Bronze Quill Judge's Report
Judging Report, Society of Women Writers W.A. Bronze Quill Award 2019
Judge: Terri-ann White
It was a pleasure to read the entries to this year’s Bronze Quill Award. There were many shared themes and studies within this year’s yield. Some of those concerns and interests are ever-present and eternal: conflict, love, families, getting older, regrets. We can probably all relate to one or more of these throughout our adult lives.
The rationale for me when reading these stories is not so much how relatable they are but how well they express whatever the story is involved with—how it can take me as reader out of my own recognitions and present me with a descriptive account and demonstration of how stories work, which is the definition of drama, I suppose. How people behave and recover or flourish when (bad and good) things happen, to change what was there before. So much of drama, of writing fiction, is about change: as the wonderful short story writer Grace Paley put it as the title of one of her collections about human love and tragedy: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.
I am always looking for writing that changes my mind, not with a persuasive argument but through using language in a way that makes me think differently about the writing in front of me or—grandly—about the world we occupy. Sounds grand but I think most passionate readers have had at least one of those moments. That is one of the great features and qualities of art: the thinking of the world anew through the consciousness of another and via the facility of language. Language is a tool we use every day for everyday purposes—and then it comes out of the box and allows us to see things anew, often surprisingly.
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I awarded first prize to:
Judas At Their Table (Elizabeth Pappas)
I awarded Runner-up to:
Antique Roses (Stella Hewson)
The Highly Commended Award was given to two stories:
Gold (Stella Hewson)
Looking Back (Stella Hewson)
And two stories were marked for the Commended Award:
The Man Who Wanted to Disappear (Astra Warrern)
The Fat Piggy (Elizabeth Pappas)
Judas At Their Table is a startling story of a death, and of superstition and the myths we live by. It has an entry point into Greek Orthodox rituals and is told from the perspective of a narrator who could be a visitor to the village in Corfu or an adolescent in the same village just beginning to learn about ritual. I love that ambiguity because it focuses us on the events themselves: the arrival in a storm of an owl, the death of a grandmother. The prose is spare as well as being poetic. There is a great act of unwitting violence at the gravesite that is the climax of this wonderful story—very short in wordcount but rich in content and its artistry.
I selected Antique Roses as runner-up for its sheer delight as a story of two people who marry late in life, George and Ivy, and the impact they had on Ellie in her years of growing up. It’s a bit like a ‘what we lost’ story, a regret for what sustained people in an earlier time. It also sketches out a small history of tea: growing, making and drinking, and how it has been supplanted by another method less attentive to quality and flavour.
The other four stories in the Highly Commended and Commended awards all appeal to me because they take the reader—they took me—into a critical moment of difficulty: all about mortality, family rituals, or the delicacy of life, and then the writers, with care and lovely storytelling, swivel around that moment and present the emotional dilemmas involved with great integrity. They have all created and maintained a voice that we can believe in and admire, and, to circle back to my ideas at the start of this report, in some respects that we can relate to.
Opportunities such as I’ve had in reading these works provide a great privilege to get a taste of what women are writing about, to test the pulse of the now in the literary form I love the most, the short story. I enjoyed reading all of these stories but, of course, I had to make some hard decisions. My advice to all of you is to keep reading other people’s writing for both the pleasure it gives and the stimulations available about how you may choose to structure and tell stories. And stay alert to how the particular becomes universal: never doubt the value of your own stories.
Thank you. Terri-ann White