Jim Kelly, who judged the annual short story competition this year, gave us some valuable insights into what makes a good short story. He is a journalist and writer of crime novels, and told us how he started writing crime novels, as a result of being at an incident at York Minster. He happened to be there, saw an ambulance with its blue light flashing, and, as a journalist, investigated. The Minster was clothed in scaffolding to erect the lights for the enthronement of the Archbishop of York, and when the scaffolders reached the roof level, they could see that there was a body lying at the bottom of the roof, held in place by the masonry parapet. He reported this for his newspaper, and later this led to him writing his first crime novel. Jim has written 21 crime novels. One series is set in the Fens, about an investigative journalist Philip Dryden, the other set in North Norfolk and the port of Kings’ Lynn, featuring Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and his colleague Valentine. He won the Crime Writers Association Dagger in the Library award in 2006, and in 2011 he won the New Angle prize for literature for Death Watch, one of the Shaw novels. His novel Death Wore White is in line to be made into a television series for Anglia Television.
Jim told us what he expected from a short story, talked about what was good about the stories submitted, and commented on the very high standard. He said he found it fairly easy to pick out the prize winners, but difficult to distinguish those he chose as highly commended from several others, and in the end put forward four, one of which he described as ‘irritatingly commendable’. Jim will be writing an introduction to the eBook, which will contain all the highly commended and prize-winning stories. These seven stories will also be posted up on the Cambridge Writers web site.
The successful stories were:
Tracking James, by Les Brookes (highly commended)
Happy Birthday Margaret, by Richard Gould (highly commended)
The Catch, by Margaret Loescher (highly commended)
The Taxi Driver, by Angela Wray (highly commended)
The Dangerous Comma, by Will Tate (Third Prize)
Eggs Benedict, by Alice Turner (Second Prize)
Wimbledon to Wood Green, by Les Brookes (First Prize)
Tracking James (Les Brookes) tells, from the viewpoint of a mother, her increasing understanding and misunderstanding of her grown-up son, James. She doesn’t know him very well, and has to adjust to what she learns, but her tentative conclusions are overturned by the next development.
Happy Birthday, Margaret (by Richard Gould) is the story of a girl growing up on the Isle of Wight, who has to endure an unsympathetic mother. She joins the many thousands at two Isle of Wight festivals in the early 1970s, discovering both drugs and sex. To go any further would need a spoiler alert. Jim Kelly said what an interesting character Margaret was, and he could see her turning up in other stories.
The Catch (by Margaret Loescher) is set in Italy; a family, mother, father (often away) and their three children are on holiday. There are frequent changes of point of view, each carried out with considerable skill, but over the whole story there is the menace of things not quite understood, things hinted at but not revealed.
In The Taxi Driver (by Angela Wray) a child explores her neighbour’s garden, prompted to do so by what she has just watched on Blue Peter on television. The garden is overgrown, just the place to explore and play, unlike her own family’s neat garden. There is a cat, which she strokes, and finds it’s not a real cat, but, as she puts it, a dummy, a pretend cat. She touches the cat’s eye, which seems hard, and then her own and is rewarded by her eye watering and becoming painful. The old man who lives in the house appears, and warns her to be careful; she goes into the house, and half-learns some surprising things.
Third Prize was won by Will Tate with The Dangerous Comma, an account of a corrida between writers and short stories, fighting to the death for mastery in the ring. But do read the story, no account of mine can do justice to it.
Second Prize was given to Eggs Benedict, written by Alice Turner. It was the shortest of the stories, showing that within a few words a clever writer can achieve a great deal. It’s an account of a couple, he an unpleasant, fat, over-fed man, tyrannical to his wife, she biding her time. And her moment does come.
The First Prize was won by Les Brookes with Wimbledon to Wood Green, who thus scored a double with a highly commended and this prize. It recounts one side of a telephone conversation. We hear a man who has not made a success of his life speaking to someone who was once, perhaps, a friend, but lost touch with long ago (a chance encounter has provided the telephone number). The disasters of the man’s history are slowly revealed. Les was unable to be present, and his story was read by Jim Kelly, the judge: his reading brought to life the poignancy and sheer awfulness of this man.