Open Section - Prizes
|Samantha Wilson Acland Street Blues
|Alicia Sometimes We Are the Music Makers
|Gregory Ballinger Electronic Happiness & Aisling Smith Alliance
Junior Section - Prizes
|Thomas O'Grady Sam's Lucky Shell
|Eleni Chapman The Lady of St Kilda
|Aria Sifonios The Eildon Adventure
The judge's report
Our Judge, author Lee Kofman*, had this to say about the entries and the winning stories.
It was a pleasure and privilege to be the judge of the St Kilda Historical Society Short Story competition, and my pleasure was enhanced by the fact that all the entries engaged in some capacity with the remarkable suburb of St Kilda, which personally means a lot to me.
Twenty years ago, when I first arrived in Australia and came to visit Melbourne, St Kilda was the first place I saw and it made me fall in love with this city to such an extent that a month later I returned here for good. I still vividly remember that evening when I took in the grass outside of Luna Park smoky with fire jugglers, the sidewalks of Acland Street crammed with dreadlocked youths and the window displays of those famous cafes whose gaudy creamy pastries conjured up old Europe. And that was it. I fell head-over-heels with St Kilda, which for me has since always exemplified Melbourne’s essence, a city tucked at the end of the world yet utterly cosmopolitan.
There was no shortage of passion for St Kilda in the shortlisted stories I read – 10 in the junior section and 15 in the open one. Thanks to those writers I relived my first hit of St Kilda, and also saw it anew through the idiosyncratic prisms of each author as they made the so-familiar bars and restaurants, botanical gardens, the beach, the art deco architecture, the iconic sites of the National Theatre, Espy and Luna Park among much else so strange again, so wonder-inducing.
While in some stories St Kilda was the backdrop, others it inspired thematically. Unsurprisingly, the topics of art, love and homelessness, as well as the specific history of St Kilda, dominated the submissions. The overall quality of writing was high, higher than I normally see in writing competitions, but some stories stood out more than others. While the prose was fresh and polished across most entries, I was also looking for a strong narrative tension and for urgency (the latter is difficult to explain but easy to spot when you come across it). All the winning entries are strong on these accounts.
Junior Section awards
In the junior section, I was highly impressed by the writers’ flights of imagination. This is particularly evident in the work of the third prize winner, Aria Sifonios, whose The Eildon Adventure is a delightful tale of a faithful meeting between a girl and a magical dog which transports the protagonist into a 19th century St Kilda. The prose is crystal-clear and assured, the pace is enticingly racy and the story taught me some historical lessons in an entertaining (as opposed to didactic) fashion.
One thing I sometimes miss in Australian short fiction, which is otherwise healthy and thriving, is satire – the kind of humour that helps us see through so-called common wisdoms and all the other gaslighting and racket in our everyday. So, I am very pleased to award the second prize to Eleni Chapman for her hilarious story The Lady of St Kilda, which tells of one unfortunate bachelor who directs his affections in a misguided fashion. This also fast-moving story shows excellent control of craft, especially in its vivid dialogue. Moreover, Eleni never slides into caricaturising her protagonist, something easily done in satire. Instead she renders his inner world carefully and compassionately, with fine brushstrokes.
The winner of the first prize, Thomas O’Grady, struck me by his maturity. I would have never guessed that Sam’s Lucky Shell is a work of an underaged writer, because of the quality of its lyrical prose and the accomplished portrayal of the past. It is not easy to write historical fiction well, to make remote times and places vivid and authentic, yet Thomas does just that, shining his creative torch onto St Kilda during World War Two. His attention to detail is excellent, and his young protagonist’s aching longing for his father, who is fighting at the front, is a constant unnerving soundtrack that endows every ordinary action of the boy with poignancy and meaning.
Open Section Awards
In the adult section, too, I was thrilled to discover a lively satirical story, Electronic Happiness, by Gregory Ballinger who is the joint winner of the third prize. In this highly entertaining as well as insightful tale Gregory imagines a not-that-far as well as not-that-implausible future when our phones are able to control our emotions among all else. It is not an easy job to critique the state of our society saturated with virtual reality without sounding cranky or quaint, yet Gregory manages this fit with grace and inventiveness, striking just the right balance between illumination and entertainment.
The other winner of the third prize is Aisling Smith with her story Alliance, where she skillfully renders loneliness of one particular woman so palpable that as I read, I yearned to give a comforting hug to the protagonist. Which would have been a mistake, according to Aisling, who insightfully shows us how pity – even the most compassionate, generous pity – can actually amplify someone’s isolation; how what people really need is not a charitable gesture but a genuine interest in them. Impressively, Aisling delivers this psychological insight quietly, subtly, folded within an accomplished narrative.
‘ST Kilda is a song,’ thus begins the arresting tale We Are the Music Makers by Alicia Sometimes, which takes the second prize. And it continues, with assuredness and metaphorical precision, to chronicle the death of a love affair between two musicians, itself becoming a melody as it takes us through the turns and twists of this relationship and the streets of St Kilda where it unfolds. The story is a linguistic feast, brimming with gorgeous images and allusions, while never becoming overwhelmed by its own richness, never losing the lightness of movement. Its greatest strength is that its prose doesn’t describe experience but becomes it, just as St Kilda in this self-contained universe becomes a song.
