SAWC Historical Fiction Competition, April 2018
Judge’s Report: Titanic – the Untold Story
Thank you for the opportunity of participating in the judging of this competition. It is always a joy to read original stories and share in writers’ flights of fancy.
In this batch of short historical fiction stories based around the sinking of the Titanic, we were treated to a wide variety of ideas, ranging from the traditional story of the loss of loved ones and an associated trinket that is passed down, to time travelling assassins wanting to make sure certain people who had survived did not manage to because of the effect they would have on the future. In many cases, the authors had approached this ‘widely written about’ period, with originality and a deft emotional touch. Most of the stories contained some reference to issues important to our time such as the beginnings of climate change, the trade in exotic species, and class and racial inequality. In general, these themes were subtly handled, and most of the stories also examined themes of love, both romantic and parental, and heart-breaking loss with great emotion.
I would urge all writers to remember that the pesky issues of grammar and punctuation are not there simply for the grim pleasure of the grammar police. In much of the writing, the comma, especially in dialogue, was obviously missing. Punctuation and grammar are important elements of storytelling and without them, meaning can be lost, and stories often feel detrimentally chaotic. Too often very basic grammatical errors like misrelated participles and confusion of words like ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ were made, which spoilt the storytelling. Writers should avoid giving the impression that they have rushed through the writing process without giving due consideration to the way in which they write and the structure of the language they use as their tool to convey the outpourings of their wonderful imaginations.
In my opinion, the first choice easily stood out because of its sense of life and the haunting portrayal of human hopes and fears. It simply stayed with me for days and the writer made excellent dramatic use of split scenes and the eagerly awaited telegraphs bringing news. The Irish pub and interior of the Titanic came alive and the sense of pride and duty were deftly handled right to the poignant and heart-breaking conclusion. I thus felt TITANIC: THE UNTOLD STORY by Karan Sunthpaul was a worthy winner.
Deciding on the second and third place stories was much more difficult. In a competition like this in which the given event has been written about (and films made) from so many angles, originality and a fresh perspective are important to avoid reader fatigue. For this reason, I eventually decided that second place belonged to EVEREST’S TITANIC by Angelique Pacheco because it tells the story from the novel perspective of the clash between Nature (mountains/icebergs) and Technology (ships). Her description of the capricious and innocent Titanic was delightful, and she ultimately led us, together with the iceberg, to the realisation that Technology is not the villain, instead it is human greed. I found it interesting and charming.
Third place goes to THE MIRACLE by Jenny Young for its vivid emotive telling of a mother’s anguish as she desperately searches for her infant. It is a well-written tribute to maternal love despite the “smash and grab” ending and conveys the qualities of faith and hope in conflict with anguish and despair in a very accessible way.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading these eight short stories and was impressed by the breadth of vision and variety of perspectives displayed by the writers. The short story is a difficult medium to master and I felt that, in general, the enjoyment and passions of the writers were admirably demonstrated.