Judge’s Report for Marjorie Barnard Award, 2015

Pippa Kay wrote:

It is always a pleasure to read the stories submitted for this award, and this year’s 75 entries were all interesting, amusing or dramatic. The difficulty is deciding a winner!

This year I was fussier than usual: stories with poor openings, unresolved plots or stereotyped characters were rejected, although many of these rejected stories demonstrated the writer’s skill in other ways, and I always enjoy being taken into a world created by a writer’s imagination.

I eventually drew up a short list of six stories:

No. 54:  ‘Count Down’
No. 59:  ‘The Escape Artists’
No. 66:  ‘Promise’
No. 67:  ‘Those Left Behind’
No. 69:  ‘The Cakemaker’
No. 76:  ‘Fences’

And after re-reading these six stories many times I have decided on No. 54: ‘Count Down’ as the winner.

All the stories on the short list demonstrated skilled use of language, imagery and symbolism. One had a surprise ending that shocked and moved me; another introduced me to a very alternative family and had a powerful and moving ending, and yet another very suspenseful story was set in a small country town during the war, and I was impressed with the heroism of the characters in extreme hardship.

All the stories on this short list are very good and I hope their authors enter them in other competitions.

The winning story: ‘Count Down’.

The first sentence grabbed my attention: a hangman waking up on the morning he is due to execute three people for the Mansfield Murders in 1868. One of them is a pretty woman.

The narration moves from the third person to the first person, and most of the story is told through Elizabeth Scott’s point of view.  She is counting down the time before she is hanged (with two others) for the murder of her husband.

Although the reader knows how this story will end, the build up to the climax (counting down and braiding her hair to keep it off her neck) is very dramatic and suspenseful.  This counting down is interrupted by flashes of memory and some striking imagery. (For example: “Like a row of empty bottles, that jury” and, she reflects that she is “Like a sum somebody got wrong and rubbed out”.)

The conclusion is chilling – the more so as it is a direct quote from the real event, which I discovered after I had consulted Mr Google.  The author has not only told a story of a real event, but imaginatively and creatively entered the narrator’s mind, allowing the reader to think, feel and experience the terror and betrayal Elizabeth Scott must have felt in 1863, and to question the jury’s verdict.

Thank you again for asking me to judge this competition.

Pippa Kay.

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