I had the great pleasure of spending Wednesday night in the company of my friends and colleagues from York Writers and a man that waterstones.com described as ‘one of the most exciting young writers in Britain today’, Guy Mankowski.
Guy had delivered a workshop on ‘A sense of place’ earlier in the year, and agreed to judge our short story competition too. I didn’t envy him the task, and sure enough when I emailed Guy to check arrangements a few days before he said that half the entries could easily have been in the top 3.
Over the course of the evening, Guy gave feedback on every entry. I know they were invaluable to the authors of those pieces, but I learned a lot from listening to their feedback too. Guy was a great judge, his comments were so useful and encouraging and delivered so respectfully. There was no sense of ego, just one among equals who’d been given a tough job to do.
The story I had submitted, Westerbury, is one of my ‘odd ones’. That is, a story that I felt compelled to write, but is nothing like my usual work (interestingly enough, so was the story I won the Aine Marie Chadwick Trophy for). I feel a bit of a cheat, if I’m honest, because I actually dreamed the whole thing as if it was a BBC Sunday afternoon drama; it was impeccably cast, Martin Freeman and Julia Davis took key roles.
It’s a story about a cook, whose husband has disappeared (presumed murdered by her), and how she lives in the community he was born into under suspicion. It all comes to a dramatic climax in under 2,000 words so it rattles along at speed. I worked on it just after I’d done a short story workshop and was all fired up about style, so I’ve peppered it with culinary references (do you see what I did there? Peppered!); interestingly no one who has read it has ever picked up on those. I don’t know if that means they were a success or not! I’ve never been entirely happy with the ending.
Guy’s feedback on the story was that it was a strong, engaging voice and one of the stronger pieces entered. I did well with foreshadowing and descriptions of food which brought the piece to life and he said it had great pace. In terms of improvements, he highlighted a few examples where I’d told, not shown.
The winners on the night were Andy Humphrey (3rd), Sally Mitcham (2nd) and first place, Steve Norris. All their stories were read on the night, and they were wonderful. If you can’t win, the best consolation to have is knowing that lovely, talented people beat you 🙂