Our judge, Helen Hollick, was unable to be at our Awards on 9th October but she sent us her report, which is published below. The entries were judged anonymously so Helen could only refer to the entries by the number I allocated to them.
The Cheltenham Prize – Judge’s Report
My apologies that I cannot be with you, and my thanks to the organisers – and all the entrants – involved with this splendid short story competition. I was delighted to be asked to read these stories because it is a joy to come across hidden talent where writing is concerned. I found it very difficult to select my winners as all the entries were a pleasure to read, but as diverse and individual as they all were, a winner I had to find!
Some started off well, but ran out of steam towards the end, others were a little predictable. The five that eventually made it to my shortlist grabbed my attention at the opening line, and I was hooked by the end of the first paragraph.
May I offer some very brief advice? Think carefully about using ‘topical’ subjects. While the stories submitted were very good, Shakespeare and World War One were in abundance. Avoid starting with ‘It was…’ – too many stories, whether short or entire novels open with these words. Bring your characters alive, make them say and do real things, and break dialogue up with movement and action. I chose my winners because the stories appeared to be about real people. I could hear, and see and imagine the characters not the author’s voice telling the story.
My two runner-ups are: Two Way Traffic.
The story was clever: two girls hoping to seek better lives, one secretly slipping from west to east, the other from east to west. Both with fear and excitement, both with very different hopes and dreams. I found it very moving.
And On a Clear Day, which was a nicely written story that flowed well and had a fine quality of empathy with the lead character, Joe.
The Gloucester Area Winner is Banksy. It is about a boy addicted to computer gaming, you don’t find out his name or his age until almost towards the end, but from the opening sentence you know this boy. He is escaping the harshness of life by immersing himself in the make-believe – until Banksy creates a mural at the end of the street. When the painting is threatened life for our lad suddenly becomes real and important. I think this story should be circulated to every school, read to every ten-year old. It is a story of addiction caused by despair – and a story of hope for these youngsters who so often feel there is no hope on offer.
And my overall winner hit on the topic of 2016 which celebrated Shakespeare. But this story was very different. It was written with compassion and grief – and I suspect personal knowledge. The Quality Of Mercy is about dementia, about an elderly woman who cannot remember two minutes ago, but can remember seeing the Merchant of Venice when she was sixteen years old. Superbly written and very moving, I con.fess, I cried at the end.
GL 020 Banksy (printed copy sent to me) And 032 The Quality of Mercy (email copy sent)
012GL Two Way Traffic (email copy sent) and 023GL On A Clear Day (email copy sent)
Overall winner: The Quality of Mercy.
The Cheltenham Prize – Administrator’s Report
Thank you Helen. We are greatly indebted to Helen for the success of our competition. Helen read every one of the entries and there was no preliminary sifting, either by myself or anybody in Cheltenham Writers’ Circle, unlike many competitions.
I gave a short introduction to the presentations at our Awards the gist of which is as follows:
I am Edward James, administrator of The Cheltenham Prize short story competition, on behalf of Cheltenham Writers’ Circle. Our chairman, Phil Jones and our Treasurer Geoff Parker are with us this afternoon.
Our judge, Helen Hollick, a prolific novelist and the Review Editor for independent publications for The Historical Novel Society, is unable to be with us to present the prizes to the winners but we are fortunate in having local author Kim Fleet to do so in her place. Kim will present the prizes to the overall winner and the best entry from a GL postcode.
As most of you know we have two competitions in one. We have a £100 prize for the best entry among all the entries from all over the UK and Ireland and a £50 prize for the best entry from a GL postcode. The rules forbid any entrant from taking both prizes, although we could in theory have all the winners from the GL area.
Besides these prizes the proprietor of this wonderful bookshop, Helene Hewett, has donated two runner-up prizes, one for each branch of the competition. Each runner up will get a £15 book token. She will present theses prizes.
After the awards the two winners will read their pieces to us. They will also be published on our blog along with the stories from the two runners up.
Before we go on to announce the awards I have some thanks I must give to the people who made the competition possible. Foremost of course I must thank our judge, who read every entry. Then I must thank Cheltenham Arts Council who gave us a grant to cover administrative expenses (the prize money had to cover the entry fees, which it did by a small margin). Next I must thank the National Association of Writers Groups, of which Cheltenham Writers’ Circle is a member, which provided free advertising to all their 105 groups; Diana Heyden, editor of the Directory of Writers Groups, who sent out individual mailings to a selection of 50 groups; John Holland of Stroud Short Stories who put out a notice to all his groups throughout the county as did Rona Laycock of Gloucester Writers Network. My apologies if I have missed anybody. It is their co-operation which gave credibility to a new competition and encouraged entrants to send us their work and their entry fees.
And finally thank you to all our entrants, without whom there could be no competition.
Above: Our two winners, Robert Smith and Belinda Rimmer
Below: Kim Fleet and Geoff Palmer (Treasurer CWC)