Stringybark Open Short Story Award 2024


The Stringybark Sex and Gender Award 2021

Competition Closed:  18 July 2021

162 entries.  $1020 in prizes.

Judges: Abra Pressler, Clare McHugh, Dr Hannah Holland and David Vernon

Editor: David Vernon

Cover designer: Jonathan Vernon

Layout: Stringybark Publishing

Australian printer: Prinstant, Canberra

Sex and gender shape relationships, power, inequality and so much else in our culture. They are ubiquitous, treacherous and delightful; fascinating, complicated and vexed.

                                                                                                     — Dr Hannah Holland

Thirty-two award-winning stories in this intriguing and thought-provoking short story anthology explore the many facets of sex and gender. From sexual violence to questions of gender identity these stories from Australian and international authors challenge our perception of who we are.

We are going to see a movie in Bankstown – movies are great. All that darkness and silence. I like to sit at the back with my date and focus on each centimetre of space that closes between us in delicate little increments. I like to place my arm just near enough his to feel the warmth of him. I could close my eyes and draw the space between our knees, our shoulders, our pinkie fingers. The anticipation is wonderful. In that moment before we are something, we could be anything.

— from In the Moments Before and After  by Katie Bowers.

Sylvia can still taste the menthol from his breath last night. She recalls how it burnt her lips when he kissed her. Now, she strains to hear his footsteps downstairs, clutching an all too small towel around her shivering body, trapped in her tiny bathroom. It was a foolish idea to think the shower would wash him away.

— from Suddenly Loud by Liselle Mei

32 published stories. One e-book and printed anthology, The Lighthouse

Edited by David Vernon, e-book and paperback, Stringybark Publishing,

ISBN: 978-0-6452122-5-9

A$15.95 includes postage within Australia.  Discounts for multiple purchases.  Please enquire for international orders.


Multiple copy discount

Purchase E-book ($4.95 AUD)


Wearing the Cost


Richard Baker


The Lighthouse


Mallory Miles


My Name is Edith


Leonie Huggins


Down Under — Maria Bonar

In the Moments Before and After — Katie Bowers

Molly and the Cowgirl, 2010 — Sinclair Buckstaff Jr.

Moment of Truth — Leonie Crowden

My Catch — Gavin Douglas

Bunny is Dead — Roderick Flanagan

Fireworks — Roderick Flanagan

A Man's World — Nicole Kelly

Climbing Out — Nakita Kitson

Cat Lady/Dog Man — Shona Levingston

Playing with Pride — Aldo Longobardi

Speaking of Dragons — Courtney Louise

Add to Dictionary — Courtney Louise

A Brief Shining Moment — Colin Mayo

Snowballing — Dan McLeod

Suddenly Loud — Liselle Mei

The Walk — Terence Phillips

Natasha — Deryn Pittar

There are Always Cons — Kristen Roberts

Whitehall Guesthouse — Danielle Scrimshaw

Alabama Song (Whisky Bar) — Emily Seerup

Opening Day — Deanne Seigle-Buyat

You've Got a Friend — G. Laura Sheridan

The Angler — Alex Talbot

Grace of God — Anne Tavares

Bright Future — Anne Tavares

The Fairy Seamstress — Louise Thorne

Exhibit — Amy Wang

Colder than Home — Hayley Young

It was in a fit of outrage that I decided to launch the Stringybark Sex and Gender Short Story Award in 2021. I wanted to highlight the disgusting behaviour of our Federal and State politicians and some of their flunkies towards women and anyone who is not a CIS-gender male. I wanted to do this by bringing stories about sex and gender to a broader audience. By exploring the spectrum of human sexuality and behaviours I wanted to show that behind the scenes we are all human. We all have human needs and wants. Sexual aggression and abuse not only dehumanises and traumatises victims, but when unchallenged our society is significantly worse off. Recently, our politicians have not only effectively failed to call out such behaviour but have acted or condoned (often through failing to even acknowledge abuse) such behaviour themselves.

Entrants generally rose to my challenge to write stories that explore sex and gender issues and leave the reader with some hope for the future. It was this latter point that was key to my judging. Does the author show us light at the end of the tunnel? I didn’t need a blazing sun, but a small candle was enough. Quite a few entrants forgot this element of the competition and the reader was left in a morass of despond.

