Our LoveReading Very Short Story Award for 2020 has reached its conclusion and we are thrilled to announce the winners. For the second year running, our judges and readers have chosen different short stories as their personal favourites.
The Judges' Choice, cue fanfare, is the emotionally evocative Dignity by Paul Warnes.
The People’s Choice, one more fanfare please, is the vividly eerie Tea for Two by Krista Jones.
Then for the first time, we also have a Highly Commended, which is the darkly bright and dare I say amusing Candy From A Stranger by Jill Hand.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable and busy session choosing, discussing, and debating the top ten at our judges’ lunch. It was a tough call to even decide on the shortlisted top ten as we had some really strong entries. We were so pleased with the variety on offer, and the diversity in booky backgrounds from our judging team ensured there was plenty of conversation around the table. Just a few of the judges' thoughts:
Matt: “An unsettling, mysterious and deeply atmospheric story which excels at building tension throughout. The cyclical and brutal world of nature, dominant in the story, is cleverly juxtaposed by the static, despairing state of the protagonist and the narrative technique of foreshadowing is used here to great effect”.
Rachel: "An arresting story that is a glimpse into an impossibly private moment. Threaded through with ambiguity and with some truly poetic and striking turns of phrase, this stood out, both in literary terms and at a very human level”.
Joanne: "Evocative and haunting, yet also strangely hopeful, this instantly engaging story stood out for the writer’s considered command of language and their control of readers’ reactions. The theme itself seems to slip from one’s grasp right at the end of the story, with the final lines open to interpretations that are very different from those assumed at the start".
Tea for Two
Rachel: "The memorable story of a girl's misadventure that feels close to a natural, believable experience. An effortless read with a great climax, rendered with genuine skill”.
Liz: "Tea for Two took my hand and pulled me into a memory, while it is vivid and colourful, the conch delivers a dreamy fantastical feel. This story left me with a lingering and poignant ache for the loss experienced in the last sentence".
Matt: "A moving, truthful story that considers, loneliness, misunderstandings and how the consequence of such events can reverberate through our lives. Tightly written, expertly constructed and featuring a brilliantly realised narrative arc throughout."
Candy from a Stranger
Maxim: "Had all I expect from a short tale, including an unexpected and tasteful twist, which defied expectations in an imaginative way”.
Joanne: "This deliciously audacious story had me hook, line and sinker. Dazzingly colourful, creepy and oozing wry wit, it put me in mind of a mash-up of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and Tarantino’s movies, with its larger-than-life characters, cinematic angles and a humorously dark twist that defies prediction.
Liz: "Candy from a Stranger is a rollicking good yarn stuffed full of quirky, sharp wit and yet the tangible darkness hovers and pounces in a deliciously devastating way”.
We spoke to our two winning authors and asked them some questions about their story and their booky thoughts.
Tell us about yourself
Paul Warnes, winning author of Dignity said:
"My name is Paul Warnes, 57, from Leybourne in Kent. I work as a literacy tutor in a secondary school for four mornings a week. In my leisure time I write; it is my hobby and my joy. I have had short stories published in magazines here and abroad. My debut novel, The Society of Unexampled Brilliance, won the Audible Crime Grant competition and has been published by them as an audiobook.”
Krista Jones, the winning author of Tea for Two said:
"I’m originally from the UK and spent most of my childhood in Devon. After finishing my degree in modern languages at UWE Bristol I moved to Spain where I have been living for 27 years. I’m fluent in Spanish and French and work as a financial translator for a multinational firm. I am also a member of an association of language professionals called MET Mediterranean Editors & Translators. When I’m not working, socialising, enjoying the fantastic culture of where I live, or spending time with my husband and teenage daughter, writing and reading are my favourite pastimes”.
How did you feel and react when you were told that you had won?
Paul (Dignity): When I heard I had won the competition the nice man from British Gas was busy trying to mend the boiler and I was teasing a wobbly tooth in my rapidly depleting upper set of teeth. I am ashamed to admit that my first reaction was that the prize money would come in handy! Later, I was able to enjoy the satisfaction of having my writing validated by those who know a thing or two about fiction.
Krista (Tea for Two): I felt quite astounded and overwhelmed. I still can’t believe it! It is the first short story competition that I’ve ever entered and to have achieved such an award is an immense privilege.
