Ever wondered what short story competition judges are really thinking? I thought I'd share a few of my own experiences from being a judge for a comedy short story competition.
A year has flown by really quickly so I've just had the honour of judging Chris Fielden's 'To Hull and Back' competition again. As with last year, it was wonderful to be involved and it was great to see so much creativity and writing talent. I know this is what all judges say, but it's true. It was so hard to pick winners, but it was a lot of fun overall. As it's a comedy short story competition, I laughed my way through all twenty stories. The hard part is trying to conjure up that judgmental approach; trying not to just read and enjoy, but to think in terms of scores instead.
All the shortlisted stories will be featuring in the To Hull and Back Anthology which will be released on 31st October ('Hulloween'!) I'm already looking forward to reading them all again, and hopefully I'll get to meet some of the writers at the book launch. It's always fascinating to read a story before meeting the person who wrote it. I didn't know anything about the writers until Chris published their bio's on his website after we finished judging. I was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar names; some people who were shortlisted last year, and a Bristol local, Mark Rutterford (a wonderful regular performer at Talking Tales). Sometimes we form ideas of what the person might be like from the sort of thing they write, but the outcome can often be surprising. I was convinced that one of the stories, about a man's trip to Ikea with his nagging wife, was written by a man. It was a real eye-opener to see that it was in fact written by a woman, which I was pleased about as I'd secretly thought it was really funny despite it going against all my feminist principals!
Speaking with my fellow judges after the competition winners were announced, it seems we had very different preferences when it came to the 'best' stories. All the stories were of such a high standard that any of them could have been put in first place. That's what's so tricky about writing competitions, they just come down to personal preference. It's great that Chris runs his competition in the fairest way he can - with a range of judges all with varying tastes, preferences and opinions. In all honesty, I've often felt like some writing competitions give preference to more 'crowd pleasing' stories; often not funny or sweary or pushing boundaries or breaking rules. This is a shame because, for me, that's exactly what I'd look for in a story!
The judges stories will also be featured in the To Hull and Back Anthology so my story 'Wonder Woman's Birthday Party' will be in there. Hopefully, we'll all get to go to the book launch and drink our own body weight in booze.
In other news, it's the Bristol Festival of Literature soon! Talking Tales will be closing the week with a bang - on a Saturday night, wooooo (more drinking body weight in booze antics) - on 24th October. On the night before, there will be a 'Flash Slam', which may result in the deaths of a few Bristol writers. I'm a little bit scared. I've been writing lots of really short stories for it, less than 250 words, which is bloody hard! The writing groups of Bristol will be coming together to throw words at one another and fight it out to find out the ultimate question - which is the greatest writing group in the world? Just kidding.
Stokes Croft Writers are the best, obviously.