My other requirements for a highly commended story were simple and hopefully uncontroversial — correct spelling, punctuation and grammar; a clear plot; intriguing characters; flowing dialogue and an interesting perspective. Writers sometimes say that they cannot think of a unique plot. Plots do not need to be unique. I’m very happy with explorations of old themes from a new perspective. We have quite a few stories in this collection that take this route.

I recognise and salute the many entrants who poured their own life stories into their submissions. Writing about some of these issues can be painful and occasionally retraumatising (although we also know that writing about personal traumas can also be healing) and thus whether your story was accepted for publication says nothing about your undoubted courage in writing and sharing your story. I applaud you.

David Vernon

Judge and Editor

Launching an anthology some years ago author, Kate Grenville, said the short story offers nowhere to hide, that it is a bikini compared to the capacious coat of a novel. The lively, diverse responses to Stringybark’s competition was a chance to expose writing skills and uncover stories.

The entries I rated highly had imaginative, subtle and sometimes spare writing or approached the theme from an original angle. Some of the best were quiet and beguiling, causing me to pause and consider hidden nuances. Others had jagged prose to match the agitation of the narrative.

Whether the story landed with a loud splash or had a subtle emotional resonance, I looked for confident use of language, a sure sense of voice and setting, and an authentic feel. Dialogue, voice, the way that plot and context were set up or exchanges between characters, were all ways that authenticity could be created—or undermined. The best endings—whether building with slow inevitability or arriving as a surprise—had to be a 'good fit' for the overall narrative.

Sharp observation, beautiful language and a light touch were elements that elevated stories. Those that didn’t work so well tried to do too much, were underdeveloped or did not manage switches in voice or tone. The first-person voice (I, me, mine) was a common choice but not always apt. Stories tended to sink under the weight of lecturing or smug observations, cliched characters, stilted dialogue and plots seemingly straight out of screen crime series. Homophobia, misogyny and racist tropes all made a disappointing appearance in the entries, as in life.

I loved stories that risked new directions or gave fresh insights into age-old dilemmas. The best stories showed signs that the writer had pushed themselves and their writing.

Clare McHugh


Judges Comments

Sex and gender is, for many people, a fundamental element of our identity and deeply personal. This was evident in the insightful, sensitive and sometimes challenging stories submitted to this award. Born from the injustice exhibited during the Women’s March, I looked for stories that challenged the binary idea of gender, celebrated the idea of sex and sex positivity and authentically represented lived experiences. I was impressed with the number of quality entries submitted and narrowing the stories for the anthology was hard.

The stories that attracted me the most felt authentic and, in some way, inverted stereotypes, or explored different facets of the theme. They used their word limit well, and had strong imagery, strong characters and a relatable. Punctuation, poor formatting and changing tense are issues several authors struggled to grasp, while some stories bordered on offensive interpretations of the theme, especially tired fantasies around sex and culture, and LGBTQIA+ experiences, which was disappointing to read. 

Overall, I take pride (hehe) in the stories selected for the anthology, and how they explore the theme in the very quiet moments of our lives as well as the loud and flamboyant moments, and everything in between.

Abra Pressler


Sex and gender shape relationships, power, inequality and so much else in our culture. They are ubiquitous, treacherous and delightful; fascinating, complicated and vexed.

There are dark and difficult themes to be addressed; serious discussions to be had in a world where sexual violence remains prevalent. Despite feminism’s gains and genuine advances in formal equality, the threat of misogynistic power lurks, trenchant, beneath the surface of everything. Diversity in all forms is routinely challenged in our community. When members of the LGBTIQ+ community assert our rights, it is because there are still those who persistently refuse to grant them.

Yet would life be better in a world where these things needn’t be the topic of conversation, of activism, of storytelling? I offered to judge this volume because I believe most of all we need to communicate the range of human experiences in this world.

I was moved by reading this range of stories. Some of what I looked for was the same as for any writing. Did the author tell the story, or insist on telling me about the story? Was the narrative new and interesting, or old and familiar? Was there forward motion, fostering interest in finding out how it resolved? Was the story written with sufficient clarity that the reader was clear what was happening?

Other things were specific to the world of sex and gender. Did the narrative show awareness of sex and gender roles? Did it help enhance readers’ understanding that might otherwise be beyond their experience? Where characters were harmed or exploited, did the author demonstrate their critical awareness of this? Was diversity portrayed with realism and sensitivity?

There were amazing, moving and sometimes very personal contributions, and I learned a lot from reading them. It was a great experience.

Dr Hannah Holland