“Roached” by Julia Thomson: read the story that won the 2016 OWT Short Fiction Competition 6

Julia Thomson_CR Katrina Afonso (30)Clarence had a thief in the invasive way that some people had ants or termites or roaches. Little, forgotten things had started disappearing, right under his nose, soon after he was abandoned by his longtime girlfriend, Vernice.

“Vernice, what you done with my shirt?” he cried out to his empty house. He stomped through his bedroom and across the breezeway to the clothesline. Ghostly silhouettes rippled in the light evening breeze, but his blue shirt wasn’t there. Gone as if he’d never hung it up that morning.

Call her, he thought. Just ask if she got the Coming to America DVD. But as soon as he heard her curt “hello”, he blurted out: “Vernie, you know my blue shirt, the one you got me that time in Miami?”

“You calling me ‘bout your shirt?”

“I can’t find it.”

“What you expecting me to do? Fly to Eleuthera and find your shirt that you got in a ball on the floor?”

“I keeping the place nice for when you come home.”

“Don’t call me when you find it.” She hung up.

Clarence sank down in Vernice’s chair and threw one of the cushions across the room. You fool, he thought. You can’t even ask how she doing? More…

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.

Shortlist announced for the 2016 OWT Short Fiction Competition 2

When we launched the Online Writing Tips Short Fiction Competition, we didn’t think much about how we would judge the entries. We didn’t decide in advance on any particular process, and we didn’t discuss the values that would inform our judgements. We wrote in the submissions guidelines that we wanted the stories that would move us – stories that would make us laugh or cry or both. That seemed to pretty much cover it. Had someone pushed us for a further explanation we would probably have mumbled about fairness and objectivity, without realising how problematic – even impossible – those concepts are.

So we’ve made the process up as we’ve gone along, and we’re still unsure about the values that inform it. We’ve moved to a multi-judge system, employing four judges, two of whom read the stories ‘blind’, without access to the authors’ names or cover letters. The stories should stand on their own merit, right? Reputation and previous success – or, in the case of two of the longlisted authors, knowing the competition organisers – shouldn’t make any difference. And we’ve started using a points system: the judges rank the stories in order of preference, and then we add up the scores and put forward the stories with the lowest totals (no, we won’t reveal the scores). Such a quantitative process gives an impression of objectivity, and it stops me and Phil arguing indefinitely, but what if it’s a process that favours safe and competent stories over high-risk works of art? What if a story wins because everyone thought it was pretty good, while the pieces that most thrilled and excited each judge alienated the others? More…

Longlist announced for the 2016 OWT Short Fiction Prize 4

After numerous arguments, fallings out, and snide comments about each other’s judgement, we have a longlist! First, let me say a massive thank you to everyone who entered: it’s been a delight reading such a diverse range of writing from all over the world, and it’s been really hard to select just 30 pieces to go forward to the next stage of judging. There were several stories we agonised over and inevitably some of our choices came down to subjective factors: there are stories we couldn’t fit onto the longlist that I’m sure will find success in other markets. There were also some very strong pieces that we decided we had to exclude in the interest of fairness since they didn’t meet the stipulated 2000-5000 word limit.

However, for all the stories we’re sorry to lose at this stage, the thirty we have left form a mouth-watering selection. The list features experienced, many-times published and prize-winning authors, but also includes many exciting new voices. We have horror stories and ghost stories, magic-realism and slices of domestic life. The next round of judging won’t get any easier!

Congratulations to the following authors who have been longlisted for the 2016 Online Writing Tips Short Fiction Prize: More…

OWT short fiction prize update Reply

The competition is closed, and the judging begins! Thank you to everyone who has submitted a story for our 2016 short fiction prize. We are thrilled – and a little overwhelmed – by the volume and range of submissions we’ve received. We have almost 150 eligible entries, with entries in almost every genre, sent from every continent – except, we think, Antarctica. It’s already evident that the standard is very high, with entries from a great mix of early-career authors and experienced, prize-winning writers. There is so much talent out there. We have ghost stories and love stories, magic-realism and fantasy, crime fiction and comedy. We have minimalist stories and lyrical stories. We have dirty-realist stories that present a slice of domestic life, and we have stories painted on broad canvases, in which whole societies are in peril.

Alas, we have only three prizes to award, so we apologise that there is no way we can give all entries the recognition that they deserve. Please know how grateful we are that you shared your work, and please remember that with so many strong pieces our choices will inevitably be subjective.

We had originally intended to announce a shortlist of ten stories and to choose the winners from those, but due to the volume of entries we now plan to make our selections in two stages. In the first instance our aim is to narrow the field to a longlist of 30 stories, and this will be announced on Monday 15th February. We will announce authors by their name (or pen name) but, so as not to hinder non-winning entrants’ chances of publishing their stories elsewhere, we will not publish story titles at this stage. Please be patient as we try to choose between so many excellent pieces of writing, and thank you again to everyone who entered. Finally, please look out for details of the 2017 prize submission call!

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