Competition Ten Judges Report by Charles Prelle
16th July 2020
Before I begin, I’d like to say thank you to Ian Rushton for allowing me to judge this competition. It was an absolute pleasure to be involved. I’d also like to say congratulations to all fifteen writers on the longlist. I know what it means to put ones work out there and hope someone connects with it, and it was an honour to be trusted with your words. There was something to admire in all fifteen stories on the longlist and it was a real challenge to get down to the magical five. Well done to all of you!
Like with anything, there is an element of personal taste in what connects with you. The winning stories I’ve selected used language that moved me, that engaged all of my senses, and that challenged me. They are the ones that stuck with me long after reading. They were all different, but all of them brought me back time and again to an emotion or to a moment that I couldn’t shake. I hope you enjoy reading the final five as much as I did.
A huge congratulations to all the winners!
The shortlisted Sindy Fights Dirty is about a sibling relationship told through snippets of remembrances. The piece is littered with beautifully rendered moments that resonate like travelling to ‘parallel universes in old packing boxes’ or creating potions out of ‘yellow sherbet from the medicine cupboard fizzing in purple cordial’. This scrapbook of memories come together to create a picture of a shared life, until the very last line that speaks to a moment their lives eventually disjoin, one sibling finally growing up and creating a life of their own. The author sculpts the characters so well that by the end I felt like part of the family.
The second shortlisted story Prickly Pears was very different. In fact, its uniqueness is one of the things that endeared me to it. There are a few writers out there who specialize in historical flash and this one was right up there with the best I’ve read in the genre. Set in Mussolini’s Italy during WWII, the story is told through the eyes of a ten-year-old child coming to terms with the madness of the world they’re surrounded by. The writer conveys the uncertainty and transient nature of living with war, describing ‘pillows and rosary beads’ as ‘our suitcases’. Through these moments we witness the child harden to their surroundings and lose their innocence in the process.
The highly commended Eilidh's Amulet felt to me like sitting beside a fire on a cold winter night listening to an old Scottish myth. The language is gorgeously poetic, and the sensory detail is magnificent. Ultimately though this is a tale of loss, grief, and redemption. The eponymous Eilidh is a widow on the first anniversary of her husband’s death. The darkest moments of her grief are likened to kelpies, a spirit of Scottish folklore. The fog of loss is as thick as the haar shrouding the fields, but through it burns a light of hope. This was a beautiful piece, a piece of real warmth and emotional resonance, of finding the beginnings of a peace which keeps the kelpies away.
The next highly commended piece Love Letter to the Sea also uses gorgeous language and imagery to set atmosphere and tone. I could almost taste the sea salt on my tongue and feel the mist of ocean on my face as I read. The story reflects the loss of a loved one and how that loss lingers over years, interwoven with the narrator’s connection to the sea. There are moments of pure beauty such as describing the lost lover’s script to be ‘open and wide as the mouth of a shell’, an object that symbolizes life (a shell) left cracked and broken. The way the narrator searches for their lost love in the signs of nature all around them speaks to a yearning for their presence. It’s a wonderful piece that reveals itself over multiple reads.
That takes me to our final piece and the one I’ve chosen as the winner. Do Everything Your Mama Said Not To struck me from the very first read. This is a story about coming of age, about love (both romantic and maternal), and about breaking away. I loved the way the author took the headline of each section and subverted it with a strikethrough to create a new phrase, like a knife violently cutting across the mother’s words. I loved that each segment is a snapshot to who the narrator is versus who her mother wanted her to be, each sentence a tiny rebellion. We watch as the narrator shuns the ‘limitations of a picket fenced, tree lined town’ to create a life of her own. Reading this piece is an act of liberation, of freeing oneself from the oppression of restriction, of living every moment to its fullest and through it ultimately realizing the person we always wished to be.