I am actually not a music buff, but the winning story by Samantha Wilson, Acland Street Blues, is also a story of a relationship between two musicians – in this case friends and collaborators rather than lovers. Nevertheless, the intensity of their connection is almost erotic. Now, the stories I love best are the ones that are thematically complex, yet without losing their coherence. Such stories mirror the messiness of real life, while maintaining some degree of the artifice that fiction requires, and this is exactly what Samantha achieves. In her layered, concise and tightly packed narrative, she manages to explore creativity and artistic rivalry, substance abuse, St Kilda as a character in its own right, loss and grief, and I probably missed something. She unpacks these complex themes in a sparse, slangy language that authentically conveys both the milieu of ageing rockers she describes and the very particular story of her protagonist who ends up finding something precious precisely at the time when his losses pile up high…
I want to end by thanking the St Kilda Historical Society, especially Jennifer Bryce, for inviting me to judge this competition – a delightful experience. I also want to thank the shortlisting judges Jennifer Bryce, Helen McDonald, Margaret McCaffrey and Phillip Stewart for doing the hard work of sifting through the many submissions and making my job so much easier. And may St Kilda continue featuring as our muse and give rise to many more stories!
*Lee Kofman is the author and editor of seven books, including Imperfect (2019, Affirm Press), which was shortlisted for Nib Literary Award 2019, and Split (2019, Ventura Press), which was longlisted for ABIA Awards 2020. Her blog about writing was a finalist for Best Australian Blogs 2014. More at www.leekofman.com.au
The Short List - Open Section
|Title of Story
| Electronic Happiness
| A Month in St Kilda
|Alexandra de Fircks
|Four Nights in St Kilda
|Plein-Air in the Gardens
|Saturday Matinee at Astor
|Chapel Gate Junction
|We are the Music Makers
|Queen of Ice-Cream
|Acland Street Blues
The Short List - Junior Section
|Title of Story
|The Lady of St Kilda (1)
| Eleni Chapman
|The Lady of St Kilda (2)
|Adventures Through Time
|The Joker Ghost
|Sam's Lucky Shell
|The Eildon Adventure
The Competition Guidelines
You may write on any theme, in any genre and in any time period, providing that the story is inspired by or set in St Kilda. There are two categories - open and junior.
So, start writing and make sure your entry is in by 7 August, 2020.
Your story should be inspired by or set in St Kilda – it need not be historical.
Your entry should be a complete short fiction story (not in the form of a poem, script or memoir).
You may write on any theme, in any genre and in any time period, providing that the story is inspired by or set in St Kilda.
The competition is open to anybody except for the competition judge and readers, and committee members of the St Kilda Historical Society and their families.
Entrants need not be residents of St Kilda.
Stories entered must be entirely the work of the contestant and must not at any time have been published, self-published, broadcast, or published online on any website or public blog, or have won or been placed in any other competition.
Closing date: 11.59 pm Friday 7th August 2020. Entries will not be accepted after this time.
There is an open section and a junior section for contestants who are 15 years of age or younger.
Word count for the open section is 1,500 to 2,000 words.
Word count for the junior section is up to 1,500 words.
Prize winners will be notified by email and the results will be announced at the 2020 AGM of the St Kilda Historical Society.
The winner of the Open section will be awarded $1000.
The second placed entrant of the Open section will receive $500.
The third placed entrant of the Open section will receive $250.
The winner of the Junior section will be awarded $500.
The second placed entrant of the Junior section will receive $250.
The third placed entrant of the Junior section will receive $100.
The judge reserves the right not to award a prize in a category if they form the opinion that the entries submitted do not have sufficient merit to warrant the prize.
All stories will be read and considered in the first instance by a group of local authors who will compile a short list for each section for consideration by the judge. The judge is Lee Kofman, a local St Kilda author.
Judging will be fair and unbiased and made without reference to the entrant’s identity. The judge’s decision will be final and no debate or correspondence will be entered into. The judge will not comment on individual entries.
You can submit your story at any time but not later than by 11.59 pm Friday 7th August 2020.
All entries must be accompanied by a completed cover sheet. Download cover sheet here.
Entries not accompanied by a completed cover sheet will not be considered.
Entrants must not put their name or any other identifying information on their short story or within the file name.
Each entrant may submit only one story. In the case of more than one story being sent, only the first entry received will be considered.
There are no entry fees.
Work must be presented professionally, formatted according to the following rules and spell-checked.
Entries must be in English, typed in a Word 2007 document or later version (.docx file), A4 format.
Entries must be in 12-point font, double-line spaced, each page numbered and include a word count at the top of the first page.
The title of the story must appear in the header at the top of each page.
Remember, the entrant’s name, address, or other identifying information must not appear on the story document.
No changes to an entry may be made after submission.
Entries will not be returned, so please keep a copy of your work. An email confirmation will be sent to the address from which the submission was made. No other correspondence will be entered into.
Entering this competition grants to St Kilda Historical Society the right to place an entrant’s story on the St Kilda Historical Society website and, if appropriate, to publish the story in a St Kilda Historical Society publication. Worldwide copyright in each entry will remain with the author.