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The LoveReading Very Short Story Awards 2019 - The Judges' thoughts

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 23rd February 2019

We have been absolutely thrilled with the response to our first LoveReading Very Short Story Award, in terms of numbers, the quality of entries and how, with the two separate strands, the Expert Judging and People’s Choice have come together. It was really important for us to include our members in the voting process, we exist to spread book love and felt that having two awards would be interesting and inclusive, the only question was would we have one winner or two?

The Judges sorted all of the stories (finally) into the top ten, and while we sat and discussed our winner, the top ten entries were included on the site so that our members could vote for their favourite.

And drumroll please… we are so pleased to be able to announce that we have two winners! You can listen to both of the winners on the LoveReading Podcast.

Our Judges' winning entry: 'Oh, I Do Love A Banana', by Susanna Crossman. You can see my chat with Susanna and her winning story here.

Our People’s Choice winning entry: 'The Undiscovered Tribe', by Jan Stannard. You can see my chat with Jan and her winning story here.

We also have two highly commended stories, 'Trouble at the Orange Palace' by Molly Gartland and 'Meat Paste' by David Ashbridge.

Deborah Maclaren our Managing Director says about our LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2019:

‘We were delighted by the number of entries we received in this our inaugural year. The quality of the writing inspired us and the panel loved reading the stories as they flowed through the doors.

We want to make this an annual event and look forward to many more successful years of reading wonderful very short stories. To add to this, we are looking to launch The LoveReading4Kids Poetry Award in 2019 and are incredibly excited about that too.

Thanks to our wonderful judges and the many writers who submitted a story this time round and well done to our well-deserving winners and all those who were shortlisted.’

Introducing the judges and their thoughts:

Elena Lappin is a writer, editor and podcaster. Her most recent book is the memoir WHAT LANGUAGE DO I DREAM IN?, on finding one’s identity as a writer in a multilingual context and a complex family history. She is also the author of FOREIGN BRIDES (short stories)  and THE NOSE (a novel) and has contributed to numerous publications, including Granta, Prospect, the Guardian, and the New York Times Book Review. She is former editor of ONE, an imprint of Pushkin Press, and book podcast host at LoveReading. Elena said:

‘I was inspired by the skilful way both our winners used the 1000 word format to distil the essence of their stories into a wonderfully readable, fully formed narrative. 

'The Undiscovered Tribe' by Jan Stannard resonates with timeless storytelling, bringing this dystopian tale very close to home. And 'Oh I Do Love a Banana' by Susanna Crossman is a deeply moving story of a lonely widower’s battle with grief as his memory connects him closely with his past but fails him in the present. All this complexity is brought to life with a delightfully light touch. I really didn't want this very short tale about an old man’s disastrous shopping trip to end, but I also felt that the ending was a perfect way to keep him in the reader’s mind for a very long time. 

The best way to enjoy a great story is to listen to it. On our podcast dedicated to both winners, the stories are read by the actor and audio performer Rebecca Peyton, with a wonderful sense of appreciation for the nuances in our authors’ writing. And it was fascinating to interview Susanna Crossman about her story and her journey as a writer. Congratulations to both our winners! 

I am truly thrilled with the stories we have received for this first time short story award at LoveReading, and very excited about our shortlisted authors and winners. Thank you to all who participated.’

Preti Taneja is an author, her debut novel We That Are Young won the Desmond Elliot Prize, and is a heady, fiercely beautiful read. Preti has worked as a human rights reporter, co-founded ERA films and Visual Verse and also teaches writing in prisons. She said:

'Oh, I do Love a Banana': This quiet piece uses humour and an every-day setting to achieve its piercing effects. The writer movingly captures the circularity of memory, routine and life as a whole.

'Trouble at the Orange Palace': I loved this well observed interior monologue and appreciated the author's ambition in writing from the second person perspective: it's a difficult form to pull off and perfectly fits the themes of this piece.

'Meat Paste': The slant-eyed nature of lingering memory is captured via the small acts of viciousness and the longed for triumphs that mark being very young. The writing is controlled for evocative effect.’

Maxim Jakubowski is an author, current Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award, he owned the Murder One Bookstore, and has worked in senior positions in publishing and reviewed for Time Out and the Guardian. He said:

'Oh, I Do Love a Banana': A witty and even perceptive condensed tale of life in the aisles and the check-out. All modern life is there!

'Trouble at the Orange Palace': The supermarket check-out counter as a vision of domestic hell. Incisive and funny.

'Meat Paste': A caustic insight into the cruelty of childhood.’

Alison Flood is the Guardian Books Reporter, reviews thrillers for the Observer, and also writes for The Bookseller (her paperback preview is a must read for me). She said: 

'Oh, I Do Love a Banana': I was impressed with how the author managed to summon up such an intense feeling of loneliness and isolation in such a short space

'Meat Paste': The powerlessness of childhood, and the easy cruelty of a parent, come to vivid life here - with the added bonus of a leavening humour as a sign-off.

'Trouble at the Orange Palace': The reader becomes surprisingly invested in what is, after all, just a little interaction in a supermarket; the narrator becomes an unlikely hero, as we root for her to succeed and feel bereft when she doesn’t.’

Finally introducing myself Liz Robinson, I am the LoveReading Reviews Editor. Reading has always played a huge part in my life and I can quite happily chat books all day. I was thrilled when our Managing Director Deborah Maclaren said that both Elena and I had both independently mentioned LoveReading hosting a writing competition. In this first year, the award has come into being quite organically, with Elena as the LoveReading Podcast Editor taking the lead with the prize for the winners, and she I worked beautifully together as we found our three other wonderful judges and organised the award. I loved reading the stories as they poured in, each one so very different, yet certain themes stood out, in particular human emotions, and perhaps dare I say it, the darker side of life, though there were some outstanding moments of light and bright within the darkness. 

'Oh, I Do Love A Banana' reached out and pulled me straight into the story. The first few sentences are an exquisite moment in time, so normal, so everyday, and yet by the end of the first paragraph I felt I knew Stanley, and to be honest I was aching for him. Stanley’s mind as it flickers backwards and forwards in time acts as a distress beacon. My heart beat faster and I cheered Stanley as he made his getaway, yet by the time he was home, and as he barricaded himself in, I realised that this moment in time was set to run and run. Susanna wrote about an everyday event and made it so completely personal and so beautifully real, that Stanley and his bananas stood out for me as a winning story.

I adore dystopian fantasy and simply gobbled up 'The Undiscovered Tribe', I have read this short story several times now, and each time something new says hello. How clever that the traditional dystopian tale is turned on its head, and that storytelling is such an important part of life for the tribe. Jan has created a story with attitude, a story to make you think, and I love that our members chose this story as their winner.

A huge thank you to everyone who entered their story into the award. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Listen to The LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2019 Podcast here!

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