Sunday, December 16, 2007


On the way up to Derby a couple of months back, I read through the three winning stories and six honourable mentions that rose from among the competition's 500 entries. I was struck how so many of those fine stories were about ... well, about stories.
Maria Goodin's 'Nutmeg', the overall winner, is a bright young medical student's tale about her mother. It starts, as a number of entries for the competition did, in fairytale mode. Then the voice switches. We learn that this fairytale mode is the mother's default position, one that exasperates our narrator. What she really wants is the truth about the past, the lost narrative of her early years. This truth is duly delivered - and she comes to understand the bravery and goodness of her mother's fabulous version of events. When the world is bruising, creating a personal narrative that restores value to our lives can be a brave thing to do.
In 'Buy Ma Biscuit or Kiss Ma Fish' the second prizewinner, Joel Willans, delivers a central character who's bought into the therapist's story of his life. His own subconscious tells this young man what a failure he is, and how he stands no chance with the girl that attracts him along the beach. With the aid of a biscuit seller, he has to learn to reject the negative story of his life and live the more fabulous one.
In 'Too Late', Garry Pope takes on a Mephistopholean voice, addressing the story's protagonist as 'you'. This story comes with a fine twist in its tale ... a classic case of cause and effect, the man's selection of passages in his life bringing their own denouement.
I graded the final pile of stories, each one coming up with a percentage which was amassed from points out of ten in ten sections. I thought it fair to be as clinical as possible, so as not to let my own personality be the judge. Each of these three winners gave me that added factor, a real thrill down the spine at each time of reading. Curiously, I would have judged them the same way had I been marking according to the intensity of that thrill. They are three lovely stories from three very fine writers, each of which deserved winners.
And they are available online ... Click here to go to the prose winners page on the Derby website.

You have time to read them all ... and even to write your own submission for this year's competition. Term here at Plymouth University ended on Friday. I've written for two days on my novel since then, but have just totted up the number of writing slots I've managed during this last thirteen weeks of teaching. It amounts to a miserly nine, some of them just five lines long. However my new novel is nearing its close. I mean to stick with it now till this current draft is done. I'll be back at my desk, at my screen, and with my latest piles of marking, in the New Year. See you then. Have a wondrous meantime.