Have you always loved the written word, when did you first start to write?
Paul: I only started writing fiction when I gave up my full-time teaching job. Before then my head was too full with work-related thoughts for there to be room for my imagination to roam. I owe a great debt to the enthusiastic tutors of the numerous adult education creative writing classes I attended when I had my freedom. Their encouragement and the support of my fellow students inspired me to write short stories and then, the biggest step, to submit them.
Krista: I have loved writing, literature and languages for as long as I can remember. At home when I was a child there were always lots of books and I was encouraged to read. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get to the bookshop to spend my birthday money, so I was quite a bookworm. My dream was always to belong to a book club and many years later, when I moved to San Sebastian where I now live, I had the opportunity to join an English book club. We’re a group of different ages and many nationalities and we meet once a month in a wonderful second-hand book shop. Belonging to the group has definitely given me the chance to read books I would never have chosen and has taken me out of my comfort zone regarding genre (I would never have believed that I could actually enjoy a science fiction novel!). As a linguist, I love everything to do with English and foreign words, especially etymology and lexicology, and I can never resist doing a crossword.
When I was a teenager, I won second prize in the Books for Children Annual Poetry Competition judged by Brian Patten and Roger McGough. Having my poetry critiqued at such a young age by two such prestigious poets is something that has influenced my style of writing since then. Over the years, writing has been a sporadic hobby, alongside being a mother and my career as a financial translator.
Who are your booky inspirations?
Paul: In recent years my reading choices have been dictated by books that have been short or long-listed for the big literary prizes. I was lucky to have read most of the classics at school and university. Everything I have read has been an influence on my writing. At university my essays were criticised for having a very mannered tone- too much Jane Austen and George Elliot! I have tried to be a bit more modern since- I like the style of Sebastian Faulks and Ian McEwan.
Krista: I studied English literature at A-Level, so I love the classics, with Thomas Hardy and the Brontë sisters being my favourites. I am also a big fan of Daphne du Maurier, mainly because most of her books are set in my favourite part of England. The contemporary authors that I admire are: Rose Tremain, Colm Toibin, Irene Nemirovsky, Helen Dunmore, Margaret Atwood, Tracy Chevalier, Michael Cunningham, Sebastian Faulks, Patrick Gale, Hanif Kureishi, Maggie O’Farrell, William Trevor and Romesh Gunesekera. For inspiration about nature and landscapes Robert Macfarlane’s books are by far the best. I was most recently inspired by Amor Towles, the author of A Gentleman in Moscow. How he managed to confine such an intricate novel to the four walls of a hotel over such a long period of time was an amazing feat.
How and where do you like to write?
Paul: As you will see from the enclosed photo, I do not have an attic room or garden shed in which to write. I snatch what minutes I can at the dining table with a laptop perched wherever there is a free surface. I find it impossible to write if there is anybody else in the house. And if anybody looks over my shoulder…!
Krista: My writing process starts with a key plot, it can be from memory, experience, an anecdote I’ve heard or something I’ve seen in the news. I then expand on that by giving full rein to my imagination and scribbling ideas and standalone sentences or words in a notebook. My inspiration often comes to me in the middle of the night. If I’m writing about nature, a landscape or the sea I like to be in-situ because it tends to trigger a much wider variety of senses. My short stories then take form spontaneously on my laptop, normally in one sitting. I go back to the text a few days later to review and edit it. When reviewing my writing I would describe myself as intense and meticulous and that probably comes from the fact that part of my job as a translator involves proofreading texts written by non-native speakers of English. Most importantly, I always try to write with readers in mind and think about what sort of questions they would ask about the characters and the plot.
I normally write in my study at home. My desk is normally clear of clutter, with a scented candle for relaxation and a very big mug of tea to sustain me. As you’ll see from the photo, I have plenty of notebooks, some for story outlines, some for poems I’ve enjoyed and others for literary quotes from books I’ve read. I also have a little red notebook to keep a record of all the novels I’ve read in the last 20 years or so.
How did your Very Short Story arrive on the page, was it already in your mind, or did it introduce itself when you decided to enter?
Paul: The inspiration for Dignity came from spending a portion of every evening smoking outside the front door. The front garden contains one large cherry tree and I follow its daily and seasonal changes. I was marking time by the changes in the appearance of the tree and that prompted ideas about somebody waiting to make a decision and also using nature to set the timetable for change.
