At a time when there is a growing realization that the short story is a genre that should not be allowed to fizzle out of existence, it is good that short story competitions keep up the supply of quality writing. Amongst these competitions is the H.E.Bates Short Story Competition.
The Northampton Writers Group launched this competition in his memory in 2005, his centenary. H.E.Bates’ best known novel is the acclaimed ‘Darling Buds of May’ with its joyful, unconventional characters but he also wrote three other fine novels.
The winners of the 2013 competition, which was judged by author Della Galton were:
First – Anne Corlett “Last Tango In Space”
Second – Tracy Fells “Ancient Wing” http://tracyfells.blogspot.co.uk/
Third – Rosa Johnson “Make Mine Mythical”
For writers contemplating entering such a competition it is useful to analyse the strengths of winning stories. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to review Anne Corlett’s entry. Della Galton said at the prize giving ceremony that the story had made her cry. “It was both amusing and deeply moving and ended with a fabulous universal truth. I wish I’d written it myself.”
Written in diary form, the story starts with a news items that neatly sets the time, place and dilemma. The main character then takes over the entries. She and her husband have been selected to travel to Mars; an older couple. We worry this is because they will be more expendable. The length and experience of their marriage is painfully relived during this very long journey.
The space within is a concept well explored: the space within the capsule, the space within the home, and that within each partner’s head.
The wife’s somewhat sour andcynical record suggests that something awful will happen before they reach Mars, and indeed, she fantasises about this. But as the weeks pass, something wonderful happens. A new world is appearing in space and reality, and for the couple. They explore and if they don’t really safely travel home, enriched, they do re-find each other and leave that record for eternity. It’s an uplifting story full of truths of the human experience.
This story resonates with anyone who has been in a long-term relationship. Enough of the two characters emerges for identification with them and their unenviable situation. It is a short story, and the length of the journey is cleverly defined by the length of the story. There is a clear story arc, situation, growing tension, development and perhaps a surprising one, leading to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.
I’m sure it was a worthy winner whose writing would have been lauded by H.E.Bates.
Useful short story sites: http://www.booktrust.org.uk; www.shortbreadstories.co.uk; www.eastoftheweb.com; www.classicshorts.com