I’ve had a couple of stories accepted by the lovely people at The Fiction Desk, indie publishers of short stories. TFD puts out several anthologies of new fiction every year, and also runs a Ghost Story Competition (closing soon, so if you’re interested, get moving!)
The writers featured in each anthology vote for their favourite story in the collection, and the winner receives the Writer’s Award and an £100 prize. In 2014 I was lucky enough to win the award for my story The Stamp Works, which featured in the anthology There Was Once A Place, and this year I was kindly asked to judge a tie-break between two stories in the collection Long Grey Beard and Glittering Eye.
It’s a cliche to say that it was a hard decision. But man, it was a hard decision. Both of the stories were well-written, pacy and original. I’m not a better writer than either of the authors, and it felt a bit odd to decide between them. The reason I was asked to make the final choice, though, was not because I’m any authority (I’m really, really not) but because a sense of place was central to both stories.
Place is something that features strongly in my own writing, with buildings almost becoming characters in their own right. I’m not sure whether this is because I’ve worked as a buildings archaeologist and a cathedral stonemason, or whether my job choices have reflected an underlying fascination with places: either way, it’s a part of me. It was that fascination with the built environment which led TFD to choose me to deliver the final verdict.
The story which I chose, eventually, was The Cobble Boys by Adam Blampied: a story based in Derry, about how the choice between violence and non-violence is often not a choice at all, but a question of whose terms the violence will be on. There’s the odd wonderfully comic line, little spots of light in the claustrophobic surrounds of the story (‘They’ve got about two faces and one haircut between them’), which belie the fact that the author also writes comedy. I’d love to see it.
The runner-up was Before There Were Houses, This Was All Fields, by Mark Newman, which concerns the disappearance of a young girl during the construction of a new housing estate. It’s atmospheric, gripping and packed with multi-layered symbolism.
Congratulations, then to Adam Blampied, and many thanks to The Fiction Desk for putting my name in front of their readers again. If you’ve got a spare minute and you’re not already a subscriber, do get hold of one of their anthologies (there’s a bit of self-interest going on here as I’ll be featuring in their next collection with a new ghost story, Poor Billy).