Category Archives: Fiction

Ron Jones, Two short stories

Ron Jones has two stories in the April-June 2015 Sentinel Literary Quarterly; Bunjee and The Procession – first prize winning and commended stories respectively in the SLQ Short Story Competition (February 2015) Read the stories here

Peter Burns, In the Rear-View

 

Read ‘In the Rear-View’ a short story by Peter Burns.

 

 

Judge’s Report & Results, Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition (June 2013)

 

by Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

BHDThe first few stories I read, of the nearly one hundred that had been submitted to the competition, were not prizewinners. That was the luck of the draw. Of the following ninety, far too many were far too good to make a judge’s life comfortable.

            I discussed my criteria with a friend. How will you go about it? He asked. I answered that I’d pick the ones that had the greatest impact on me. He would have taken, he said, what he called the ‘bureaucratic’ route, by which he meant having half-a-dozen elements against which he would judge each story.

            I could see the logic in that. A story that ticked all the boxes would be the winning story: obvious. Most of the stories submitted to this competition would have ticked most of the boxes I would have devised: location, character, narrative voice, storyline, ambience, but I suspect I would have ended up with a ‘Ministry of Works’ (an archaic term that I hope still communicates its meaning!) story, ‘a horse designed by a committee.’  It would have been competent, reliable, worthy, politically correct, safe, and not too pungent. All the elements would have been in balance: nothing would have strained to pull the story in any particular direction. In short, it would have been without identity. 

            I don’t react to stories in that way, and I hope that you don’t either. Very many of these stories pleased me. Some made me laugh, one or two made me wince. A few seemed  more like reports of stories than actual stories. Several were marred by slips of the pen, or of the mind; some had poor punctuation that made them difficult to understand. Some gave me the impression that their narrators did not know why they were telling them, nor to whom. One or two seemed like authorial wishful thinking.

            Most were imaginative, exciting, told with passion and commitment. The worlds they envisioned were credible, compelling, often very like ours; sometimes quite different. The stories believed in themselves and, for a while, could be believed in. Reading through them all made me realise just how healthy the short story form, in English, is at the moment. But I had to pick out a mere six, for prizes, and High Commendation.

            Though not tick-boxes, I do have two fundamental questions that I believe must be asked of stories. The first is ‘what is it about?’ This is the question we are almost certain to ask, or think of asking, when somebody tells us they have read something. The second is ‘what is it like?’ This is a question that writers are more likely to ask, because we want to know how it has been done. They are the questions that point to content, and to form. All art tries to balance those two, and it is the tension between them that gives potency to the work.

            I’ve won prizes and commendations in the past, and I’ve also sunk without trace. In both circumstances I’ve reminded myself that it’s one person’s (or perhaps a small panel’s) opinion that has been swayed, for good or ill. It’s worth remembering that the success in writing is in the writing, it is only ‘recognition’ that anyone else can bring to you – and that is limited by their abilities as a reader as much as by yours as a writer!

            The winning story haunted me. From the moment I read it, it remained in the back of my mind. I knew it was a contender immediately, and none of the subsequent stories shifted it from my consciousness. From the title onwards it worked towards its ending. I like powerful endings: Ambrose Bierce, sending us forward into a disaster that we cannot help but foresee in the last two words of The Coup de Grace; Ernest Hemingway, sending us back into the story with fresh understanding after the shattering revelation in the last sentence of A Canary For One. Yet here, I choose a story that has what we might call an open ending. The Weight of Dunlins is a story that is most definitely over though. The narrator has finished telling it, leaving us to wonder: how long ago did it happen? Is he still on the island? Might he meet her again? And think about the qualities of those two ‘wows’ they have exchanged: metaphors for the relationship between them.

            The atmosphere of place, of people located in place and in time, is powerful. The relationship between the protagonists is uneven, and nuanced. That oblique title sets us off on a quest that the explanation of ‘machair’ only deepens, into a story that is at the same time both simple and ‘grounded’, yet also highly imaginative and ethereal.

