First, to say: choosing the winners was difficult! Going from longlist to shortlist was a matter of what grabbed me on first read, whether it was the story, the freshness of the language, the structure, or something unique and surprising that I’d never seen before. But the next stage is when I got tough, because I was actively looking for reasons not to pick stories. I had to get to my top 5 from 20. This is when a judge gets ruthless. A story has to give something back on a second read – and a third read! Any even slight laziness in language – an overused phrase bordering on cliche, a typo – and that made it far more likely that I would discard that story. Also, if the premise was great, an intriguing idea, but the follow-through and the ending just didn’t do it for me, that landed the story in my No pile.
I chose Roll and Curl as the winner because it is a flash story that, for this judge, succeeds on all counts. It has that love for language, for rhythm – I do love the second person, “you”, which my first and second prize winners both use, though differently. What I really loved about this story is how lightly it wears the heaviest of issues – death, life, compassion. It’s all in here, and it is shown so well, through the tiniest of details, a picture is painted, of these two people, of the place they are living in, how things work, how things might work, the choices we make as human beings when dealing with tragedy and kindness towards others.
In second place is You Have So Many More Choices than Fight or Flight, which is also in the first person but is in the form of instructions, which is something I happen to like very much. It is witty, quirky, but ultimately has a poignancy and also, as in the first placed story, deals with enormous topics, at the level of the individual, the family and the community, but so lightly you almost don’t notice.
Billy, my third prize-winning story, has a fantastic rhythm to it, which lulls you – and then it slams you at the end and you are left reeling. This is the perfect illustration of how less is so much more, just tiny hints dropped, so delicate. I am often disappointed with stories told from the point of view of children, but this one is spot on.
Congratulations to everyone on the longlist, thank you for letting us read your stories, it was a privilege!