Krista: I had already written my Very Short Story before the competition, although I had to pare it down a bit to fit the word count, which I think in the end has made it much better. The inspiration for my short story is based on my desire to create a tale weaving together different themes like memory, old age, innocence and yearning. I also had to include the lighthouse theme, as I’ve always held a strange fascination for lighthouses, having always lived near the sea.
Do you have a particular affinity to short stories, and what is your favourite collection?
Paul: My favourite collection of short stories is by William Trevor and is called The Hill Bachelors first published in 2000. My favourite single short story is Blackberries by Leslie Norris. It stays with you.
Krista: Short stories are great to dip into if I find that I don’t have time to read a whole novel. They’re especially great for travelling. I particularly like the collections by Rose Tremain (The Darkness of Wallace Simpson) and Colm Toibin (The Empty House). The Penguin Book of the British Short Story edited by Philip Hensher is my go-to collection, as it contains such a varied selection of well-known authors grouped by subjects I enjoy, such as love, women and catastrophic worlds.
What is your favourite book from childhood, do you still have it and what is about that book that you adored?
Paul: My best-remembered piece of fiction from childhood is The Hobbit. I can remember my Dad reading it to me in my frozen bedroom- no central heating back then. Mum used to read us the Just William stories by Richmal Crompton at lunchtimes before we went back for afternoon school.
Krista: The first book I absolutely loved was The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr, I knew the words off by heart at a very young age, even before I could read. Three decades later my daughter enjoyed it just as much, albeit with a less tattered copy. When I was a bit older, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis kept me up until late. The thought of being able to step out of the back of a wardrobe into a freezing fantasy world full of strange characters really stimulated my imagination.
Can we have a peek at your favourite bookshelf or shelves, please?
Krista: I used to try to keep my books in alphabetical order, but now I’ve realised that it’s impossible as I keep on adding new titles to my collection and they get mixed up. Recently I had a big clear out and have only kept the books that I have enjoyed and that mean something to me. I really need to get some more shelves though, as they’re buckling under the weight!
What is your most beloved and well-read book?
Paul: I don’t think I have ever read a book twice, except in error- there’s too much new stuff out there to discover. I do still have a battered version of the children’s book A Fly Went By by Mike Mcclintock that I would not like to part with.
Krista: I’ve got so many books that I love, but perhaps my most beloved one would be Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. The author has a great ability to weave suspense, intrigue, underlying menace and jealousy into the novel and she has an acute psychological insight into her characters.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of entering next year?
Paul: Advice for future entrants? Be bold, be experimental, be true, stand out, enjoy the process, don’t worry about the outcome!
Krista: Don’t underestimate yourself. You can write! Observe everything around you in detail and draw inspiration from your own life and daily events, even the most mundane incident can be embellished and turned into a story. Also try to boost your vocabulary by making your reading as varied as possible, not just fiction but also non-fiction. Be curious about words and their origin and meaning. Above all, keep at it and enjoy what you are doing.
Where are you planning to go next on your writing journey?
Paul: I am currently working on my second novel entitled Jonjon and Babybird.
Krista: Encouraged by my family and friends, I’m currently working on other short stories whilst dipping into some poetry again and I even have the background for a novel (based on a rather intriguing and unusual love letter found in a novel I bought in a second-hand bookshop). I hope that having been shortlisted for this prize will give me more confidence and make me trust in my skills and creativity, so I may even be brave enough to enter more competitions! A big thank you to everyone who voted for my story.
Deborah, our Managing Director would like to close the award for this year:
"Well that’s a wrap for 2020.What a fantastic set of deserving winners and winning very short stories. We have loved every stage of the process and can’t wait for what you all have store for the 2021 prize!
Many thanks to our wonderful judges for all they have done in selecting such a worthy shortlist and winners. Thanks to those of you who read the shortlist and shared your favourites. I’m sure Krista is delighted you did! And of course thank to everyone who shared their stories with us. It’s no mean feat creating a story in 600-1000 words; being able to create a mood and draw the reader in, in such a short space of time rather than have the luxury of a plot and lengthy word count to play with character development.
If you think you’ve got what it takes, get creating. Share this with your friends and family who are budding writers - published or not. The 2021 Prize is waiting for you – submissions open on September 1st. We look forward to seeing what you’re made of…"