Tag Archives: Boroondara Literary Awards

November 22, 2012

Congratulations to the Boroondara winners

Filed under: Events/appearances,Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 10:12 am

On 16 October I posted a blog about how I’d just completed judging the Boroondara Literary  Awards – open short story competition.  In that blog I talked about the judging process and what makes a good short story. However, I wasn’t able to say much about the winners because it was all hush-hush until the official awards ceremony. Well, I’m just back from that Awards Ceremony so now I can say a little bit more about the entries, and congratulate the winners…

This year’s stories explored a broad range of topics. There were many stories of childhood (particularly coming-of-age stories) and also stories of growing old.  Stories of war also featured, ranging from war-time stories to stories of veterans trying to fit in back at home. Important global and local issues that affect us all were also addressed, such as racism, refugee camps and climate change.

A short story competition wouldn’t be complete without touching on the classics of love and death — two incredibly strong emotional drivers that have the ability to create drama when crafted well. Entries also covered other classic genres, such as fantasy, science fiction and crime fiction.

There were also some stories that offered interesting points of view. One told from a tree’s perspective, another a statue, a house, a dog, a ‘simple’ man, and several entries told from a very young child’s perspective.

So, I’d like to congratulate…

The four highly commended stories:

  1. Double Glazing by Kate Rotherham, which took me on an emotional and difficult journey with the mother of an autistic child;
  2. The Angel by Amy Bisset, which offered a refreshing take on point of view, telling a well-crafted story from a statue’s perspective;
  3. Delivered by Sulari Gentill, about a young man who delivered the pink slips during war time (I loved the last sentence of the first paragraph, ‘After all, Gus Merriman delivered death’); and finally
  4. Fighting for Breath by Paul Threlfall, a story with an incredibly strong voice that followed a boxer turned New York taxi driver.

Another story was extremely close to a highly commended prize, so close I wanted to at least mention it. Two Bucks for Living by Jessica Lye was a touching story about a homeless man reunited with his daughter.  This story simply needed professional editing for some craft elements to take it to the next level.

Now, on to the first, second and third prizes, plus the Boroondara Prize. These stories were all extremely different, yet each one was powerful in its own way.

The third prize goes to One Day in the Life of a Societal Corpse by Alexandra Coppinger. The writing in this piece is strong, atmospheric and in many ways daring. I’m a stickler for grammar and sentence structure, yet this story’s powerful one- and two-word sentences somehow work. The story gave a moving insight into a protagonist who’s struggling with life, and contemplating death.

The second prize goes to Something was Wrong by Michael Doyle. In this story, the writer has perfectly captured the voice of a five-year-old boy being led to a holocaust gas chamber with his mother. The reader can guess what’s going on, but the child doesn’t. The story is both well-written and touching, and as the highest placed entry from a Boroondara resident, it also wins the Boroondara Prize.

Finally, the first prize goes to what could be described as a more quirky story. While in many ways the language and sentence structure are ‘simple’, this is a perfect reflection of character and voice. Derek Pickle by Aaron Firth Donato is the story of an intellectually handicapped man whose caregiver, his grandmother, dies. Soon after her death Derek decides to go to his first concert, and because his grandmother always told him not to go anywhere without her, he takes her — her ashes, that is. He even makes sure to get her home on time for bed.

Congratulations again to all the winners and the other entrants. Keep writing, and it’s great to see we’ve got such strong writers in Australia.

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October 16, 2012

Boroondara Literary Awards

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Writing — Tags: — PD Martin @ 2:00 am

Back in February I was asked to judge the Short Story Competition of the Boroondara Literary Awards. I knew that in September I’d get a delivery of about 300 stories (1500-3000 words long) and that I’d have a month to read them and pick the winners. No problem. I estimated it would be about 40 hours work over four weeks. Piece of cake.

However, plans changed and during the first week of my four-week judging allocation, we were in Korea picking up our 17-month-old son. Then in the second week I was reading during his naps and at night, but didn’t seem like I was getting very far. That’s when I found out that this year the competition had a staggering 611 entries. Ahhh!

So, what makes a short story good? What separates the winners from those who don’t place?

My first pass of the 611 stories gave me a shortlist of 82 stories. Even this initial shortlist was hard to come up with, because there were many powerful stories that demonstrated the entrants’ strong grasp of the writing craft. From there, I got it down to 36, then 26 and finally I was down to my top 12 stories, from which I chose the winners. Funnily enough, I actually culled the winning story at one point  (yes, the one that got first prize), but then brought it back in because I kept thinking about it. You know those kind of stories? It stayed with me.

So, what does make a short story good? It’s difficult to describe the magic formula that makes a short story sing; however for me there are some essential elements. For a start, an opening sentence, paragraph and first page that grabs me. A short story doesn’t have much set-up time and a good short story, like any novel, will constantly drive the reader forward and take you on a journey. Sometimes the driving force is the plot. Sometimes it’s the characters. And sometimes it’s the pure beauty of the written word, the author’s grasp of the writing craft. Of course, ideally these three things come together on the page — a strong plot, intriguing characters and beautiful writing.

There’s still more to a short story than that…there’s the ending. Whether it’s resolution or a shocking twist, the story must feel complete. It was actually the endings of the stories that helped me narrow down the 611 entries to my first shortlist of 82. I found many stories started strong and kept me reading, only to disappoint me in those last few sentences.

One of the difficulties in judging a competition like this is that you’re not always comparing apples with apples. How do you compare a story that’s funny, to a story that’s tragic? Or a story that’s more literary and atmospheric to a murder mystery?

At first, I also found myself drawn to the more shocking, tragic and dramatic stories and I realised that while these stories did pack a punch, I shouldn’t automatically elevate them because they addressed horrific subject matter. These stories were often difficult to read because of their emotionally charged content, namely child abuse, domestic violence, rape and child abduction. In the end, I was mindful of giving these stories equal weighting with the other entries — not elevating them, but not dismissing them either.

Finally, to narrow down my final 12, I gave each story marks out of ten for:

  • Artistry
  • Voice and characterisation
  • Narrative structure
  • Show don’t tell
  • Impact

It ended up being a tight race. Unfortunately I can’t talk about the winners yet, because the official announcement isn’t until next month. But I will mention them in November.

It was great to be able to judge this year stories, and I’m looking forward to the awards night and meeting the winning authors.

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