This year I was invited to judge the inaugural Rockingham City Council Short Story competition. I was judge for the KSP Speculative Fiction comp a couple of years ago and enjoyed the experience (my judge’s report for that one isn’t on their site anymore – might post it somewhere for posterity) so I was happy to say yes. Foolishly, I thought it probably wouldn’t be a huge job – first year of the competition and all. I didn’t reckon with the powers of Lee Battersby, competition organiser and champion! Ended up with nearly 140 entries across three categories (Youth, Open and 50+). The stories had only one theme – the inspiration of an artwork owned by the RCC, the very evocative “The Eviction” by Derrick Carroll.
I did my duty and chose the winners (1st, 2nd and 3rd plus three honorable mentions in each category – 18 in all). It was blind reading – all names stripped from the manuscripts, just numbered. So imagine my surprise when Lee told me that the winner of the Open and 50+ categories was the same person, and the winner of the Youth section was her daughter! I was blown away, particularly as the three stories were all very different. I would never have imagined the Open and 50+ stories to have been written by the same person. I thought that was pretty funny. It was even funnier tonight when all the winners were announced at a lovely little event put on by the Council, when I realised that every single one of the 18 stories I’d selected as winners was written by a woman. Could have knocked me over with a feather!
Am I a gendered reader? I wouldn’t have thought so. Yes, a lot more women than men pass through my hands when I’m reading these days, but fifteen years ago, four out of my top five favourite authors were men (Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Raymond Feist and David Eddings – Anne McCaffrey rounded out the five). It’s changed since then, and while I still do read and enjoy many books and stories by male authors, if I’m given the choice between a new male author and a new female author to read, I’ll almost certainly pick the female.
I don’t think I can put the motive for this change squarely in the court of the company I’ve been keeping for the past several years (I’m looking at YOU Alisa, Tansy, Helen, Alex et al!), although of course that helps. I would suggest that part of it is an exposure to more woman writers, but also my own growth and change as a person. It’s an interesting thing to consider about myself.
Anyway, here’s the gist of my judging report for the competition:
It was a great privilege to judge the inaugural Rockingham City Council Short Story competition this year. The huge number of entries was a surprise for the first year of a competition, but demonstrated the interest in the creative arts in our area and across Australia.
With such a darkly intricate artwork to draw inspiration from in “The Eviction”, it’s hardly surprising that stories were evocative, compelling, disturbing and engaging. While many writers took a very literal interpretation of the work, others used it with a light touch, with satisfying results in both areas.
The image prompted many ghost stories, which was fascinating, and a multitude of works featuring a cat as protagonist. Both types of story can be difficult to execute successfully, and the best took the trope and gave it a unique twist. While many works were very well-written, some were let down by a lack of true story, being instead mood pieces or vignettes. A very short story is possibly one of the hardest types of writing to execute well, as in a limited space there is still a need for plot, character and good writing. Rarely can any one of those three elements stand well enough on its own to create a good story – almost always, all three are required. The very best of stories uses all three seamlessly and integrates them into a work that makes it impossible to tell which of the three are doing the hardest work in making it great!
1st place – While not unique among the entries in terms of the premise (ghost stories were a favourite trope for this competition), this story was executed extremely well. The characterisation and set up of the story were very believable – it was creepy and sad, and above all, written beautifully.
2nd place – An action-packed piece that took me to a completely different place than I’d anticipated! Cleverly done and well-written.
3rd place – One of the few stories submitted that examined the painting itself rather than simply drawing inspiration from it. While not quite as well put together as the first and second place stories, it held my attention and made me want to read it again once I got to the end.
1st place – Eerily beautiful, this haunting story still packs a punch. I love the paranormal premise here, and the writing is excellent.
2nd place – This solid story was a dark little insight into what goes on behind closed doors. A quite innocent facade but not all that pleasant to read!
3rd place – Another behind-closed-doors story – the narrator of this piece was particularly likeable. A little sad story.
1st place – This story took a fabulous idea and pulled off a well-paced, creepy tale. The over-the-top characterisation set off this horror story very cleverly. Great writing!
2nd place – As an editor, I would have advised the author to do some judicious trimming of this story, but it’s overall a very well-written piece. I liked the way the painting played an important role in the story.
3rd place – A number of the submissions tried to use an anti-hero narrator – someone completely unlikeable telling the story. This is a difficult thing to do well and this story did it best. Cleverly done.