I bought a copy of this paperback to see what sort of work might win the prizes in this much respected annual contest for writers. I’m intending to enter this year, so I wanted to discover what quality and style of work is considered good enough.
Each year, the judges for the three categories of entries change. There are prizes for poetry, with a designated maximum length of 42 lines; for short stories, with a word count up to 5,000; and for flash fiction, with a maximum of 250 words. The subject matter remains open.
Roger McGough judged the poetry entries. The 7002 attempts were reduced to 200 for his judgment and he found them varied in content, style and quality. He advises entrants against attempting to write in the style of the judge, suggesting instead that they should simply submit their best poem as if passing it on to a sympathetic reader.
I could discern no pattern in the poems that were awarded prizes, no unifying style, content or quality, except that they were generally ‘good poetry’. As is the case with much current poetry, free verse was the most popular style submitted.
I enjoyed the prize-winners; a group that can best be described as eclectic, though all had the feel of the ‘literary’ about them.
Short Stories were judged by Jane Rogers, who made the point that the first thing short fiction needs to do is make the reader turn the pages. Of the thirteen winners presented here, she says any of the top seven might have been the winner. Whilst I understand and accept her selection, I actually enjoyed the third placed story, LOL, best: clearly a matter of taste.
Again, the stories mostly show a leaning toward ‘literary fiction’ and this is no surprise, given the nature of the contest. This is not a place to submit your genre pieces. These are stories with depth; multi-layered and thought-provoking.
The Flash Fiction entries were judged by David Gaffney, who likens reading such fiction to listening to chamber music. He found it a tough task to select six from the thousands sent in.
The stories here are very varied in content and style, though all make full use of the tiny word allowance to get their points over. Some will make you laugh; others, cry. But, as with the other categories, the emphasis here is on the literary form.
Three different judges have been appointed for this year and prospective entrants would be well advised to take note of their expectations. I certainly intend to.
This was a good read, full of variety and inspiration. There is great imagination, superb language, and beautiful characterisation here. All the work is good, much of it excellent.
If you want to enter the contest for 2016, the closing date is 31 May and you’ll find details and links to the various categories on my Writing Contests table if you click this link.