Short story competition 2008
All these stories have been published in our 2008 anthology, 43 'L' Plates
Judge D says: Thank you to everyone who entered the competition this year, and once again I have enjoyed reading such an almost-impossibly wide variety of short stories! The shortlist could have been much longer than it was, as readers of our anthology will soon realise, and a strong case could be made for awarding the prize to any one of these short-listed entries. In singling out a 'best' story with regard to each of the categories below, I do not wish to infer the other stories are lacking in any way, for each one has deserved its place on the short-list for their strengths in every single one of these categories.
It goes without saying that each of the stories selected for the short list excelled in impression and style: all the stories are well-constructed with engaging narrative tones. The Great Inexplico manages this in combination with a strong element of humour, while Snowflakes in particular uses vivid descriptive imagery; Finlay's Fury is also brought alive by its rhythm and descriptive writing while the scenario is expertly unfolded little by little.
Each of the stories allow us into the main character's thoughts, with Snowflakes in particular using the opportunity to get us inside the narrator's head. The Great Inexplico uses dialogue very well as a means of developing three individual characters, no mean feat in such a short story, and portraying the relationship between the husband and wife, while in The L-Diner different aspects of the waitress' characterisation are drawn out by her dialogue with two separate people. Finlay's Fury, however, demonstrates an excellent example of characterisation through dialogue in the way one or two sentences from the mouth of the main character convey so much more than it would be possible to explain within the same amount of words: this works crisply and allows the author to use additional narrative to develop this character further.
All of the stories feature a train, most prominently in Screaming and Finlay's Fury, but in the The L-Diner there is more emphasis on the idea of a railway, due to its proximity and the train that can wake the dead: or can it? The L-Diner also features an original use of an 'L' plate, while Snowflakes emphasises its colour and both The Great Inexplico and Finlay's Fury incorporate the 'L' plate as something people wear. Finlay's Fury makes the dog a central aspect of the plot, while The L-Diner uses mention of a dog to show just how much the restaurant staff look down on their customer: an essential part of the characterisation which makes the story so effective; in a similar way the padlock is used in The L-Diner to take us deeper within the main character. A padlock is central to the plot of The Great Inexplico, along with an original use for the pair of scissors, while the padlock in Screaming provides the launch for a strong opening, and in Snowflakes leaves us with a very moving ending. Finlay's Fury, meanwhile, uses the scissors most creatively, in demonstrating how the narrator had been cut out of her sister's life.Again, it goes without saying that all of the stories have a strong ending: Snowflakes, having re-lived a beautiful childhood memory, gently reveals that the narrator's mother has since died, while Screaming draws everything together in its final three paragraphs: we realise that the narrator's wife left him to look after his daughter alone, coupled with an emotional twist, following from the father's determined explantion for not lending her the car, when he reveals how guilty he feels. The light-hearted ending to The Great Inexplico fits well with its tone throughout, while The L-Diner and Finlay's Fury both finish with a final flourish of a twist.
So here is the verdict... as always, I have tried to give constructive feedback in order to help other writers, but feel free to disagree with me! - on our Discussion Board
First Runner-up: The Great Inexplico
A very strong runner-up due to the easy and humourous style of the piece, coupled with skilful characterisation. In addition to the humour, there are strong descriptive passages and vivid choices of wording, along with insights into the perspectives of the different characters involved: despite the challenge of a three-way characterisation, there is no sense of insufficient depth to any of the characters, and what's more there is a wealth of inference about the relationship between the birthday girl's parents. The five pictures were used imaginatively, and it is difficult to bring in humour so effectively in such a short story whilst still developing one character, let alone balancing the characterisation of three central players.
Second Runner-up: The L-Diner
This story incorporates the pictures expertly, focusing on the proximity of the railway and using both the dog and the padlock to seamlessly reinforce the characterisation which has been established in the early dialogue. It is this understanding we gain of the waitress which sets up the finale beautifully and is the reason this ending works so well. Having instinctively sided with her and her opinion of that awkward customer, the shock of his generosity makes the twist even more powerful, and gives us a jolt because it is so easy to mis-judge other people like this in our own lives. The construction of the story was harmoniously balanced and overall it was a very serious contender for this year's prize.
And... although I realise I don't always pick the same story as the voters on our Discussion Board:
2008 Winning Entry: Finlay's Fury
The story unfolds slowly, revealing a character who seems feisty and unconventional, but by the time we understand she has kicked a drink problem, we have been drawn in beautifully to identify with her and wish for her success. This sets up the story nicely for the impact of the hen party scene, in which we are willing her to resist the temptation of even one little sip, and the ending is beautifully balanced so that it infers - even if momentarily - that she has been drinking by the time she arrives at her sister's house, only for us to be relieved that she hasn't: a difficult ending to construct. In the meantime, we have gained an all-round understanding of the narrator's character through effective use of dialogue, information about her background, and insights into her thoughts on the train. The narrative flows with rhythm throughout, with creative turns of phrase and imaginative ways of using the five pictures in ways that are central to the plot.
Congratulations to our £150 winner, Dee McMath of Malaga, Spain.
Can't wait for more imaginative short stories? 43 'L' Plates has now been published and is available to order in bookshops or online...