            My Second prize story is in a totally different genre: The Cranes soon loses its contact with objective reality, before even a foot has been placed on the first rung. Yet, as the protagonist climbs higher the glimpses of reality that he gets become sharper and more powerful as he distances himself from them. The final scenes, the final words, are terrifyingly real.

            Third prize goes to Mah Sister, which I loved for the hutzpah of its language as much as for the neat twist in its tail. As this story progresses, a deft and light narrative thread gives way to a well-handled dialogue. If you havnae heard a Scottish accent before, get your ear in on the internet, and this story will sing to you! And if, like me, you laugh out loud, remember that it is your own assumptions (prejudices we might call them) that lead you to the comic surprise!

            My three Highly Commendeds are Ganesh, The Cosmological Constant, & The 5A to Hangleton.

            Ganesh is a simple story of human contact and communication in a moment of distress. The meeting, across class and culture, is credible and moving.

            The Cosmological Constant shows us the wonderful, obsessive focus of the ‘corporate’ mind on the task in hand, oblivious of the chaos going on around.

            The 5A to Hangleton takes us on a surreal journey, that seems entirely plausible, to the point of normality; but there is triangle of very real people behind it.

           

 

Results (June 2013)

 

Highly Commended, in no particular order:

 

Joy Clews – Ganesh

Rob Hawke – The 5A to Hangleton

Jason Hopps – The Cosmological Constant

 

Third Prize:

James McKenzie – Mah Sister

 

Second Prize:

Rhuar Dean – The Cranes

 

First Prize:  

Colin Watts – The Weight of Dunlins

 

Congratulations to the winners and highly commended authors. These stories will be published in Sentinel Literary Quarterly magazine on 31st January, 2014. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize winners automatically appear in print. The highly commended stories may also appear in print, subject to space, otherwise they will be published in the online and eBook versions of the magazine. If you are a winner or commended author and have any questions regarding the publication of your work, send enquiries to editor@sentinelquarterly.com

 


SLQ Competitions

 

SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY POETRY COMPETITION

For original, previously unpublished poems in English language on any subject, in any style up to 50 lines long.

Closing Date: 30th September, 2013

Judge: Todd Swift

Prizes: £150 (1st), £75 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £10 x 3 (High Commendation)

Fees: £4/1, £7/2, £9/3, £11/4, £12/5, £16/7, £22/10

Enter online or by post here


SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY SHORT STORY COMPETITION

For original, previously unpublished short stories in English language on any subject, in any style up to 1500 words long.

Closing Date: 30th September, 2013

Judge: Alex Keegan

Prizes: £150 (1st), £75 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £10 x 3 (High Commendation)

Fees: £5/1, £8/2, £10/3, £12/4

Enter online or by post here

Poetry & Short Story Competitions (June 2013) – Sentinel Literary Quarterly

The June 2013 poetry and short story competitions judged by Claire Askew and Brindley Hallam Dennis respectively will close on the 30th of June.

 

Details: These competitions are for original, previously unpublished poems up to 50 lines long and short stories up to 1,500 words long. Stories and poems may be on any subjects and in any style. Authors of all nationalities living in any part of the world are eligible to enter. The Sentinel Literary Quarterly competitions have been run successfully every 3 months since July 2009 (Poetry) and January 2010 (Short Stories).

 

Prize money in each category: £150 (first), £75 (2nd), £50 (3rd) and £10 x 3 (high commendation). The winning and commended poems and stories also receive first publication in Sentinel Literary Quarterly which appears in print, eBook and online. (See current issue at www.sentinelquarterly.com)

 

Entry Fees (Poetry): 4/1 poem, £7/2 poems, £9/3 poems, £11/4 poems, £12/5 poems, £16/7 poems, £22/10 poems.

 

Entry Fees (Short Stories): £5/1 story, £8/2 stories, £10/3 stories, £12/4 stories.

