Winners of Previous Competitions
The results of our competition – Missing are:
Winner – All Human Wisdom, by Dianne Bown-Wilson
Runner-up – Someone Else’s Skin, by Joe Bedford
Highly Commended – The Unclaimed, by Dan Cooper
Some brilliant writing in the final seven in this competition; from the laugh-out-loud Had to Go (Joy Cuffee) to the poignant and sensual Banana Bread (Rachael Hill); from the haunting mythological metamorphosis of Daphne’s Turn (Stephanie Percival) to the tragi-comic desperation of a lockdown widow in Sitting on my Husband, by Julia Wood. Every one beautifully crafted, and each a gem of short storytelling.
To select the winner was enormously difficult. Dan Cooper’s The Unclaimed deserves a special mention for its disturbing Edward Hopper-ish urban noir quality, highlighting the psychological impact on those who deal with unexplained disappearances and deaths.
It was a very close-run decision between Someone Else’s Skin (Joe Bedford) and Dianne Bown-Wilson’s All Human Wisdom. The writing in each was laser-sharp in painful detail; both were deeply moving and insightful. Joe Bedford’s female narrator is tautly-written, almost breathless, and in a narrative that could have been wildly overplayed is all the more powerful in its restraint. The balance of grief, regret and acceptance is perfectly handled.
In the end, however, All Human Wisdom just tipped the scales. The benign setting, contrasting a rural domestic idyll with an unexplained and unexpected disappearance, provides a layered and sustained tension right up to the final line, building a profound and tortuous sense of loss, hope, and longing for resolution that continues far beyond the story.
Congratulations to Dianne, Joe and Dan, whose prizes will be on the way to them shortly.
The results of our First 1,000 Words novel competition are:
The Invitation by Louise Groarke
Owl Light by Anne Wilson
Jacapo’s Contract by Andrew Okey and Sedah Falls by Michael Lynch
Judge’s Comments from Chris Curran
Judging this competition was a real pleasure, but it was also tricky because there were so many very accomplished entries. That meant it was quite a challenge to pick the shortlist and even more difficult to narrow the shortlist down to one eventual winner.
1,000 words is not many with which to make an impact, and if I’d been able to read further into some of the submissions that didn’t make the final cut I suspect they might have shone more brightly. But I could only judge what I actually had in front of me and the same applies to agents and editors. They have to make snap decisions, and for anything in the crime/thriller genre they expect to be pulled into the story right away. If not a submission may well be dismissed after only a few paragraphs. Potential readers can be as brutal.
So one thing I was looking for in all the entries was that elusive element: the hook. The thing that compelled me to read on. Ideally I also wanted another hook at the end of the allotted word count. In other words, a page-turning quality.
It follows that the authors of the more successful stories were those who made the most of the limited word count, whilst hinting at more great stuff to come. They took me quickly into their invented world, making it intensely real and peopled with characters who came to vivid life from the start.
The four stories that eventually rose to the top were all outstanding. In the end it was down to picking the one that felt the most complete and where I could find nothing at all to fault.
As it was, I had to choose 2 entries to share third position. They were both so beautifully written that in any other competition I suspect they would have taken first prize. With just a little more editing they could have done so here. Oddly enough both are historical and set during times of plague! Apart from that they couldn’t be more different.
About the winning entries:
Jacapo’s Contract by Andrew Okey
Is set in 14th century Venice, as The Black Death threatens, and features the painter Tintoretto and his mysterious bonded servant, Ciuchino. This entry had a wonderful gothic quality and was so beautifully written I frequently found myself stopping to admire a lovely turn of phrase. And the imagery perfectly suits the subject matter. The church bells for instance are described as tolling with purgatorial groans and laments, strange songs of loss and mourning. Perfect!
Sedah Falls by Michael Lynch
Also appears to be set during a plague year, although an earlier one. The extract features a truly frightening pursuit scene. A child, Jonas, and his young sister are being hunted through the bitter cold and mud of the fields around their village. Jonas knows death awaits if they are caught. Again, the use of language is superb and the scene is so fast-paced and vivid, I found myself literally holding my breath at times.
Owl Light by Anne Wilson
Slower moving and more reflective than some of the other entries, this was none the less highly effective. A woman has returned to Blackpool, where her best friend disappeared when they were teenagers. The whole thing is imbued with a powerful sense of poignancy and loss, as readers share the narrator’s memories of trying to help with the search for her friend in the bleak atmosphere of seaside resort on a winter morning.
