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Prose Judge: Debbie Young

Debbie has lived and worked in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds for thirty years, and after a career in journalism, public relations, and charity administration now writes full-time from a small wooden hut in her secluded garden. She is the author of two series of cosy mystery novels, a series of comedy novelettes, three collections of short stories, and several how-to books for authors. The first in her Staffroom at St Bride’s School series, Secrets at St Bride’s, was shortlisted for The Selfies Awards 2020 for the best independently-published fiction in the UK. She is also a freelance journalist and is currently writing a series for Mslexia, the magzine for women who write. A frequent speaker and performer at literary festivals and writing events nationwide, Debbie also founded and directs the annual Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival in her home village. She also enjoys judging writing competitions, and in 2021 is also judging the Scottish Association of Writers’ Barbara Hammond Award and co-judging the autumn Stroud Short Stories event.

What I’m looking for
Firstly, don’t try to second-guess what the winning story might look like. Competition results are usually the upshot of just a small group of people’s opinions, and in this case of just one individual’s. In every competition I’ve ever adjudicated, from Stroud Short Stories to the Scottish Association of Writers, there have been entries that might have won under a different judge. If you don’t win, it doesn’t mean your story wasn’t fabulous.

Just give it your best shot and make your story the best it can be before you submit it. Don’t worry if you can’t spell very well or don’t know an Oxford comma from a semi-colon. You can still be a great writer. But if you’re not confident you’ll get such technicalities right, do yourself justice by running it past a competent proof-reader to eliminate distracting, avoidable gaffes.

What am I looking for in your story?

Complete plot: a change of some kind from start to finish – not just a description. However, ambivalent endings are fine if they’re clearly intentional rather than inadvertent.
Compelling theme: take any angle you like on signposts, but try to avoid the obvious, in case others do the same.
Carefully chosen language: avoid cliché like the plague (ho ho). You don’t need it – your own words will be stronger and richer. Be original, but not so outlandish that conspicuous phrases arrest the flow of the story. Be unafraid to murder such attention-seeking darlings.
Consistent mood and tone: the choice is yours, but whatever you choose, sustain it.
A pleasing completeness: don’t leave questions unanswered, but share things on a need-to-know basis, ie that are essential to the story.
The unexpected: surprise me! Don’t be predictable.
Lasting impact: leave me thinking about your story long after I’ve finished reading it, savouring the satisfaction of a tale well told, in a way that is very much yours.
Good luck! I’m very much looking forward to reading your work.

Debbie Young
4 March 2021

Poetry Judge: Carrie Etter

American expatriate Carrie Etter has published four collections of poetry, most recently Imagined Sons (Seren, 2014), shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award, and The Weather in Normal (UK: Seren; US: Station Hill, 2018). Individual poems have appeared in The New Republic, The New Statesman, The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem, Poetry Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other journals. She also publishes short fiction, essays, and reviews. She is Reader in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.

What I’m looking for
Poets might take the theme of signposts literally or figuratively, address it explicitly or implicitly. Keep in mind that even literal signposts, such as those on a walk in the English countryside, are often not trail markers but features of the landscape–a kissing gate, a fork in the path. I want to be impressed by your originality and skill, your ambition and verve.
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