Judge’s Comments

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Mair Bosworth

Comments on the BSSA 2016 shortlist,1st, 2nd and 3rd prize winners and commended pieces from our shortlist judge, BBC Radio 4 Producer, Mair BosworthWhen I agreed to be the shortlist judge for this year’s Bath Short Story Award, I didn’t know what a hard task I was taking on. I have been really impressed with the shortlisted stories and would like to congratulate everyone who got this far in the competition.

Picking a top three has not been easy. Reading these stories I have been transported to Brooklyn, Tangier, Dublin, Appalachia, Bangor. I have encountered some startling, imaginative storytelling and some brilliantly drawn characters who have really stuck with me. There is great energy and originality in these stories, matched with control and craft. Thank you to everyone who sent in their stories – it’s been an honour to read them all.

 First Prize

 Feather Your Nest 

Impressive in its clarity and control of tone and language, this is a quiet, poised story that holds great emotion just beneath the surface. Apparently simple and unadorned, I relished the startling shift that happens midway through this story, when the reader is taken somewhere else entirely. The egg symbolism could have felt clunky in another writer’s hands, but here it was used sensitively and effectively to speak about fertility, loss and hope. I loved the sparing use of painful details: the quiet kitchen, the baby clothes in the attic, the claustrophobia of daytime TV and the pines casting their shadow across the garden. This story hooked me right away and charmed, moved and surprised me. It is a worthy winner.

Second Prize

 Almost Home

Of all the stories I read, this is perhaps the one that has stuck with me most vividly. I loved its humour, set against the dark reality of its subject matter. I loved its relentless pace and action, driving the narrative towards the emotional kick of its inevitable conclusion. I felt instantly attached to the characters (who are drawn with skill and affection) and there is some great, cinematic, imagery (Ali, for example, watching the cars pass on the motorway as the ‘burnt scrub of southern Spain was slowly lost to the night’). I was impressed by the sense of intimacy created between the three men at the heart of the story: uneasy travelling companions locked together in fulfilment of the unpleasant task at hand; an unlikely trio, framed in the tight spaces of a ferry cabin, a car, a doorway. Almost Home is an impassioned story of great warmth and humanity that manages to stay the right side of sugary. It puts a human face to one of the great challenges of our present time and is a good read to boot.

Third Prize

Say you

Brilliant. Refreshing and bold; a story with a swagger to match that of its characters. Great storytelling; alive with colour, pulsing with the energy of precocious teenage girl desire. I loved the way that the (apparent) invincibility of youth is set against details which unsettle the reader and hint at something more sinister behind this carefree summer: the indifferent cruise ships ‘clean and white as jawbones’, the ‘shark coloured rafts’, eyes ‘glinting like knife-blades’. Some standout lines too: “The story of any island is basically the story of men, arriving”. The story deftly handles the complex power dynamics between the young women and their Cubano Cinderellos. I was left wanting more: as in the story, this is a summer that sticks forever.

Commended

The Earth on the Way Down

A great beginning and an even better ending in this story of a museum volunteer’s fascination with the Iron Age bog body under her care. I loved how this story placed something very strange and dark against something apparently mundane. It unsettled me and stayed with me long after reading.

A Marriage of Convenience

I could see everything in this story, so clearly. And perhaps even smell it too! Which is all credit to the author’s powers of description. I liked the slow reveal of the nature of this marriage of convenience and the warmth between the central characters.

Blessing
I was impressed by this story, which worked with themes seen in other stories – dementia, ageing, immigration – but in a fresh, surprising, effective way. Moving storytelling of great empathy and insight.

Comments on Acorn Award winning story and the Local Prize winning story by the Bath Short Story Award Team, Anna, Jane and Jude

The Acorn Award for an Unpublished Writer – Braces

‘Braces’ is a well-judged story about father/son relationships and the pressure to conform to family expectations or to go your own way. The further layer about the narrator being drawn into the conflict between his father and grandfather adds complexity, while vivid details and a strong sense of character and place combine to create a satisfying and rich read that appealed to all the BSSA team. We agreed that this is a worthy winner of the Acorn Award for an Unpublished Writer of Fiction.

The Local Prize, sponsored by Mr B’s Emporium of Books, Bath – Who said the river was red

The BSSA team were intrigued by the unresolved mysteries in ‘Who said the river runs red’ and the shift between the narrator accepting responsibility and denying any real wrong doing. Did the children cause a boy to die all those years ago? The unusual questioning structure builds tension, as does the exact details of the escalating nature of the bullying. We end up being uncertain too with many questions to ponder, the hallmark of a good short story. We awarded it the Local Prize, sponsored by Mr B’s Emporium, Bath.

Read the biographies of all prize winning and commended writers here