The Invitation by Louise Groarke
This took first place in a competition that had some extremely accomplished entries, so obviously, I loved it. It begins with a really powerful opening that leads to an intriguing second scene. A classic set-up, but none the worse for that.
A number of entries began with someone being attacked, but this had such power that I was completely gripped. The attack feels viscerally real. The reader is taken right inside the experience as the narrator struggles not only with her assailant, but with her own terror.
It’s difficult to move from a gut-punch of a passage like this to a more everyday scene, but the author makes sure we are so intrigued by the arrival of an unexpected letter that we absolutely need to know more.
Pitch perfect in fact!
Hastings Writers Room sends congratulations to Louise Groarke who entered the competition all the way from Auckland, New Zealand. Louise wins £100 and an HWR trophy. Anne Wilson receives £50, and all authors in the final four receive a signed copy of Chris Curran’s novel (writing as Abbie Frost) The Guest House. All shortlisted entrants will receive Chris Curran’s feedback by email. Hastings Writers Room encourages all our entrants to keep writing, and we look forward to seeing your novels being published very soon.
The shortlist was:
In Clear Sight Judith Tipping
Inaccessible Carrie Williams
Jacopo’s Contract Andrew Okey
Malice Alice Michael Lynch
Owl Light Anne Wilson
Sedah Falls Michael Lynch
The Invitation Louise Groarke
About the Judge
Chris Curran is the author of five crime novels published by Harper Collins. Her first four books are psychological thrillers and critics have called them ‘compelling.’ ‘truly gripping,’ (Sunday Express) ‘cinematic and well-constructed’. Her most recent, ALL THE LITTLE LIES, is ‘a perfectly wrought psychological drama … a film maker’s dream.’ (Bookmuse)
Chris loves gothic fiction and is not averse to a smattering of horror. Since 2020 she has also written as Abbie Frost. THE GUESTHOUSE has been described as ‘A classic remote house mystery’. The Sun called it ‘addictive’; The Daily Mail ‘addictive and fun’, The Courier, ‘a scintillating read.’
Follow Chris/Abbie on Twitter: @FrostyAbbie
The results of our first short story competition, Misrepresentation, are:
Situs Inversus by Ilana Lindsey
What the judge said: Nice off-kilter feel to this from the start … It has a really surreal and quite dreamy atmosphere while at the same time being quite sinister. A great, dark tale and a fantastic take on the theme.
Making Hay by Dr Elizabeth Allen
What the judge said: Great intrigue set up right from the offset about who the narrator is and what she’s up to, why she’s deflecting attention from her own authenticity by questioning the writers she’s watching at the literary festival. Great poke at the literary pretensions, and commercial bias, of the publishing industry too and an empowering ending that left me wanting to know more.
Congratulations to Ilana and Elizabeth, who win Gold and Silver Author Memberships of Retreat West, respectively.
All the shortlisted authors will receive Amanda’s feedback by email:
Careless Whispers by Bob Shepherd
Cobwebs with Rabid Owl Strangler by Julia Wood
Jimmy the Gent Goes Viral by Stephen Gardner
Miss Representation by Sue Dawson
Out of Luck by Carole Segal
The Body in the Beach Hut by Pam Corsie
The Capture of the Bunkum Beast by Lorna Flanagan
This Won’t Last by Jill Fricker
Amanda Saint is the author of two novels, As If I Were A River (2016), and Remember Tomorrow (2019). Her short stories have been long and shortlisted for, or won, various prizes, and been widely published in literary journals and anthologies. She started Retreat West in 2012 and expanded to include Retreat West Books in 2017. Amanda also works closely with Jericho Writers and designed and delivers the Ultimate Novel Writing Course in conjunction with them. Amanda is a member of the Society of Authors, a mentor on the WoMentoring Project and can often be found teaching and judging competitions at literary festivals.
Unusually, we have decided not to award a first place and runner up in the Flash Fiction Five/Twenty-nine Competition. Instead, Michael Loveday has chosen joint winners
- Collecting the Dead by Bronwen Griffiths
- How to Keep Breathing by Rosie Garland
- Learning to Love My Rural Life by Jenny Firth Cozens
It was a thrill to see how inventively people were responding to this new 5×29 challenge. Hastings Writers Room should be applauded for creating a really interesting concept – an unusual kind of writing challenge – and I hope the competition will go from strength to strength in future years.
