Stringybark Open Award 2023
It's always a pleasure and a privilege to participate in the Stringybark judging: a process which leads to the presentation of this anthology of Australian writing.
Readers will find some breathtakingly good stories on offer: from the magic-realism of the winning, anthology-title-piece, Like Clockwork; to kitsch-Australiana and sci-fi crossover; and much in between and beyond; comedy and tragedy; the whimsical and the profound.
A good short story’s one that stays with you, and there are tales here that I won't be forgetting. There are even ones that I believe to be pretty important for noting historical moments or social themes that are both universal and, maybe, a little less frequented in the Australian writing landscape than they deserve to be. Certainly, there is some honest writing being shared with the publication of this anthology.
I am also compelled to express a personal opinion. A few of these stories, and more than a few of those that missed out, left me feeling as though they had more to give; an extra card to play, left up the authors' sleeves. Without detracting from their overall production, it was almost as if they had been whittled down to make the 1500 word count. It was something that I picked up often enough to want to note it in this report. It's no picnic constructing a little self-supporting universe with all the discipline that short story telling demands, and yet, that too contributes to a winning story's strengths: to write, with limited word-length, successfully. Not easy.
Still, as a judge I was left playing out the possibilities, and imagining potential twists and turns that were never quite taken, or only hinted at before the final ribbon loomed, oh too soon. For such reasons and more, I look forward to a future Stringybark writing award that brings a potentially extra dimension to the table, courtesy of a longer word limit. We can all be dreamers.
The winning authors of this award managed to dream and imagine, and meaningfully bring their ideas to bear, often with aplomb.
I am appreciative to all who entered the competition and made the final distillation possible – everyone contributed. The old saying's true: it takes all kinds. My heartfelt thanks to the other judges Nicole Falconer and editor, David Vernon, for their insights and collegiate approach. Here's to team efforts and to the pleasure of writing and reading.
The Twisted Stringybark Short Story Award 2022
Competition Closed: 14 August 2022
152 entries. $1025 in prizes.
Judges: Stephen Senise, Nicole Falconer and David Vernon
Editor: David Vernon
Cover designer: Jonathan Vernon
Layout: Stringybark Publishing
Australian printer: Prinstant, Canberra
Thirty-two twisted and entertaining tales are featured in this, the forty-first, short story anthology from Stringybark Stories. Selected from over 150 entries these winning and highly commended tales are an intriguing read. From late night burials to art heists, dotty mothers to mischievous magpies, Stringybark Stories’ fourth collection of tales with a twist is certain to be a treat.
On the third trip she sat on a stool. Lifted a jar to her lips. Let the juice trickle down her chin. She scooped out a fat juicy plum, bit into the sweet fruit, pictured the boy-man. His black eyes, honey-coloured skin. She took another bite and remembered his tongue in her mouth.
— From Heat by Margo Daly
The hole was finished. It had taken three nights of digging and three nights of watching. Billy had dug. Lyle had watched from the safety of his side of the fence. Now it was done. A shiver ran down Lyle’s spine as he watched the big man mop his brow and stand back to admire his handiwork.
— From Death in Whipstick by Robin Murdoch
32 published stories. One e-book and printed anthology, Like Clockwork
Edited by David Vernon, e-book and paperback, Stringybark Publishing,
A$16.95 includes postage within Australia. Discounts for multiple purchases. Please enquire for international orders.