 

How to enter: You may enter online or by post. Enter online, save time and save on postage costs. Pay securely by PayPal and submit your work by e-mail, or print off entry forms at these locations:

 

Poetry: http://sentinelquarterly.com/competitions/poetry/

Short Stories: http://sentinelquarterly.com/competitions/short-stories/

 

Full details of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly writing competitions can be found at www.sentinelquarterly.com/competitions

If you have any questions regarding any aspect of our competitions please by all means ask Sandra Felix, the Competitions Secretary by writing to competitions@sentinelpoetry.org.uk

 

SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY SHORT STORY COMPETITION (DECEMBER 2012) – JUDGE’S REPORT

There are many ways of writing a short story, but whatever its form, ideally there should be a journey and a change for your chosen protagonist.  Good writing is a given, but I like a story to have Character, Plot, Conflict and Conclusion and not be just a mood piece or an incident.  There are, of course, many excellent short stories that don’t include all these elements, but personally, I look for an opening that grabs me from the start, characters I can empathise with and a storyline that carries me through to a satisfying conclusion. I also like an unusual subject that can take me into a different world and show me something new.  There’s nothing wrong with stories about families and broken relationships, but competitions get a lot of them and a story that’s a bit different can go a long way.

 

I enjoyed reading these stories very much and deciding on winners wasn’t easy.  When judging previous competitions, I have been able to set some aside immediately as being of very poor quality, but I was pleased to find that these stories were thoughtfully-written, literate and obviously cared-for.  I hesitate to mention that they were also of a high standard of grammar and spelling, but rightly or wrongly, bad presentation can put a judge off.

 

However, there were a few errors that could have been avoided with careful vetting – it’s always good to get someone else to read it first.

 

First of all, the mood pieces.  Beautifully written, in many cases, but without incident, characterisation, conflict or conclusion.  I would get to the end and think, ‘What has this writer told me?’ Perhaps a turn in the events or a conflict would have provided the force to drive it along.

 

Next, there were the ones that wouldn’t get off the ground and spent the first page on exposition and flashback, instead of getting on with the story.  You only have a limited number of words, so use them wisely.  Short stories happen in the here and now.  Life histories are for the novel.

 

Far too many had no dialogue.  Even some of the winners didn’t.  For me, dialogue is essential.  A short story is a little drama and characters should speak to each other.  Dialogue can do so much to convey the nature of characters and the interaction between them, and speech enlivens the page.

 

Finally, although I didn’t penalise for this, I would like to have seen more writers indenting their paragraphs.  White space is important for the look of a page and denseness gives a stodgy appearance to what might otherwise be an excellent story.

 

The pieces I eventually chose were relatively ‘simple’.  They were well-written, they didn’t obfuscate with over-flowery language, they told the story, and in a couple of cases they raised a little smile.

 

All three main prize winners had strong characters, conflict and conclusion.

 

First prize went to ‘The Butcher’, a great piece of Grand Guignol, slightly reminiscent of ‘Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe’.  The writer got straight into the story and held my attention throughout with terse and characterful language right to the grisly, yet satisfying, conclusion.

 

Second prize:  The writer of the very entertaining ‘The War of the Apricots’ chose an original subject, and followed it through with gusto.  I slightly lost sympathy for a man who, even if he was under extreme pressure, could batter squirrels, but it was strongly written with a pleasingly ironic end.

 

Third prize: ‘The Last Revolution’, a tense post-apocalypse story of betrayal.  This was a very visual, cinematic story which got straight into the situation, leaving explanations till later.

 

Highly commended. 

 

For the final three, I chose ‘The Trapper’ for its interesting subject, very real sense of being there, and an ending that took me by surprise, ‘Iceman’ for its arresting opening and sense of other-ness, and ‘A Funeral’ for its delicate surgery on a relationship and oblique finale.

 

All the writers are to be congratulated on a very high standard of work.

