Segora short story competition 2019 results
First prize £300 Second £50 Third £30 or equivalent in Euro.
The results - Segora short story competition 2019
The winners of the 2019 Short story competition chosen by Bruce Harris
|Segora short story adjudication by Bruce Harris|
One of Victoria Wood’s many wonderful stories was about her, as a child, being presented with a Christmas present by a formidable aunt, a dour Northern lady. Victoria took off layer after layer of paper, to eventually find there was nothing inside; it was all wrapping. ‘There’s nothing in it, Auntie,’ she said. The aunt replied, ‘Aye, and that’s life, so think on!’
Short stories usually need to be unwrapped to get at what they’re about, and yes, it can and does happen that there’s actually nothing left; all the impressive coloured wrapping, the glitter and pizazz, is elaborately concealing a vacuum. But many of the stories I’ve read for this competition, and especially the final six, are gloriously centred, and the reader, having admired the wrapping, finds something real, satisfying and lasting in the middle, something to keep, to reflect on, to become part of understanding what being human is about.
In third place, I’ve selected ‘The Ostrich Boys’, with its layers of childhood friendship breaking through the different class identities of the two boys, its evocation of the heat, dust and struggles of rural South Africa, and its characterisation of an animal often thought of as rather quaint and even ‘cute’. Centred on historical fact, the collapse of the market in ostrich feathers in 1914 as a result of World War 1, overproduction and open-topped cars making feathered hats impractical, it shows how supposedly superficial areas such as fashion can have devastating effects, as farmers in the Western Cape were bankrupted virtually overnight. Like many of the stories, especially the short-listed, it’s also spattered with descriptive gems: ‘how the (Indian Ocean) shushed on the beach, tumbled over itself and made white riffles as it fell’…’in the meagre shade, hens and skinny dogs lay stretched out and soundless’….’the low flat-topped Karoo koppies quivering in the heat waves’.
Second place goes to ‘Lost in Music’, which is not a ‘nice’ story, with some language which would certainly qualify as BBC ‘strong’ and the wry, cynical alienation of a young woman from her parents which is unlikely to boost the reader’s morale. But it is frequently gloriously funny and its language crackles on at such a pace as to demand retracing from time to time to enjoy it again. ‘He just left. No tears. No drama. No ‘I need space’, just the urge to shag Rachel. He’s probably been ghosted so often after dates he should become an exorcist’…’the feature walls soak the Gothic chords of the Sisters of Mercy’…’…’Mum might shout back, fumbling folds of fabric to fetch a fake fag’…’words warp and distort like a demented tape player’ and a host of other examples. The author also has a mastery of dialogue which powerfully suggest script-writing talent. Pieces like this, which rock the boat and stretch the rules, strengthen the future prospects of the short fiction genre.
But the winner, and in my view the one which really couldn’t be anything else but the winner, is ‘The Visible Man’, charting the experience of a partially blind boy with his friends and his counsellor. It almost invents a language of its own. ‘Counsellor paused, esoterically infusing the air with a scent called person-centred’… ‘He saw himself as less-than, like the sign he’d learned in maths, the arrow pointing left, clinically yet gratuitously at the vagabond number, the one that literally counts for less than its right-hand counterpart, left as in left out, left alone, left behind’… ‘Like an anti-Cupid, he swivelled in the dim, hoping his close-to-random loosings might lead to something resembling love’… ‘Diane was still hanging compassionately on the hook of her last question’… ‘His animation fizzled, as he realised this was a replacement for a thing lost, not a new thing on top of things kept’, all examples taken from the opening pages. The ending is neither happy, nor, really, an ending, but it almost reduced me to tears and I doubt very much whether I’ll be the only one. It is a piece of work which would grace any collection, any time, anywhere.
Of the remaining three in the final six, they are all memorable and remarkable in their own ways. ‘The Edge of Love’ allows us in on the intense, almost psychotic nature of a young man’s frustrated love, and while his pursuit of his love is obviously dangerous and intimidating to the target of it, it’s every bit as dangerous on the inside of him. The rising tension is skilfully handled and builds to a climax in a machine-gun fire of staccato sentences.
‘Gasps and gabbling swell to fill my ears with buzzing.
Something grabs my arm.
‘Get away from her.’
He’s returned. Pulls me back. Steps between us.
I glare at him as if he’s an insect that’s just stung me’.
The remaining short-listed two are both themed on dementia, and it’s neither surprising nor undesirable that this subject should be represented. ‘Finding David’ centres on a son no longer recognised as such by his mother, and having his own eccentricities unkindly treated by local children as he tries to cope with his mother’s. The author’s extensive knowledge of the area and its history enhances rather than interferes with the theme, as he has his own past to cope with. It is touching, sensitively written and avoids glib solutions or conclusions.
In ‘My Best Girl’, it is the patient’s daughter who is the first person narrator, and the conflict within her at having placed her mother in a care home becomes all too painfully evident.
‘Kelvin Bridge Care Home: We look after your loved-one just as you would…. That strapline’s everywhere - on their stationery, their notice boards, their glossy publicity literature, their website. But it isn’t complete is it? They should’ve added... if you didn’t have more important things to do than looking after your own mother’.
Local vocabulary is used, and it works in context:
‘…her skeleton folding in on itself, her hair unkempt, dribbles of this morning’s breakfast slaistered down her cardigan ... you wouldn’t think she was once perfectly perjink, the most right-on mother in all of Glasgow’s West End’.
And the discovery that the mother was once one of the ‘Greenham wimmen’ comes as both a delight and a sorrow, a reminder of how much has been lost and what once was.
To move on to detailed comment on all the remaining six on the long list would start stretching this report to unmanageable lengtha, but I would like to mention ‘Tagged’, about a teenager being a teenager with aching authenticity, ‘Oysters and Ink’, where the same comment could apply to a relationship between two girls of different nationalities, and ‘Say It With Flowers’, a love story with a number of eccentric twists.
So my unwrapping experience has been rather more pleasant and forthcoming than young Victoria’s was at the hands of her aunt, but the emerging message is ultimately much the same. Yes, it was life, and yes, I did think on.
Bruce Harris began writing fiction and poetry in 2004 following a career in teaching and educational research. Fallen Eagles is his fifth published short story collection, and he has also published three poetry anthologies, the latest being The Huntington Hydra in January 2019. All his taking from the books are dedicated to Huntington’s Disease charities – for details see www.bruceleonardharris.com.
Bruce’s awards list includes prizes, commendations or listings in competitions organised by Momaya Press, Writers’ Bureau (twice); Grace Dieu Writers’ Circle (five times); Cinnamon Press, Artificium (twice), Biscuit Publishing, Yeovil Prize, Milton Keynes Speakeasy (three times), Exeter Writers, Fylde Writers, First Writer, Brighton Writers (three times), Ifanca Helene James Competition, Ink Tears, Wells Literary Festival, Wirral Festival of Firsts, New Writer, Segora (twice), Sentinel Quarterly, Swale Life, Rubery Short Story Competition, Mearns Writers, Nantwich Festival, Bedford Writing Competition, Havant Literary Festival, Earlyworks Press, Southport Writers’ Circle (twice), West Sussex Writers, Grist Magazine, Erewash Writers, Retreat West, Lichfield Writers’ Circle, Cheer Reader (three times), TLC Creative, 3into1 Short Story Competition, Waterloo Commemoration Short Story Competition, Meridian, Homestart Bridgwater Competition, Five Stop Story (three times), JB Writers’ Bureau, Red Line (three times), Bridport Prize shortlist (twice)and Bristol Prize longlist. He has also been extensively published in magazines and e-zines.