Purchase E-book ($4.95 AUD)
The Man in White Overalls
Tangled Tulle — Tanya Allen
Curtain Call — Megan Anderson
Alex — Chris Baker
Try to Tiptoe in Hiking Boots — Rosemary Baldry
Entrapped — Greg Bartlett
Bob’s Pride — David Christensen
Crazy Witch Woman — Judd Exley
Funny Stuff — Richard Gaynor
Ride of her Life — Elaine Henderson
Morning in the Park — Scott Hoffman
Molly and Marwa — Afrida Imrose
Would You Like a Cup of Tea? — Reg James
A Life Extended — George Lancaster
Mick — Peter Long
The Pearl Choker — Alyssa Mackay
No Place of Honour — H.L. Moore
Death in Whipstick — Robin Murdoch
Friendly Fire — Judith O'Connor
The Gumdale General Store (in Charcoal) — Tom Penrose
Nature's Final Imitation — Indiana Saunders
Birthday Heroes — John Scholz
The Sweep — John Toohey
Tick Box to Remain Anonymous — Varda Tully
The long, long night — Alexandra Vanags
The Two Friends — Bob Vinnicombe
Sausage — Tom Walters
Karma Climbs Aboard — Michael Woodhouse
The Theft of George 'Tassie' Tasman — J.W. Wynstanley
The Bay Leaf Phenomenon — Hayley Young
The Twisted Stringybark is one of my favourite competitions. I am someone who absolutely loves a tale with the twist at the end (or middle or beginning). My short story journey started when I was in my teens. I voraciously read Roald Dahl’s anthologies of short stories that he had written for adults (I only discovered that he wrote children’s stories when I became a Dad!). Nearly all of Dahl’s tales had a neat twist at the end of them and I was hooked on this story form. Even today most of the short stories I write have an unexpected ending — well I hope they do.
It is this unexpected ending that I look for in a twisted tale. Of course, this makes it rather difficult for the author when they enter a competition, for how do you hide the twist when the reader is actively looking for it? This is where a balance is required. Some authors, who have been marked down by me, take the approach of providing the twist by deceiving the reader or alternatively giving an ending that comes quite out of right field. Deception and ridiculousness do not work. The endings that I dislike the most are those where the story progresses reasonably but the author solves the dilemma of the ending by finishing with “and then I woke up.” What a cop out!
The stories I love are those where the unexpected makes absolute sense on the re-reading of the story for a second (or third time). These are the very clever tales and the anthology resulting from this competition, Like Clockwork, is full of these.
But it isn’t just the twist that makes a good short story. No, it is the bread and butter of short story writing — believable characters, energetic plot, and a unique perspective on whatever is being written about.
If you were an author who didn’t make the cut this time around (we received 152 entries and we identified 31 stories that we wished to publish), do not despair! And don’t immediately toss your story into the recycling bin. Firstly, you don’t know where it came in our ranking (unless you sought feedback) and secondly, and more importantly, it might have needed only a little tweaking to fly into contention. It was clear to us as judges that some stories, with just a little more attention to the plot (eg there were plot holes) or characterisation (eg the motivations of the characters were unclear or contradictory), then the story may well have been in the top three and very likely be one of our highly commended stories. To see if your story fits this category either seek feedback or put it in the bottom drawer of your desk for three months then exhume it and read it again with fresh eyes.
Once again, I am greatly thankful to the authors who support Stringybark Stories by entering our modest competitions. You can support them by buying our anthologies. Not only do you get to read great writing, but you get to see what our judges love.
Judge and Editor
This was my first time judging a short story competition and I have to say what an immense joy it was to read these stories. Each one was a journey into a different life, a different way of seeing the world. Thank you so much to everyone who submitted an entry this year. Being new to the world of short story competitions and a younger judge, I was fascinated by the differences in opinion we three judges had at the end of the competition. While we all agreed on which stories were clearly deserving of being published, there were differences in the themes that we identified personally as important and deserving of exploration through a short story. I hope that when you read this anthology you likewise find stories that interest and challenge you wherever you are in life.
Congratulations to the writers of the three winning stories, they were superbly written and I reflect that they all shared the characteristic of bringing a strong emotional connection to the central issues of the story. These writers achieved this by painting a story so vivid that I couldn’t help but become completely absorbed in them.
Some of the stories that entertained me, sadly didn’t make the cut into the anthology and this was largely because the plot wasn’t well thought through and the style of the writing needed work and editing. What I would like to highlight from this is that if your story didn’t make the anthology, there is a chance that it was still fun and entertaining to read. Please take the time to think about your plot and edit your story thoroughly because this can be the difference between your original story going from the bottom of the list to the top twenty. An original idea is only as good as the story that contains it.
It is my wish that you all continue to write, refine and share your stories with the world. Never has it been more important to share our vision and dreams than it is now and what a wonderful medium to express them in.