Thanks to everyone who submitted to The Short Story competition 2014. There were submissions from 20 countries and the winners are:
FIRST PRIZE: Water Bull Bride by Zoe Gilbert (UK). 2014 Costa Short Story winner.
SECOND PRIZE: I am a Sex Doll by Ralph Johnston (Japan)
THIRD PRIZE: LeChing On Me by Chantelle Gray van Heerden (South Africa)
I would also like to give an honourable mention to the following stories:
Bisous – Jade Moulds (UK)
Saints and Sinners and Circumstance – Douglas Bruton (UK, third prize winner in 2013’s competition)
The Spartan Soldier – Adrastos Omissi (UK, second prize winner in 2013’s competition)
The Wages of Sin – Lucy Black (Canada)
Below are the reasons why I chose this year’s winning stories. As usual, there are a few spoilers in there, so I’d recommend reading the stories first!
When I go through the process of long list selection, I attach a “yes”, a “maybe” and a “no” to each story complete with a brief summary of the plot and my initial thoughts on it. Sometimes a “maybe” can switch to a “yes” on second reading and vice versa. When I read Water Bull Bride I put a “yes, yes” against it straight away. I just knew it was a winner. All three winning stories deal with sex and desire but in very different ways.
Water Bull Bride inhabits the folkloric world of good country people and a rampant water bull, who strides through this rich landscape, whisking maidens from their hearths and driving them into sensual, deep waters. It is a tale of seduction so eloquent, so poetic and so evocative that each line gave me a frisson of pleasure. Even the names Zoe Gilbert gives her characters are filled with imagination: Pie Oxley, Sandy Rincepan, Honey McGuigan and our heroine, Plum. This will not be the last you hear of Zoe Gilbert.
I am a Sex Doll is a very different kettle of fish. Here we have a story told from the point of view of a sex doll. Under a different hand it could have been cheap, it could have been disgusting, it could have been a sixth former’s wet dream. But with Ralph Johnstone’s delicate touch and humour he paints a very vivid picture of the sex doll’s life. Through her unblinking eyes we see her “lover”, and how she is viewed by him and the rest of his family. This story is a great example of showing not telling. When I spoke to Ralph I mentioned a favourite film of mine:Lars and the Real Girl. He told me that he’d watched it after having written I am a Sex Doll. Not before. If you are a fan of that film, you will thoroughly enjoy this story. Both funny and touching.
LeChing On Me comes with a safety warning. The ending will floor you. This time we are in a lap dancing club listening to the story of one seasoned dancer and how she ended up there. It’s a grim world of stripping, louche men, sex and abuse. Not for the fainthearted.