Stringybark Open Short Story Award 2024
The good – I found ten excellent stories, and at least three probable winners out of this set. Some I genuinely thought were incredible stories that deftly played with structure and style, but others I wondered ‘am I just rating this highly because I’ve just read a string of poorer ones?’ The trials of a judge.
The bad — there were racist undertones (and overtones) in a significant number of these pieces. There are many ‘exotic tribal woman wants to have sex with me’ pieces, including a number of First Nations fetishization, in addition to Asian sex workers, and other very strange representations. These I have not rated highly, and in some cases, chosen not to rate.
The strange — some of these pieces are simply not erotic. Even when I looked for subtle erotic undertones, I struggled. I feel some writers got lost in the sauce (as the kids say) and were so focused on creating their story they forgot to add this essential element.
Cheating was an ongoing theme that confused me. Cheating is very unsexy in erotic literature communities, almost a no-no in modern romance writing — and yet, there is an erotic element to it in the taboo-ness of it but no stories, I felt, really drilled down about why cheating was such an erotic taboo with any nuance beyond the ‘oh isn't she/he a naughty person!’
There were some good queer pieces; some good representations of sex workers and some stereotypes.
The Stringybark Erotic Short Story Award 2023
Competition Closed: 13 Aug 2023
91 entries. $1025 in prizes.
Prizes sponsored by: Stringybark Publishing
Judges: Clare McHugh, Abra Pressler, Jamie Todling and David Vernon
Editor: David Vernon
Cover designer: Jonathan Vernon
Layout: Stringybark Publishing
Australian printer: Prinstant, Canberra
This is the sixth delightful anthology of short erotic tales that Stringybark has published since 2010. In these pages you will visit a French chateau, go camping with the lads, picnic on the banks of an English stream, attend an interview for an ‘interesting’ job and get a new tattoo — among many other lusty adventures. We are sure you will have a fun and sexy read.
Trent was shorter than she had envisaged but he was fit looking with sun-bleached hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He was in bare feet and wearing a short white robe. He made some small talk – did she have any trouble finding the place, was she having a good day? That sort of thing. Then it was down to business. — From "M'deira M'dear?" by Stephen Knox
Bold as day, she strips off in front of me. Her nipples are overly large and dark against her pale skin. From the corner of my eye, I can tell she’s proud of them. There’s a vinyl squeak as she climbs onto the cushioned table and stretches out on her belly, and as I watch her breasts flatten on the plastic surface, I draw the curtain between her and the rest of the studio. Then stuff gets moved around my table to make it sound like shit’s getting done, when really all I’m doing is looking at the rise of her bare arse and the dimples at the small of her back. She can tell I’m stalling. — From "The Blue Dragon" by Ned Stephenson
21 published stories. One e-book and printed anthology, The Blue Dragon
Edited by David Vernon, e-book and paperback, Stringybark Publishing,
A$14.95 includes postage within Australia. Discounts for multiple purchases. Please enquire for international orders.
Purchase E-book ($4.95 AUD)
The Blue Dragon
Scarlett Boleyn — Kaleidoscope Eyes
Scarlett Boleyn — The Journal
Maria Bonar — Milady
Ian Coombe — Aussie Holiday
P.H. Court — The Talk
Stephen Knox — Madeira M'dear
Bianca Leri — Queen for a Night
Corinne MacKenzie — In the Wilds
Fiona McLeod — Oh Glory!
Linda Mueller — The Right Spot
Red Passion — Illicit Pleasures
Terence Phillips — Blue Movie
Irene Sheehan — Hitching Hearts
Phoebe Thorburn — A Body Infinite and Theirs
Frances Underwood — What about Me?
Frances Underwood — It Came from Nowhere
Derek Wayne — Double-Dog Dare
Derek Wayne — Wild Ride
Erotica is hard to write and that’s why Stringybark runs these competitions every few years. We like to have some fun and challenge writers.
Many writers find writing about sex puts them outside their comfort zone but this is no different to writers who find writing about horror or crime to be uncomfortable. It’s good for writers to try difficult things. There is no doubt writers learn a lot about their approach to writing when they work outside the genre in which they comfortably work.
One of the reasons that writing erotica is so difficult is what one person finds arousing another person may not. There is no universal ‘turn on’. So, to write successfully in this genre the writer must ensure that they are not simply describing sex acts but are focussing just as much on character, plot and place. To pause for a moment and intellectualise the sex act(s), it in reality tends to be fairly dull and repetitive to an outside observer. It is what surrounds the sex that attracts readers and engages them in the story. This then, requires noteworthy characters, interesting scenarios, and the clever use of language. In some respects, descriptions of sex are secondary (but still important!) to the work.
Some of the stories we received focussed purely on sex. The tales were adventures in biology rather than adventures in human relationships. Other stories were so coquettish that the work could happily sit on a shelf in a monastery. Finding a happy medium is what I was after. Hot, raunchy sex is fine with me if there is plot and characterisation as well. Equally, suggested sex could also be engaging because in such cases my imagination could take me to places that the writer could not even contemplate!
What I hate in erotic writing is stilted language where it’s apparent the writer is embarrassed with what they wrote, or they are simply unable to describe sex. Often such writers hide behind clichés to cover this — a pulsing manhood, a pleasure spear or a pink joy knob is for me the literary equivalent of a cold shower.
That said, it takes a brave writer, even in these permissive times, to put their finger to keyboard and write about human sexuality. All entrants are to be commended on their valiant efforts, successful or otherwise. Enjoy reading these winning and highly commended tales and I hope you find them as arousing and fun as I did.
It is with much anticipation I look forward to the next competition. Happy reading and writing!
Judge and Editor
The best erotic short stories showed the sort of writing we expect from any short fiction; assured and stylish writing, distinctive characters, enough detail to conjure their experiences and a certain sparkle. The stand-out stories were able to evoke the erotic in visual, visceral and sensual ways. They were explicit without being mechanistic, some were quite lyrical. They had narrative thread or at least an element of intrigue. Good writing created plausibility, whether the scenarios were conventional or fantastical.
Less successful stories were banal or clunky when describing sex. They offered detail, sometimes lists of activities, without eros. Some were the opposite: so coy that it was hard to see how they were erotic at all. They might have been thrillers, mystery or romance but were not sensual or erotic. In a sub-strand of ‘positive’ stories some were derailed by stilted writing, where characters exchanged dialogue as if lecturing the reader on ‘good sex’.
Erotic writing is notoriously difficult to do well. Congratulations to everyone who participated, especially if it was your first time. It takes courage to begin and practise to refine technique. And as with sex, things don’t always turn out as hoped. But there’s always next time!