Judging short story competitions is both a privilege and a responsibility. Over the past twenty years or so, I’ve entered a few competitions, but I’ve judged rather more. This year alone, I’ve been asked to adjudicate in four competitions. Three are organised by writers’ group, but one was a bit different. It was organised by Helen Rowlands, a member of the staff of the Health & Safety Executive in Bootle, and it was for a very worthy cause, more of which below.
The key point to remember when judging stories is, I think, that ultimately one is making a purely subjective judgment. Determining which story is “the best” is always going to involve a personal assessment, and one’s own preferences come into play. It follows from this that, if someone enters a competition and fails to win, it does not mean their story isn’t any good.
I once entered a ‘first chapter’ competition with a submission called “Midnight’. It was judged by a very capable professional novelist, and didn’t win. But eventually – in much altered form – it became the first chapter of my first published novel, which recently resurfaced as a “Crime Classic” thanks to Arcturus. So winning a competition isn’t the be-all and end-all. A key merit of competitions is that they can motivate people to write – a worthy objective in itself. There is a limit to the number of competitions one can judge (because of the time reading all the entries, and thinking about them takes) but , if time permits, I think it’s a task worth doing when the opportunity arises.
The Eye Fund, by the way, is a charity founded by Helen’s family, following the death of her brother, who suffered very serious sight problems. The Fund aims to provide much needed counselling and aid to those who are losing their sight due to degenerative diseases, such as retinal cone dystrophy, cataracts, age-related degeneration and other eye conditions. A famous family member has given the Fund a good deal of help – and he is none other than Sir Paul McCartney.