Competition Eight Judges Report by Martha Lane

21st March 2022

 

I need to start by saying, what a great longlist. Fifteen stories with some truly beautiful writing, there was at least one spark of genius in every single one. But the five stories I chose, to me, told whole stories. And told them in imaginative, creative, and unusual ways. They worked their titles hard, worked their themes, and their words to their triumphant finish lines.
So, on to my top five.
My first shortlisted story, Where it Stops is a story of what ifs. A story zoomed in on a moment so small that actually says something so much larger than what’s on the page. I loved the ending and all the questions it leaves in its wake.
Then, Zero Hour – Slash and Burn. Compared to Where it Stops this story had a vast timeframe of just under two hours. It stood out from the long-list because of the genre, I was plummeted into a world full of communications and NewGens and it packed in so much action for a flash story. I was very happy to be taken along for the ride.
The Highly Commended stories struck me for their unusual perspectives. Both played with slightly off-kilter ideas and dealt with them with humour, interesting settings, and tight, concise sentences. Kiss Me, Tiger plays on that otherness of the opposite sex from a teenaged perspective. Young enough to still have teachers, old enough to drink coffee, right on the cusp of adulthood. That claw and tooth-filled lust and confusion, and how that teenage love can then turn sour. Great stuff!
Off-Track had me at that great opening line which made me laugh. The shortest of the stories by a fair way, it says so much. I thought I knew where it was going until I didn’t and then the last line of five words ties everything up in a neat taffeta bow.
The winning story, My Child Speaks with the Voice of a Swallow, ticked so many boxes for me. The bird vocabulary weaved throughout to build this striking metaphor. That notion of coming at something from an unusual angle, the sorrow that swirls in its undercurrents. I loved this writer’s use of specificity, the sequoia bark wasn’t just any old tree bark, it was a swallow not a bird. They wielded breath-taking imagery, the regurgitated worms and that heart-breaking soundproof booth, their little bird’s cage. This whirlpool of a story dragging me towards that tragic and touching last line. Really well done. I was drawn in by the title, and I was won over soon after.

 

Martha Lane 

@poor_and_clean