Short Stories That Win

The results are out for 4 of the short story competitions I entered over the Summer. If you want to write good, (prize-winning!) short stories, then you really should be reading the stories that have won recent competitions and (important, this!), the judges’ reports that often go with them.

Although I didn’t win (but I came third in one of them*), it was still worth entering because:

  • They gave me a much-needed deadline to work towards  
  • They made me write something new (or, they made me revise/improve an ‘old’ story before sending  it off)
  • It’s fun to be involved with something ‘communal’ and to be in competition with fellow writers
  • Studying the winning stories and judges’ reports helps, I think, to ‘raise my game’ and improve my writing.  
  • The feedback I had from the Rowan Coleman on-line competition, gave me encouragement and an idea for ‘NaNoWriMo’  

So here they are. Worthy winners? You be the judge:

1. The Writers Bureau Short Story Competition 

Closing Date:  30th June 2010       Theme: Open     Number of entries:  unknown

There’s a detailed critique of the winning story ‘My Face’,  by competition adjudicator, Iain Pattison on this site. Although I can see the merits of the winner, I actually prefer the story that came second: ‘The Dublin Judas’ – by Sheila Llewellyn, a fantastic story of revenge, with an unusual setting. It gripped me from the very first line. But see what you think.

2. Waterstones’ Perfectly Formed Short Story Competition

Closing Date: 1st July 2010             Theme: Open                   Number of entries:  1251             

Waterstones ran their first short story competition this year, in conjunction with Macmillan New Writing.  The winning story ‘Winter in Afghanistan’ is short – proving you shouldn’t feel obliged to use all your available word count! The writer, Carl Goodwin, is also young (27) and a ‘wine specialist for Waitrose’.  Life’s just not fair, is it?

3. Birmingham Book Festival  Short Story Competition

Closing Date:  10th July 2010   Theme: Open   Number of entries:  75

This year the Birmingham Book Festival ran its first short story competition, judged by local writer Jonathan Coe. Being a Brummie myself, I thought I might at least have a chance in the category for a ‘West Midlands-based writer’ but it was not to be! (By the way, yes that is Birmingham on the left. And not a canal or a factory in sight!)

If I’d been the judge, I’d have given first place to ‘The Executioner’s Lad’ by Claire Bennett, which is my favourite of the top three, but there you go. That’s the thing about competitions: they’re so subjective. A different judge – or even the same judge, in a different mood on a different day – would have chosen differently.  

Thinking about it, the story I submitted to this competition was quite ‘girly’and therefore probably not really Mr Coe’s cup of tea! Note to self: check out the judges in future!

You may think it doesn’t matter what kind of writer the judge is but a case in point was the 2010 Mslexia short story competition, which was judged by novelist Tracy Chevalier.  Her novels ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ and ‘The Lady And The Unicorn’, (both based on art history) demonstrate a clear interest in art. Was it just coincidence then, that the winning story had art as a theme and was called ‘Love: A Painting’?

4. Rowan Coleman Short Story Competition

Closing Date:  16th July 2010   Theme:  ‘Starting Over’    Number of entries:  300

*I came third  – hurrah! Not exactly The Booker Prize, I know, but it still gave me a boost.

We read the winning story, by Louise Wheeler, in my Creative Writing class a couple of weeks ago and some people didn’t like all the ‘gaps’ and unanswered questions in this story, but others did.  

That’s one of the difficult things about writing: how much do you tell your reader and how much do you ‘show’ or leave them to work out for themselves?  Leave too much unanswered and you’ll confuse and irritate but equally, if everything’s spelled out and explained (and you don’t credit your reader with any intelligence), that makes for a very unsatisfactory, and equally annoying, story.  I think Louise Wheeler got it right in ‘The Longing’ , but you be the judge.

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One Response to Short Stories That Win

  1. Hi Helen,
    I entered all these too (except the Writers’ Bureau one) and had even less success than you! I think comparing the winning stories with our own is a good learning excercise and a way of increasing our chances next time. Despite numerous failures I still get that excited ‘It could be me!’ feeling when I pop an entry in the post. Maybe it’s an addiction!

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