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Judge’s report

What a fine selection of stories, and how challenging it has been to make even a shortlist, let alone settle on a clear winner, while also deciding which excellent tales should be in the highly commended category!

The standard of submissions has been very high indeed, clearly, which shows that the art of the short story is thriving. What is most heartening is the variety of subjects, although human relationships, in all their complexity, remain a powerful tug for writer and reader alike, and that is only to be expected. However, the brief was for weird, quirky and unusual writing, and I was looking for stories which rose to the challenge and transported me to the stranger corners of the mind, where there are always shadows and mysteries.  

Gary Bills   

First Prize '200' - Samantha Martin

This story disturbed me and I could not get it out of my mind! It is a beautifully-crafted tale, quite brief, but powerful from the start. Is it the idea that an unmanned, inanimate object like a hot air balloon could be an occasional supernatural visitant to a village, and one with malign intent? There is also the creepy suggestion of a force beyond everyday experience, but a force which can decide who lives and who dies, out of the 200 residents of one rural settlement, regardless of ages. I suppose the balloon represents the random nature of fate and death? But no, I’m not seeking all the answers! I want to be left with some questions, and an element of mystery, and this unforgettable story ticks all the boxes in this respect.

Highly Commended (in no particular order)

Waves - Sarah Salway     

At first I questioned the urgent, somewhat manic sweep of the narrative; but given the nature of both the ocean and the story, it is entirely appropriate. I was drawn into this tale of reconciliation, which balances on the edge of the sea and the possibility of both happiness and tragedy.

His White Fields - Torkjell Stromme This is an engaging study of purgatory in life, where a troubled man crosses the water to explore his own unhappy memories and preconceptions. I liked the fact that he is not a particularly likeable character, while being a convincing portrayal of a flawed human being with a messy past.

Apple Seed Lane  - Susi Clare                                                         

I was drawn into this study of a dystopia, and the use of landscape and altered circumstances to echo inner turmoil. For all its darkness, there is warmth in the story too, thanks to a couple who grieve for a dead or dying world, but can still enchant each other with quirkiness, and the power of their hopeful visions.

Saving the Goss  - Ian Royce Chamberlain

A re-occurring stranger in one’s life and the fixations of the dying can be equally disturbing, and this story combines both elements with skill, while leaving a little room for speculation. It is also a reminder that a person’s inner life is not always an open window, and a dying mother’s secrets and obsessions can still surprise her daughter, as well as summon the long dead.

SHORT-LISTED (in no particular order.)

Broken Blood  Pauline Plummer  

Pillow Talk – Alwyn Marriage 

William Harvey’s Visitor – Alwyn Marriage

The Creaseless Society – Brian Kirk

Becoming Colombian - Simon Currie

The Dolls – Christopher North

The Midnight Gardeners - Lucinda Carney 



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