This quarter’s report is by FJ Morris
Firstly, I want to congratulate all of the writers who made the shortlist and for all those who entered the competition in the times we’re in. It’s no small thing to find the resolve to keep writing in troubled times, and I want to thank you for continuing to craft, create and inspire; for continuing to focus on those things which are always good no matter what.
There were so many stories I was rooting for, which were so close to making the cut. They just needed a few tweaks here and there, or a reworked ending. I loved some of the adventures that writers took me on with their structure and styles, and the voices that came through. So many of the stories looked at love and loss, and tension in relationships – no doubt a sign of the times where tensions are running high and showing the cracks. Art is a mirror to humanity and the winners here show us the uncomfortable reality about this moment in time.
When you submitted these stories, the world felt bleak, fraught, and frightening. But there has been a glimmer of hope that things might change, and I wonder if the stories you write now for the next competition will reflect that too?
Well done for your courage. Writing is hard at the best of times. Writing in a pandemic is miraculous. So keep exploring, keep crafting, and most of all, hold tight to your hope and courage for all things. If you didn’t make it to the final three this time, remember that a win may be closer than you think.
Sometimes there’s Compassion in a Punch
When there are so many stories about domestic violence in relationships, it takes an exceptional story to emerge victorious. When I read this story, it was like hitting the jackpot and I knew immediately it was the winner. From the very first line you are drawn into the story and its haunting atmosphere. ‘Sometimes…’ becomes a rhythm, hypnotic through the story. You become spellbound, put into a dreamlike state, along with the narrator. You feel the underlying tension, the waiting, only to be surprised, to be caught out. They juxtapose our associations to keep us asking ‘why?’ We think we’re about to read about her Mum’s mistreatment, only to show a glimpse of just how complex the human spirit is – and why someone might not leave.
Lessons in weeding
This is a beautifully layered and symbolic story, comparing the struggle with acne to lawn maintenance. A cleverly structured flash fiction where another layer peels off with each re-reading. Many writers feel that to create an award-winning story, the subject matter has to be big and dramatic by including death or illness or violence. But this is a fantastic example of how something that appears smaller or less significant to those big life events, can still have a huge impact on our lives and how we see ourselves. As a society, we agonise over our appearance and this is a great reminder about the beauty of nature, both human nature and mother nature.
Like ‘Lessons in weeding’ above, this story uses symbolism and structure to tell a story about a women’s plight to leave her husband through comparing her relationship to glass windows. It is rich, deep and resonates well beyond the first reading. This is another truly exceptional story, and even though it hints at domestic violence, it’s about more than that. The characterisation is strong and we get to know these two characters in a very short space of words. There are some beautiful lines that linger and that you’ll take with you. It looks at the age of question of when to make or break.
Highly commended: Nine Squares
Nine squares is a carefully crafted story, just like its subject – the quilt. At first, I didn’t see where it was going until the meaning behind the blanket became revealed, piece by piece, square by square, until the ending, which lingers with you well after you’ve read it.