 

       Clare Girvan

 

SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY SHORT STORY COMPETITION (DECEMBER 2012) RESULTS

 

1st Prize – The Butcher by Daniel Knibb

2nd Prize – The War of the Apricots by Marie Gethins

3rd Prize – The Last Revolution by Daniel Knibb

 

Highly Commended –

 

The Trapper by James Collett

Iceman by Paul Saville

A Funeral by Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

Sanya Osha reviews A Review of Basil Diki’s Two Hangmen, One Scaffold Book 1, Baiting the Hangman by Basil Diki

 

An Underground Country

 

Zimbabwe, since its independence in 1980, has produced an interesting crop of prose stylists. Dambudzo Marechera, Yvonne Vera and Tsitsi Dangarembga are all known as trail-blazers. Lately, Brian Chikwava, Petina Gappa and Noviolet Bulawayo have emerged to carry on the illustrious tradition. All the names just mentioned have had considerable international impact. However, there is much more to be said about contemporary Zimbabwean literature than we are presently led to believe.

 

Basil Diki is another engaging and energetic novelist and playwright that should be added to the interesting list of Zimbabwean literary artists. His novel, Two Hangmen, One Scaffold Book 1 (2012), centres on the lives of Binga Jochoma alias Akar Muja, his wife Matipa and their son, Peza. Akar works in a mine enduring a punishing work schedule that brings very little by way of monetary returns. We get to know he is a far more conflicted personality than he presents to his wife and family. He lives with his customary law wife, Matipa while he has a common law wife, Nomathemba, living in another city. Finally, he has an undergraduate girlfriend, Gillian to complete a complicated emotional picture. By some sort of schizophrenic twist he is able to keep the separate strands of muddled emotional existence apart. He convinces himself he needs Gillian to serve as an antidote for his creeping sexual impotence. His main dream in life is make enough money to keep his women in different metropolitan centres of world namely, Oslo, New York and Johannesburg so as to be as far as possible from each other’s throats. Clearly, his job as a menial mine worker cannot aid the realisation of his dream and so he has to resort to a Malawian sorcerer to assist him in his quest for unparalleled financial wealth.

 

Akar plans on stealing Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from its fortress in Europe which he hopes to sell. Indeed Akar is a mess of contradictions: down-trodden mine worker, ex-soldier, a fervent adherent of juju practices,  a lover of literature and the fine things of life who plans to come by wealth through art for good measure. But alas, there are even more head-spinners. He is sexist though he somehow never beats on his wife. However, there is a secret his wives and family do not know. Akar is a cold-blooded murderer who haunts derelict mines in order to dispossess illegal miners of gold and money. He disappears for many days on end prowling through underground tunnels in a bid to supplement his meagre income. If he doesn’t, it would be impossible to buy Christmas gifts for his loved ones and earn their respect. One of his disappearances earns him the sack from his bosses and which is when his hobby becomes his main source of income.

 

Diki unveils a multitude of graphic images on the Hobbesian world of illegal mining that make the world illustrated by Emile Zola appear rather humane. The realities of illegal mining in Zimbabwe are peopled by desperate souls, ghouls with broken dreams and ruthless killers. Accidental falls down shafts and man-made pools that rip off flesh, hair and bone are a common occurrence. Poisonous snakes lurk in crevices and machete-wielding killers lie in wait for victims in all manner of places both within and outside the mines. Indeed the concealed turf of illegal mining is more gruesome than one would expect:

 

There were many ways to die in the tunnels. Gangs roamed underground and robbed the illegal miners of rich and ore and gold. When thugs floored a victim with fists and machetes, pinioned him to the ground and pressed a knife against his Adam’s apple, he invariably yielded all the gold or ore on him. Venomous snakes in the tunnels killed those who stepped on them (p.103).

