- The Rose and the Violin – Wendy Greeff
- A Gentleman’s Game – Gary Kuyper
- A Christmas Wish – Jenny Young
Once again, it was an absolute pleasure to be part of these seven writers’ exploration of a grim period in our history. Thank you for inviting me to participate in this competition. I love following the writers down the garden paths of their imaginations and seeing what directions their stories will take. From their fertile imaginations emerged varied tales of courage and of woe, strength and weakness, with a strong emphasis on youth and on the roles of Lord Baden-Powell and Lady Sarah Wilson. War is by nature a dreadful time for any country but within its fearful arena these stories showed us the bravery of both young and old, the desire for a better world and need to be of service, while not ignoring the injustices engendered by prejudice and the loneliness and dreams of those isolated by their physical or mental handicaps.
Just as B-P might have told his men to make their bullets count, the writer of a short story needs to make his/her words count. It is a difficult medium – one has to create characters that the reader cares about and transport the reader to the environment in which the story unfolds while using words sparingly, but wisely. When it works, as our winning story does, it enchants the reader. Conversely, when it doesn’t, the reader is very conscious of long-winded sentences that may feel more like a vocabulary exercise than the telling of a story. Unless the writer can draw the reader into his/her imaginary world, it soon becomes clear that even an interesting, novel idea and clever turn of phrase do not necessarily a captivating story make! Usually, a subtle approach of gentle hints clothed in evocative and moving descriptions is more effective than simply stating the bare facts, even if the language used is particularly sophisticated.
Choosing winners in competitions like this, at least for me, is always difficult. There is obviously a certain amount of personal response involved in the decision-making and that causes periods of indecision and vacillation! This year, “The Rose and the Violin”, although a story that could have been set in any time and not necessarily specific to the siege, was the clear winner for me. Its story of the autistic boy, his musical talent and passionate, inappropriate love, was beautifully told and broke my heart. Second placed, “The Gentleman’s Game’, I chose for its wit and clever use of dialogue to convey both character and situation. Its conclusion is poignant and thought-provoking in light of just how little peace the world was to know in the coming century. Third placed, “A Christmas Wish”, through the use of journal entries takes us into the heart and dreams of a young, crippled boy whose deepest desire was to be of service in the war effort. Moving and well told, it is an inspiring story. “Love Thy Neighbour” is highly commended for its moving portrayal of a brief instant of fellowship and joy snatched in the midst of bitter conflict. It reminds us of youth and innocence stolen by war, but also of the potential to find common ground with our enemies, themes very relevant in our own times.
The overall standard of writing is good. The stories are moving, challenging and often inspiring. A few are marred by either poor grammar or a somewhat pedestrian description of historical events, but in general they are charming, providing enjoyable and varied interpretations of the brief.
The Rose and the Violin – Wendy Greeff
A beautifully written and very moving short story with a heart-breaking conclusion. I found myself thinking back often to Joseph in the days after reading the story – the mark of a well-told story. Your story is evocative and conveys, without preaching or overt sentimentality, the racial and social inequalities that continued to cast their shadows far into the future. The story is not stilted and captures both the isolation imposed by autism and the gifts it frequently bestows. Towards the end of the story the build-up of tension is subtle but extremely effective. A different approach to the brief, together with good writing and poignant imagery, made this story stand out.