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At Online Writing Tips, we’ve been privileged to read thousands of your short stories in the process of awarding the annual OWT Short-Fiction Prize for the past four years. We regret, however, that we’ll be taking a break in 2020 with the prize returning in 2021. The prize is run by D.D. Johnston – with help from friends – and he and his partner are thrilled to be expecting their first child this summer. Given the pressures already associated with the covid-19 pandemic, he doesn’t feel he can commit to reading hundreds of stories this year. Rest assured, however, that the prize will return for 2021.
Please stay safe, keep your spirits up, and look out for details of the 2021 Online Writing Tips Short-Fiction Prize.
When I got to my hotel room I found I had the wrong rollaway suitcase. As I opened it, a light floral aroma transported me to my mother’s spring tea parties in Westport, with the lilacs trumpeting their triumph over winter while the lilies of the valley nodded more modestly around the borders of the newly cut lawn. Once, home from college, I had seen a young woman there, just turning towards the house as I came out with a tray of petits fours. My attention was caught by the amusement in her brown eyes at our shared plight, trapped amongst the ladies, and by her long dark hair—so different from their matronly coifs.
We never saw each other again. I had dishes to wash in the kitchen, she left early, and the aunt she was visiting moved away soon afterward. But in the dreams I have about her, I always smell spring flowers and fresh-cut grass.
Valentine’s Day was always busy at Piece of My Heart. The couple waited in the doorway for over a minute before I had a chance to dash over and greet them. The woman was staring up at the chandelier, wide-eyed, when I approached. The man returned my smile.
“Do you have a booking?” I asked.
“Jackson,” the man replied. “I called last week.”
They were an odd couple. She was so thin she looked like she might break in half. Her big blue eyes darted as if looking for danger. He stared at the ground as I led them to their table, watching his footing on the thick carpet. I slowed down to accommodate his limp.
I reached for the woman’s coat, but she recoiled. As Jackson helped her out of it, I noted the three stumps on his left hand. He handed me the fur, thanking me as I stepped forward to take it. I draped it over my weaker left arm, which immediately started to ache.
Katie was not much for similes but she once said to Darin that a man is like an appendix. They were in the shower when she said this, and she was holding him in her warm hand, or maybe it was just the shower that was warm. Darin doesn’t remember what he said back, and maybe because he can’t remember the next line the scene can’t move forward and so it replays in his mind over and over: the shower, the simile, and Katie’s laughter right after she said it. Darin remembers this scene around Kemptville and thinks of it all the way to Ottawa, where he pulls into the truck stop at about one in the morning and feels the nervousness (which is like anxiety, but not anxiety, because Darin doesn’t like that word) reach a level seven out of ten.
Today, we’re pleased to announce that four people will receive prizes, but sorry that almost 600 others have been disappointed along the way. We’ve ried to make our decisions as fairly and diligently as possible, but disappointing news isn’t nice to receive or deliver. We take comfort in knowing that with so many brilliant entries, the authors who didn’t get the breaks in our competition this year will no doubt have success placing their stories in other markets.
But, now, here’s the happy bit… this year’s judges – Senja Andrejevic-Bullock, Phil Bowne, and D.D. Johnston – have made their decisions.
It’s worth explaining the way we do the final round of judging: each judge independently ranks the anonymised short-listed entries from one to twelve, with one being their favourite; then we add the scores together and the lowest total wins. This means there’s a possibility of a tie, and for the first time this has happened: we had a tie for third place, and so we’ve decided to split that prize.
So, on this occasion, our four winners are:
Joint 3rd place (£12.50 each): Beatrice Hughes and Lorna Wood
2nd place (£50): Mina Ivosev
1st place (£100): Hannah Whiteoak
Congratulations to all of the above; they will receive their prize money this week. In a close contest, Hannah Whiteoak clinched first place with her short story “Piece of My Heart,” a daring speculative piece that finds an original way to speak about love and relationships. It made me think of Lacan’s famous formulation of love as “giving something you don’t have to someone who doesn’t want it” – you’ll have to read the story to see what I mean! It’s an exciting winner for the judges to have chosen because in previous years the winning stories have been broadly realist and have often relied for their excellence on technical accomplishment more than concept. “Piece of My Heart” is a real humdinger and we’re thrilled to be publishing it on this site in the coming days.
Thank you again to everyone who entered – judging hasn’t been easy, but it has been a treat.