Competition Twelve Judges Report by Julia Ruth Smith

14th November 2022


I chose love. Love in all its wonderful forms. Love for a husband, a child, a moment; young love, old love, fleeting moments that may or may not be love but are however part of the rollercoaster of human emotion.


All fifteen stories tell us about life, sometimes tender, intricate, sometimes euphoric and often sad.


It wasn’t by any means easy to to decide which stories should make it to the final selection. The interesting thing about this particular competition is that you pass very quickly from being a participant to being a judge of your peers, when you still remember the tension of waiting to know where you have been placed. My apologies then to those who I had to leave out. I’ve been there and I know it’s difficult.


In choosing the winning stories I mostly followed my heart, taking into consideration story arc, use of language, title but ultimately choosing those that I just couldn’t shake off.


 The two shortlisted stories both chose a fragmented structure.  ‘Physical Geography’ was in many ways was as stark as the landscape it maps out, with a sparse use of descriptive language to almost clinically describe an office romance. Nobody comes out of this particularly well and the line “ Latitude: Obviously she still has to sleep with her husband sometimes,’ floored me.  In so few words the writer tells us absolutely everything we need to know about the two main characters.


“Instructions for Sweethearts Watching Spitfires Leave.” by contrast is a prayer to nature and despite its word count gave us such gems as ‘the soft rattle of wheat,’ and ‘the violet ink of the heavens..’ I loved the image of the solitary hare and the story that we can glimpse but never quite fully grasp.


The two highly commended stories talk of grief and are both heartbreaking in their own way.


‘The Carver’ is a study in controlled storytelling. The first image, ‘Two halves of a bronze plaque in two separate hands. A birthday in his left. A deathday, heavier, in his right.’ immediately talks to us of loss and this continues through the ‘black hole where once a galaxy had been’ until we reach the last tragic line.

‘In Ordinary Times,’ we are asked to assist a couple coping with the pain and confusion surrounding illness. The first line is just beautiful, and this story is carried along by a touching use of language. I particularly liked the ’blue smudges of fatigue beneath his eyes,’ and the final ‘sorrow blooming.’


In the end, however, I chose hope. The title of the winning entry, ‘Superman Smiles’ drew me in immediately to find a charming story of a mother’s fierce love for her child. ‘She starves herself and with the cash she saves, buys tickets for Comic Con.’ Crash! Bang! It’s a brilliant first line. I loved the optimism of this piece and how the mother is the superhero ready to save the day. It’s funny, ‘She says she’s maintaining her civilian identity,’ it has tension, ‘She spins, suddenly strong, suddenly sword-sharp,’ and it ends with a tear-jerker, ‘…she is Wonder Woman.’  I think that we can all agree that in present times we need a lot more Wonder Women and a good deal fewer ‘ make believe men.’


Congratulations to everyone on the shortlist, long-list and all the heroes who entered this round of the competition. It was a pleasure reading your work!

Julia Ruth Smith