Huge thanks to everyone who submitted to The Short Story competition 2015. There were submissions from over 15 countries and the winners are:
FIRST PRIZE: Clay For Bones by C.G. Menon (UK)
SECOND PRIZE: Invocation by Dan Micklethwaite (UK)
THIRD PRIZE: Pearl Divers and Flower Maidens by Sarah Isaac (UK)
I would also like to give an honourable mention to the following stories:
- Down the Knackers – Katy Jarratt (UK)
- Innocently Sinister – Kevin McMahon (Ireland)
- We Were All Perfectly Happy – Johanna Lipford (Italy)
My thanks, as ever, to the Readers Ed Dadswell, Katherine Haw and Mila Steele for their insightful comments on the longlist. This competition wouldn’t be the same without your big brains!
Below are the reasons why I chose this year’s winning stories. There seems to be a running theme of survival throughout all three stories, and as usual, there are a few spoilers in there, so I’d recommend reading them first!
Clay for Bones – First Prize
C.G. Menon’s beautifully evocative story nicely juxtaposes the spiritual against the gritty reality of Wales. There are some things we know about the protagonist. She’s of Indian origin, pregnant by IVF and she’s single, living in a tough Welsh town; other details are more vague. We have no idea how she got there, for example, and yet her story seems to highlight the struggle for survival. The sudden appearance of her long-dead grandma, Sweta, with “spices in her skin and sea-salt in her blood” helps her to cope with the many obstacles she has to face – complicated pregnancy, sadistic teenagers, poverty and urban decay. The story radiates with contrasts, the brightness of India against the drab backdrop of Wales, her Ammuma’s moral guidance set against the cruelty of the young girls, described as “alley cats…all teeth and spit”. The language and imagery is very rich with running themes of fingernails and claws, babies and chicks, humans and monsters threading their way skilfully through the narrative. A spirited and unique story.
Invocation – Second Prize
This is a poetic take on the ageing process, loneliness and the death of fame. The narrator is an escapologist looking back on his life, now “condemned to the couch” by old age and back pain. Like the magic he practices on stage, the narrator’s world is deliberately obscure. Does he have a real stripper in front of him or is it just the memory of his dead wife playing out to an audience of one? It’s hard to say; both versions are plausible. Even at the height of his fame the “Huddersfield Houdini” doesn’t get much further than banal headlines such as “Highly recommended. 4 ½ out of 5.” Therein lies the success of this story: the memories of the so-called glitz and glamour of showbiz stand in stark contrast against the actual reality; an old man buying cheap wine at the supermarket to blot out the pains of the every day.
Pearl Divers and Flower Maidens – Third Prize
It’s hard to like the hero in this story. He’s a drunk, a failure in love, friendships and career, and yet the honesty with which he records each gloomy episode of his life is raw and unsentimental. At no point does he try to garner our sympathy. If anything, he paints the worst possible picture of himself. Puking on his boss’s feet, cheating on his South Korean wife, insulting his students. There are moments of black humour when he poisons the air with sulphurous farts just as the real estate agent shows sellers round his dead mother’s house, and when he accidentally sets the place on fire. Despite all that, he survives. He’s even planning his future: relocation to the Philippines where “he could be a ‘big man’ again”. There is something ugly and colonial about this statement but it is in keeping with a voice that does nothing to try and win us over as a reader. It’s a brave piece of writing and for that it deserves recognition.
The 2015 longlist is as follows:
- A Year of Crime
- Clay for Bones
- Down the Knackers
- Gerardo Dreams of Chillies
- Innocently Sinister
- Irrational Happiness
- Off the Rails
- Only the Stars are Dancing
- Pearl Divers and Flower Maidens
- Sanatorium of the Unpublished
- We Were All Perfectly Happy