On Thursday 2nd November we welcomed Alex Davis back to Newark for the results of the Fiction Competition and his thoughts on short stories in general.
Alex said that he enjoys the judging process and has always loved short stories (and actually reads more shorts and novellas than novels). They distil, he explained, the essence of a story down to something pure and simple, but they need to be done well. Writing novels and short stories are different arts; one of the elements often found in the best short stories is the ‘trail of breadcrumbs’ – clues to the eventual outcome and potential plot twists – which readers may not realise are there (until their second reading). So a short story is a short journey and it is possible to hide subtle pointers along the route. It is harder to place the breadcrumb trail in novels and films because the journey is much longer and therefore getting the balance right between ‘saw it coming a mile off’ and ‘what?!?!’ is more complex.
Alex has had several short stories published as well as editing some anthologies, which he likens to compiling a mix tape (start with a good solid one, perhaps drop the mood a little in the middle and then end on a high). Sometimes these anthologies are based around a theme and one of the interesting things is that writing to a theme can take you out of your comfort zone and create something entirely unexpected.
The Fosseway Fiction Competition was, he said, rather interesting in that it had a 1000 word limit, kind of long flash fiction rather than the 2000-5000 words of many short story competitions. This meant the authors had to focus on capturing a vignette, producing something that can pack a big punch in a small space. There were generally two schools of approaching the theme of ‘giving up’: firstly, that it’s a good thing (smoking, gambling); and then when it is a bad thing (dreams, life, love).
The fundamentals still need to apply – a good story, well told. He looked for a good hook, a great central character, strong use of words and good editing. Here’s Alex’s comments on the competition and the winners.
A strong and varied collection of stories, and a lot that went into the pile of final contenders for the top three! I was impressed with the range of topics and genres on offer throughout, as well as the many ways that entrants chose to explore the theme of ‘giving up’.
There were a couple outside the top three that I thought were particularly worthy of mention – Sardines (by Anne Howkins, Fosseway Writers) painted a vivid picture of a character in linking the past to the present, and The Turquoise Egg (by Donatella de Ferra, Cottingham, E Yorks) also had a strong emotional heart and message to it.
- 3rd place: Finale by Yasmin Chopin, Spaldwick, Cambs.
A story that very much took me by surprise, and said something really impactful for me about the life and times of a performer and artist. The lead character’s final speech was really rousing, the words very well chose and all brought back to earth with a very everyday motif at the beginning and end. Striking stuff.
- 2nd place: Clawback by David Duncombe, Matlock, Derbys.
This was a really interesting little character piece, something that isn’t easy to do within such a short space of time. But there was a really good exploration of the relationship between two distant family members, as well as the power of addiction and the harm it can do. The ending of this one I thought was particularly striking, and really caught me by surprise. There was a good, realistic tone throughout too.
- 1st place: Finishing Fishing by Fay Dickinson, Corby, Northants.
I’ve always said that short fiction can pack an incredible emotional punch, and this story was a prime example of that. Its exploration of Alzheimer’s, the moments of lucidity that can come amidst the haze, and the wanting to make a firm final decision were all really striking. This is the one that most stayed with me after the first read – very powerful stuff achieved in not a lot of words.
The overall standard was very competitive and many stories that I would have said were good – or even better – couldn’t make it into the final three. Well done to everyone who entered!