2016 Winners

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who submitted a story to the competition this year. Thanks to your submissions the competition is able to continue year on year. The standards were high and the range of stories impressive. Below are the winning stories.

FIRST PRIZE: the-vigil-of-evergreen by Niamh MacCabe (Ireland)

SECOND PRIZE: the-hill-farm by Jonathan Page (UK)

THIRD PRIZE: passengers by Deirdre Shanahan (Ireland/UK)

I would also like to give an honourable mention to the following stories:

  • Beyond a Joke – Sally Lane (UK)
  • The Weight of Nothing – Phillip Drown (UK) You can read Phill’s story on his website here.
  • You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – Ellen Lowe (UK)

Huge thanks and gratitude to the inspiring readers Ed Dadswell, Katherine Haw and Mila Steele for their continued support of this competition. It’s always great to read how each of them responds to the stories on the long list.

Below are the reasons why I chose this year’s winning stories. Although I never set a theme in the competition, loss seems to be a thread that weaves through all of the winning stories, but again in very, very different ways.

Spoiler alert: read the stories first as I tend to give a few things away in my comments.

The Vigil of Evergreen – First Prize

This is a unique, strange and disturbing story. The narrator spends her time in the forest sewing leaves onto trees. It is a pointless and painstaking task, yet she is devoted to it ever since she witnessed something terrible in that forest, so terrible, in fact, that it has driven her already fragile mind over the edge. It’s as though she is trying to stop gravity, stop the earth’s “deathly pull”, and ultimately stop death itself, but she will only ever fail at it. No matter how much time she spends delicately weaving the leaves onto the branches she will never reverse nature’s inevitable course. When I was discussing this story with Niamh she explained there is “beauty to be found in the struggle, not the result”. She used the words of another gifted Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, to explain the idea behind the story: “Fail again, fail better”. Mr Beckett, I couldn’t put it better myself.

This story is astonishing and haunting, but there’s something even more mind blowing: Niamh MacCabe only started writing in 2014. If you check out her biography at the end you will see the long list of her literary achievements in such a short space of time. While her narrator may fail and fail again, MacCabe seems to be winning on all fronts. It’s a pleasure and privilege to be publishing her story in The Short Story competition 2016.

 

The Hill Farm – Second Prize

I like stories that feel whole. By their very nature short stories are short but a lot can be packed into 5,000 words. Jonathan Page’s The Hill Farm does just that. He conjures up a full life in just a few pages: we read of work, love, war, separation, death and birth. Thomas is a hill farmer cum preacher who goes off to war, leaving his wife and unborn child behind. There is a simple rhythm to the prose. No bells, no whistles, just quiet, elegant story telling that was just beautiful. It could almost be read as a prose poem with some striking images, ‘the pub sweats men’. Very little of the story happens in real time which, to me, gives it a dream-like quality, and yet the ending is full of quiet, powerful emotion.

 

Passengers – Third Prize

Another thing that I look for in stories: authors making the ordinary extraordinary. Deirdre Shanahan has lifted the relatively low key lives of a family living in London into something rich and deeply sad. Hoarder dad, Grandmother and daughter, Savannah, all live in the same house that Savannah’s mother left years ago. The debris of their lives is depicted through the daughter’s eyes, constantly in search of her mother. There are some lovely turns of phrases, “we buzz around each other like bees trapped in a jar”, “eggs, pale like the insides of her arms…”

What this piece does exceptionally well is create atmosphere. The second half of the story is particularly strong with the flat in Wordsworth Court and its neighbourhood incredibly well evoked. Desire feeds through against a real sense of melancholy and loss.

Below was the short list for 2016:

  • Beyond a Joke – Sally Lane
  • Extraterrestrial Life – Eilidh McCabe
  • Passengers – Deirdre Shanahan
  • The Bargain – Martin Nathan
  • The Hill Farm – Jonathan Page
  • The Vigil of Evergreen – Niamh MacCabe
  • The Weight of Nothing – Phillip Drown
  • You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down – Ellen Lowe

Below was the long list for 2016. There was some great comedy writing, some deeply touching tales, a lot of dysfunctional family material and a couple of unique epistolary exchanges. I got it down to 16 stories, but it could easily have been longer. In the end I had to exercise some control. Congratulations to those authors who reached this far:

  • Antidote – Annie Dawid
  • Beyond a Joke – Sally Lane
  • Extraterrestrial Life – Eilidh McCabe
  • Good Morning, Azar – James Woolf
  • It Isn’t About the Money – Ed Hinde
  • Passengers – Deirdre Shanahan
  • Salome – Chantelle Gray
  • The Bargain – Martin Nathan
  • The Heron – Clay Iles
  • The Hill Farm – Jonathan Page
  • The Summer He Slipped Away – Michael Thomas
  • The Vigil of Evergreen – Niamh MacCabe
  • The Weight of Nothing – Phillip Drown
  • Vlad Baiting – Mark Frederick Shadwell
  • What’s in a Name – J.H. Moncrieff
  • You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down – Ellen Lowe