I was looking for several things from the submissions. (1) fresh language, free of cliche and containing apt, rewarding moments of surprise. (2) interesting use of structure/form across the five sections (3) a distinct narrative world suggested – such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
I was definitely looking for submissions composed of 5 distinct units rather than a single story that had simply been divided into five paragraphs with only a line break in between. Some good writing fell into the latter category. Submissions that used five interesting mini-titles fared well, as did submissions that kept the reader on their toes. The vast majority of the submissions that worked best were a single “narrative world” broken into distinct units/”scenes”/fragments rather than five separate narrative worlds linked only thematically – the latter seems much harder to put together successfully.
A word of warning for writers – a lot of the submissions I read charted the course of a relationship (through to marriage or divorce) or described a decline into dementia (or subsequent death). It’s really hard to write a competition-winning “relationship story” or “story about dementia” when there are so many other stories doing the same thing. While reading through dozens of entries, the judge starts to identify the pattern and the “formula” can’t help but lose its freshness, unfortunately. Those stories have to fight so much harder to rise to the top. That said, there were a few stories of this kind that did still make the longlist or shortlist, because of the sheer verve and skill with which the formula was delivered.
Overall, there was some interesting use of form – there were pieces written with “backwards” chronology, “braided” narratives, and other kinds of patternings being used.
There were seven or eight stories that rose to the top from among the shortlist. Each one had something special about it, but I also felt that each had at least one small flaw. The two joint winners were hard to separate.
Dark Places contained a twist that felt organic and although it was set in the past, the story still felt very contemporary, such is the way that society still treats sexual orientation. What I particularly admired about Dark Places was how it manages to hold on to so many characters and interrelationships in a small space – and somehow still make it work. Those interrelationships kind of “unlock” after you pay attention, which is a rewarding thing for a reader – the “ensemble cast” format is operating at the limit of what’s manageable. The final passage uses the word “crazy” twice, and I couldn’t find good justification for this being the case. This was a little “flaw in the diamond”. But overall the story was doing something ambitious that I admired – both in terms of narrative content and the structural form itself.
Terminal struck me as very technically accomplished and assured. The matter of fact tone early on is effective. The middle section (a kind of character “backstory” located right at the centre of the overall story) is extremely vivid. The language is fresh throughout and the image of the washing-up gloves is remarkable – and of course takes us back to the moment in the kitchen when the oncologist calls. I felt the title in particular seemed to “close the story down” rather than open it up. But I found a welcome note of hope in the ending – the way the cars swerve around them contains an almost dream-like element – as if there were a magical forcefield now around them. The final image lingers like the ripples of a stone thrown in a pond.
I have picked out three “highly commended” pieces from the shortlist. These were doing very interesting things but, sadly, five into two doesn’t go and they just fell short in the end.
Congratulations to all the writers on the longlist and everyone who entered. There will be magazines aplenty waiting to snap these submissions up and publish them, such was the quality of the writing. I hope you’ll bounce back quickly from the disappointment of missing out.
These are the other shortlisted entries
- Basing Major Life Choices on a Throwaway Comment from a Cobbler by Nicola Ashbrook
- Beetlejar by Jac Cattaneo
- Climbing Suilven by Jim Kelly
- Day After Day After Day by Paul Beckman
- Field Trip by Dan Stanley
- Four Things Lost, One Rediscovered by Chloe Banks
- Ghost by Electra Rhodes
- Let’s Talk about United by Julia Paillier
- Ornithilogica Corvidae by Sarah McPherson
- Past Life by Jacqueline Sutherland
- Ripening by Linda Irish
- Souls by Anita Bowden
- Tempting the Evil Eye by Michelle Christophorou
- The Grocery List by Amy Barnes
- Zephyrus by B F Jones
Michael Loveday’s flash fiction novella, Three Men on the Edge, was published by V. Press (2018) and was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. His writing has appeared in The Spectator; Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine; Funny Bone: Flashing for Comic Relief; and National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies in 2017 & 2019. He teaches an online workshop in writing a novella-in-flash sequence: https://novella-in-flash.com/ and is a Director of the National Association of Writers in Education.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @pagechatter
We very much regret that, due to the limited number of entries received, and in consultation with our intended Judge, John McCullough, this competition has been cancelled. This was felt to be the fairest solution and does not reflect on the quality of the entries submitted.
All entrants will be contacted individually and fully reimbursed their entry fees, with the option of carrying forward the fee as a credit for entry to a future competition.
Thank you for your patience in this matter, and please accept our apologies for the inconvenience caused.