Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 OWT Short Fiction Prize Reply

Here’s something else I never thought about before we founded a writing competition: competition isn’t very nice. We’re now ready to announce that three people will receive prizes, knowing that more than 140 people have been disappointed along the way. We’ve tried to make our decisions as fairly and diligently as possible, but disappointing news isn’t nice to receive or deliver. While some authors may have been disappointed not to make the longlist, and twenty of those longlisted may have been disappointed not to make the shortlist, it may be that the most disappointed are those who made the shortlist but aren’t among our three winners. To those who didn’t make the longlist, that may seem greedy, but it’s fair and proper to want to win – that’s what competition is for.

In our society, competition is often championed for economic reasons. An investment-based economy requires perpetual growth, and a major stimulant to growth is to create situations in which individuals and institutions have to compete. In many ways, this is obstructive to human happiness. It has given us hundreds of thousands of cold callers whose misfortune it is to cajole consumers into switching mobile phone operator or utility provider. It has left us unprecedentedly unequal, alienated from each other, working for more hours than ever before, and seeking treatment for mental health problems from depression to anorexia. Its main achievement has been to produce loads of stuff, much of which has value only when accrued competitively.

I’d go so far as to suggest that competition damages relations within a community. This is why, for thousands of years, civilisations have created designated times and spaces for competitions. The social function of pankration, duelling, jousting, boxing, rugby, chess, and writing contests is to allow people to practice competition in ways that don’t have negative effects on the wider community. A recurring theme of the etiquette associated with competition is that when the competition is over, regardless of the result, the contestants cease to view each other as competitors and treat each other as friends and colleagues. The competition has to stay in a designated space because anybody who devoted their life to “the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others” would be behaving like a total dick.

For this reason, I think designated competitions are healthy. When one enters a writing competition, one hopes to win, one wishes to achieve at the expense of others, and if one doesn’t, one reasonably concludes that the judges are a bunch of sub-literate charlatans. Then, later, we can go back to supporting each other and caring for our fellow writers. We might write alone, but literature is a necessarily shared endeavour, and we’re stronger and healthier when we cooperate rather than compete. Meanwhile, you send your story off to the next competition – within which space it’s fair to assume that yours is the best, and that anyone who doesn’t get that is a total moron.

On this occasion, our three winners are:

3rd place (£25): Luke Harris

2nd place (£50): Darlene Campos

1st place (£150): Julia Thomson

Congratulations to all of the above, who will receive their prize money this week. In a close contest, Canadian author Julia Thomson clinched first place with her short story “Roached.” It impressed for the complexity of its themes and its skillful characterisation. The story benefits from its vivid setting on the small Bahamian island of Eleuthera, and it features a protagonist who is idiosyncratic and flawed but entirely sympathetic. We asked for stories that would make us laugh or cry or both, and this one combines comedy and pathos. It’s richly layered and full of subtext. It’s an absolute zinger and we’re thrilled to be publishing it on the site next Monday.

Thank you again to everyone who entered – judging hasn’t been easy, but it has been a treat.

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