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2015 Adults Short Story Competition

We were thrilled and very honoured that Julia Copus, the renowned award winning poet and radio dramatist, agreed to judge our 2015 competition. Julia’s latest poetry book “The World’s Two Smallest Humans” was shortlisted for the prestigious T S Eliot prize in 2012. She has recently introduced a children’s rhyming book “Hog in the Fog” about the loveable hog and shrew duo Harry & Lil, and a sequel will be available in 2015.

The winning stories are attached below, together with Julia’s critiques. Julia said she enjoyed reading the stories and they were a fantastic diversion from ploughing through Costa prize poetry entries. She was very impressed with the standard.


“My Castaway This Week is..” by Christine Tennent of Milton Keynes



The winning story is organised as straight narrative intercut with desert-island-disc style selections of key images from a life. It’s an original approach and it works extremely well – the arrangement providing an effective frame for the narrative. The subject of an overbearing and volatile bully of a father and his (possibly unwitting) effect on the family unit could so easily have led to a simplistic or emotionally-biased account, but here the

writer demonstrates great skill in maintaining a plain delivery throughout. The unadorned tone proves more and more effective as the story unfolds, precisely because it provides a powerful counterpoint to the content.

Technical qualities aside, what impressed me most about this story was the author’s convincing and clear-sighted evocation of dysfunctional family dynamics. The narrator, Caro, provides a sympathetic account of eight incidents in the life of her younger self, her twin brother Jamie and their parents. In failing to protect them from their father’s abusive behaviour, the mother – “a gentle, worn out soul’ – has evidently failed in her duty of care for the children, but it becomes clear that Caro doesn’t hold her to account for it: it’s a failure, so Caro believes, born of the mother’s own fear. In spite of everything, Caro goes to university and enjoys a successful career as a social worker. The twins remain close – united by their frightening childhood – but Jamie isn’t capable of the almost-saintly level of compassion demonstrated in the final snapshot chosen by Caro, in which she visits her aged and widowed father in a care home. Though it’s clear she has very little (if any) love left for her father, she has nonetheless arranged for him to have a room with a view because “his garden was the one thing he cherished when we were kids.” The father himself is the least emotionally literate of all – as becomes clear in the brilliant final sentence: “He seems to think that everything he did has made me what I am today.”

This is a rich and complex story of emotional rebellion and survival against the odds, shaped with great skill and persuasively told. A worthy winner.

Julia Copus, September 2015


“Twenty Forty Four” R M Neil

Curry Mallet_Twenty Forty Four by R.M. Neil


This story – a clever update of Orwell’s 1984 theme – is terrifically well written. Narrated by a self-styled redeemer of the people, it takes a futuristic look at the dehumanising effects of technological surveillance, as experienced by ‘Generation Y’. It considers the question of what happens when we all, as a society, turn a blind eye to the abuse of human rights. The narrator’s acts of rebellion start small but when a growing band of sympathisers joins forces with her/him, they make the joint decision to take matters into their own hands by switching off the single-use machines that control the country’s energy supply. Somewhat surprisingly – and perhaps a little too comfortably! – the operation goes off without a hitch and the country is plunged back into a state devoid of technology, in which the population is free to discover again “what it meant to be human”. This is a

lovely, thought-provoking and – for the most part – highly convincing piece written with great flair and precision.

Julia Copus, September 2015


“The Flight of the Tawny Owl” by Jacqueline Bain of Paisley



This piece opens with the image of a blue flame travelling along a rope on a windless night. Throughout, it is full of equally wonderful atmospheric visual and aural details – the eerie rasping of barn owls, the eldritch-like form of a tawny owl, a cold, pre-dawn breeze… It tells the story of Kim and her super-confident companion, Enis – two women driven to militant acts by a common loathing of cruelty to animals. I particularly admired the author’s handling of the shifting relationship between the two women. Kim has always doted on her friend, happy to hang on to her coat tails, but now she is harbouring a secret: she is pregnant and finds herself torn between loyalty to her friend and the lure of impending motherhood. Does she sacrifice her integrity or does she continue collaborating in Enis’s lawless acts and thereby risk the safety of her child? And in any case, are things really as black and white as Enis believes? In the end, the choice isn’t Kim’s to make. The story’s climactic ending (in which police cars arrive as Enis flees across the fields) is handled with poise and restraint. It’s an ending worthy, in fact, of the rest of this astute and haunting tale.

Julia Copus, September 2015