 entries, thought that the standard this year was disappointingly low. And if I may quote from Candy’s report ‘I was once told that a really fine poem “feels like a cat climbing up your leg”. Sometimes there are a goodly handful of these in the final 200 but this year they feel more comfortably curled on a lap.’
However, I was more than happy to receive my box of kittens and found the judging process immensely pleasurable, and felt privileged to witness the joys and tragedies unfolding before me. I smiled, I cried, I occasionally yawned. Yes, yawned, for as many a judge will confess, giving careful reading to poem after poem can be wearisome. Not that any poems in themselves induce fatigue, but rather, the sheer volume (reflecting the success of the competition) can result in feelings of déjà- vu, and emotional overload.
One must also guard against subject and title prejudice. I remember being with a small group of judges (a dictum? a doom?) sifting through our final selections and one dismissing a poem I favoured with the words ‘Cricket! I can’t stand cricket. I don’t care how good the poem is, it’s about bloody cricket.’
I did wonder too if the time of the year and the weather can affect one’s judgement? For instance, would a poem filled with summer sunshine set on a Greek island have greater appeal when read on a cold night in February? I’ve no idea. However, I do know that I received my bundle of poems at the end of July and that I took a hundred or so on holiday with me to Majorca in August. They were in need of a holiday. We became a familiar sight in the bars and cafes of Deia, the poems and I, inseparable, and the 25 amigos I brought home bore the smudged fingerprints of sun tan oil and vino tinto.
When Kate Wilson had asked me last year to outline to prospective competition entrants what I would be looking for, I said that I hoped to see poems that I wish I had written, and I wonder now if that was not the best advice to give. For I suspect that some poets submitted poems ‘in the style of’ (me) which I would never have written, nor wanted to. In other words, forget who is judging, just submit your best poem as if passing it on to a sympathetic reader.
Liz Lochhead in her Poetry Report last year noted that ‘Very, very few poems were in anything other than free verse,’ and that ‘Most poems were about image rather than sound.’ And the trend continues, rhyme being such a rarity I found myself gasping for a villanelle or the whiff of a sestina. And sad to say, the few that did appear offered more in style than content.
Content? Cancer and old age unsurprisingly, engaged the minds and hearts of many poets, and stepping inside such poems often seemed like an intrusion into a very private grief. But if grief there was, where was the rage? Politics did not engage our poets. No voices crying out against poverty and injustice, migration and global warming. Our politicians can sleep soundly in their beds, the poets are not assembling in the street outside.
Many of the poems, and this is not a criticism for I think many of my mine fall into this category, are like short films. Small surreal dramas, often funny sometimes scary, which makes me to wonder if they might have been contenders for the Flash Fiction prize. (Short story or poem? Discuss.)
The First Prize goes to ‘An Elegy for Lace’ which is very much a poem and a carefully crafted one. Inside the honeyed stone of the cloister walls the nuns are making lace that will adorn the necks of comtesses, perhaps a queen.
‘Bone and ivory bobbins click like needles,
The clink of ship’s masts at their mooring, as we link
Meshed nets of grenadine......’ Meanwhile, in Paris, the tumbrils are
being filled, the guillotine erected.
‘I grow afraid, Sisters, I grow afraid.’
My Second Prize-winner, the intriguingly entitled ‘The division of labour in pin manufacturing’ offers advice to the emasculated job-seeker:
Nobody writes a killer pitch on a Happy Baguette napkin. Pretending to work only makes you good at pretending. ‘Camouflaged as a dead person’ he wastes his days in a local cafe. He must return to work before life loses interest in him
It’s now a race against cappuccino, pastries and insignificance.
The Third Prize goes to ‘How can I tell if the bluebells in my garden are Spanish?’ which I imagine is the spirited, witty response to a question on Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question time. It may be a one-trick pony but from the opening:
They will be more flamboyant-their skirts flouncier, ...to the close:
Complete strangers-bluebells you hardly know
Will say hola to you.
...it doesn’t put a hoof wrong .
Perhaps on another day, or at another time of the year, I might have awarded the first three prizes from others on my list of the ten highly commended.
‘Eel’, ‘The Kung Fu Master’s Resume’, ‘British Bulldog’, or ‘Michelangelo’s David’ might have edged in. Congratulations to you all.
Reading flash fiction is like listening to chamber music. It feels close up. You can hear and see all of the different moving parts, shift focus from one phrase to the other easily, see the relationship between the instruments and the different elements of the composition. Listen: that's the squeak of the musician's sweat as his fingers slide along the neck of the cello; that's the tap of a shirt-cuff button on the body of a violin. When reading flash fiction the efforts of the writers are exposed in the same way; the pipes and wires are on the outside. Sometimes this is good, and sometimes not so good. Working in the close-up form you have to get everything right, every sleight of hand will be noticed, every over-emphasised pause, every unwarranted furbelow, every unearned tug on our emotions. And in a competition, we assume this is the final draft and that by this stage, any walls or pillars that are not load bearing should have been taken down. In the batch sent to me by the Bridport Prize this year I am pleased to say that many entries stood up to this close examination and it was tough to choose just six from the thousands sent in.
Crushing Big is a lovely story in which the crush of a schoolchild is mirrored in the parents who flirt and tease each other with promises of intimacies that never happen. I like the line 'I can see down her clean throat, glimpse her beating heart'. But it is more than just a description of a nascent love affair. It takes a turn, and a rather sinister one; the man steals the woman's coat and stows it under his mattress as a kind of fetish trophy so that he can feel her shape beneath him as he sleeps. He thinks about what is in the pockets - the bus tickets, the fluff. The strong last line hints at things to come in a tantalising way. The Witness is entirely different. It's an intriguing and disturbing examination of a war atrocity which we learn partway through takes place in the concentration camp Belzec. Horrifying details are unfolded casually, in an almost offhand way, from the point of view of a worker who has been tasked with writing a hygiene report on procedures at the death camp. It's a big subject for flash fiction and demonstrates that the form is able to bear the weight of solemn, historical themes such as this. I like the line 'memory, a stone in its depth now'. Sense of Smell could have ended up as an over-tricksy point-of-view reveal story, but here the reader learns who is talking early on. It is being told to us by a baby still in the womb, and is a study of the effects of the sounds and tastes and smells on the developing embryo - brilliantly described, especially that of distantly perceived tobacco from a group of schoolboys the mother walks past. It's a simple story as such and doesn't drive ahead much plot wise - but it's compelling and the story's movement is all about our growing realisation of the strange and unique point of view. And it's got one of the best last lines I've read - 'Let's begin.' The Price of Truth caught my eye because it's a blackly humorous piece about the way us writers can often appear to be cold distant creatures who harvest stories from the souls of those around us with an eye only on novelty, entertainment, and self-aggrandisement. It does this with a neat little plot with a banging punch line. Next – well, we've all been left in a car outside a pub with nothing but a packet of crisps for entertainment – it still happens to me now, in fact. Good at Crisps is a great description of this childhood memory, with some nice accounts of the many different ways you can ingest fried potato snacks. In Encounter, a hitchhiker gets a lift from God and is transfixed by the different ways God chooses to present himself to the world, all in the space of a few minutes.
All in all it was a pleasure to read such a varied bunch of short-short stories, and congratulations to the winners.