Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Graeme Lay Short Story Award, 2014: Judge’s Report

In this the fourth year of the award, twenty-eight entries were received, slightly down on last year’s total. But if the quantity was less than last year, the quality certainly wasn’t. This year the overall standard of the writing was much higher than in previous ones. There was a tail, but it was a very short one. The overall calibre of the writing was excellent and the best of the stories were a tribute to the entrants’ abilities.

Writing a publishable story when the limit is just 1500 words is a serious challenge. As with all fiction, characterisation is crucial. Credible characters must be established and placed in interesting circumstances. Elements of conflict must be present, to add dramatic tension to these circumstances, and eventually the conflict must be resolved in a manner which is satisfying to the reader. As I said, quite a challenge. But the finalists all rose to it successfully. 

While the high standard of the entries was gratifying, it also made my job much more difficult. Choosing the list of finalists, let alone the winners, was extremely hard. I read and re-read the short list – which was in fact quite a long list – over and over again. Then I set them aside and allowed the very best of the stories to rise to the surface of my consciousness. In this way the very best stories selected themselves. But it was still a very difficult process, and as a consequence I divided the list of finalists into three categories: Highly Commended, Very Highly Commended, and the Top Three.

The Immigrant by Mee-mee Phipps
A Bad Business by Julie Ryan
Flying to St Petersburg in Your Pyjamas by Michael Morrissey
 Animal Husbandry by Linley Jones

In no particular order, these are:
Red Bucket by Alex Stone
This story reads like a combination of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Lloyd Jones’s Mr Pip. Intriguingly exotic, the plot lends itself to an extended version i.e. It could well be expanded into a novel.
 Mind Mapping by Linley Jones
A story which spans decades in time, and worlds in place, yet succeeds in drawing the sympathy of the reader towards a woman not quite able to shake off her past. 
Clickety Clack by Eileen Merriman
Original and impressively scary, this is a story of obsession, rejection and revenge. Its medical class setting is convincing and its ending  suitably horrifying.

A story whose disturbing pivotal incident has had repercussions which reverberate down the ensuing years. The writer takes us back and forth in time, interweaving important events in not-too-distant Australian history, with the participation of some of the characters involved and their subsequent lives. One for animal lovers, too.
ALL THINGS BRIGHT by Bernard Brown

An arresting opening sentence sets the scene for what becomes a subtly drawn account of a secret relationship between two adolescent boys and the subterfuges they adopt to maintain it. A very moving story which manages to show, as well as tell, a great deal about its two protagonists’ lives.
YELLOW by Eileen Merriman

Hypnotic descriptions of the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic constitute the physical background to this story. The underlying theme is one of attempted escape and a yearning for personal fulfilment, aims which are ultimately defeated. Yet at the same time the woman narrator is made aware, by the ice which surrounds her, and the banal reactions of others to it, of the importance of what she has left behind. A finely conceived and executed story and a very worthy winner.

ENDLESS SEA by Bronwyn Calder

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