With only a few weeks remaining for our Short Story Prize for this year, we thought we would catch up with our judges to ask them what they thought makes a good short story, and what they were looking for in the submissions. Read below for what their thoughts!
About our judges:
Samuel Fisher‘s debut novel, The Chameleon, was published by Salt in 2018. He runs a bookshop in East London called Burley Fisher Books, and is a director of Peninsula Press.
Layla Benitez-James is a writer, translator and artist living and working in Spain, where she serves as Director of Literary Outreach for the Unamuno Author Series in Madrid. Layla also serves as Podcast Editor for Asymptote Journal, and her poems and translations have appeared in The Acentos Review, Anomaly, Guernica, Waxwing, Revista Kokoro, La Galla Ciencia, and elsewhere. Her audio essays about translation can be found at Asymptote Journal Podcast. Her first chapbook, God Suspected My Heart Was a Geode But He Had to Make Sure was selected by Major Jackson for the 2017 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize and published by Jai-Alai Books in Miami, April 2018.
Harry Mount is the Editor of The Oldie. He is author of Amo, Amas, Amat and All That, as well as Odyssey – Ancient Greece in Odysseus’s Footsteps.
What do you think makes a great short story?
Sam: A writer that picks the right details. Because of the constraints of the form, details have more metonymic heft than in longer form fiction — they have to do more. The best short stories have an uncanny focus on picking the aspect of a scene (the quality of light, the way a laugh resounds), which cut to the heart of what the scene is trying to convey.
Layla: Well crafted characters, characters that feel real from the very beginning and make me forget that I´m reading fiction. Ryan Harty’s Why the Sky Turns Red When the Sun Goes Down comes to mind as a great short story that pulled me into the life of a couple instantly with just a few lines of good dialogue.
Harry: A proper story with a beginning, middle and end, with a proper feeling of drama and suspense.
What is one thing you’re looking for when reading the competition entries?
Sam: That the story sets the terms for its success, and then meets them.
Layla: A surprising voice or some focus on a slice of life I don´t know well. I´m interested in stories that push against the boundaries of genre and make me reconsider what fiction can do.
Harry: Brilliant writing.
What inspires your writing?
Sam: At the moment, rage and despair at the mounting inequality and illiberism here and around the world (pretty cheery, I know).
Layla: Travelling, snippets of overheard conversations. I am very inspired by the natural world: geology…foxes…hyenas lately. Spanish has been creeping into my writing more and more and I am definitely interested in multilingual texts and writers who are blending in more creative linguistic play into their work.
Harry: Think of the poor bloody reader! Be interesting, funny or sad.
What are your top tips for anyone considering entering the competition?
Sam: Share your writing with a reader you trust before sending it on, it’s always helpful to have a critical eye. Read your work aloud.
Layla: Send in something you love to read aloud to yourself, something that makes you happy to have written. Strange to write this as a judge, but don’t think about who will be reading, write something that you have never yet seen in the world and make it your own.
Harry: Read the short stories of F Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh’s shortest novels.
For more information and to enter The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2018, go here.
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