 

Diki’s Zimbabwe is many leagues away from Marechera’s and his contemporaries. The seizures of white-owned farms, a national economy experiencing rapid implosions coupled with foreign economic sanctions have severely devalued human life in the country. The Marxian axiom that religion is the opium of the masses is granted especial force. Matipa lives under the perpetual guidance of Prophet Jatropha and personal religious dreams, nightmares and visions. For her and so many others who belong to her sect, when all else fails it is only natural to turn to the phantasmagoria of charismatic Christianity. Unfortunately, she does not often recognise when her rigid faith threatens her marriage. Her husband’s life lurches jerkily under the compulsion of a sordid and absurd mix of animism and vaunting machismo. There seems to be no respite for anyone as everyone writhes within the relentless grip of personal and societal melt-down.

 

Diki’s highly descriptive novel manages to say quite much with not too many digressions and indeed there are some which is not unusual for a book of such considerable length. Zimbabwe isn’t only Diki’s sole point of reference even though it is the main one. Current affairs such as European soccer leagues and events and lifestyles of Euro-America often crop up for mention. Perhaps this isn’t always very effective. Indeed the finely assimilated products of his powerful imagination are really what would bestow his art with a transcendent quality.

 

It is a pity that this work which is a perceptive and honest critique of the political situation in Zimbabwe cannot be entered for the Commonwealth literature prize by its publishers Langaa, as the country remains suspended from the body. As a result, not only Zimbabwe but the entire world suffers.

 

Two Hangmen, One Scaffold Book 1, published by Langaa, Bamenda, pp.346, 2012, is available here: amazon.com | The Sentinel Bookstore

 

 

Sanya Osha is an author who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. His latest novel is An Underground Colony of Summer Bees (2012).

Alison Lock reviews City of Memories by Richard Ali

‘Long stretches of road were poorly maintained and every now and then the highway broke up into vague stretches that threw up geysers of dust…’ (p10)

 

We are in a world of heat, scant vegetation, where nomads herd their cattle. Faruk is driving along a highway in the Nigerian northeast. He has been rejected by Rahila, the love of his life, and now he is on a quest to find the key that will keep his country at peace and bring back the woman he loves. 

 

This is an impressive and ambitious novel. Using the device of parallel stories, Ali reminds us that events can repeat themselves over generations and that retaliation and revenge can move in ever-increasing circles with the potential to envelop a whole nation.

Ummi al-Qassim, Faruk’s mother has died several years before the novel begins but the impact of her life continues. Hussena Bukar writes with regard to the nature of the love triangle that enveloped her, describing it as:

 

‘A hopeless love that had spewed forth feud and violence and death.’ (p235).

 

Ali is a writer of great breadth and vision and his love for his country is evident. He gives voice through his characters and they are capable of deep intellectual discourse. The themes are interwoven with precision and often the flashbacks are described in meticulous detail.  The issues raised are complex and unsettling.

 

As illustrated on the front cover (a battle fought against a burning sky) the novel reveals a city that is bruised by the ravages of colonisation, consequent industrialisation and ethnic and religious diversity.  It is forever on the cusp of internecine riots and violence.  Ali dwells on these serious issues and although distancing the reader away from the romance, he maintains interest.

 

The novel tackles many themes including religious disparity and conflict. When Brother Ponsahr is preaching, Rahila believes he is:

 

fighting a religion for the benefit of another religion and that, Rahila thought, was bigotry. Religion was like a battlefield; it would never be sated, no matter how much blood was shed on it’. (p270)

 

This novel is an epic journey about identity, political and religious affiliations and above all, mistrust. But is it ultimately a story of hope? Certainly, women are given a strong voice. When Maryam sets off for university we are reminded of the cyclical nature of the novel as we return to the highway.

 

‘She did not see herself as the trees of Bolewa saw her, as a spot of calm moving on, a closure borne safely by the wheels of the Peugeot which turned up little geysers of dust as they spun sedately out of town to the highway. (p293).

Whether there is hope for the ending of ethnic and religious conflict is uncertain but Ali believes that love is a given.  When the two lovers finally reunite:

 

‘The trial of their education over the past six months and its terrible burden were lifted that moment in the presence of an attraction that transcended culture and religion and politics- their love was uncontainable…’ (p290).

 

This novel is by no means an easy read for those who are not familiar with Nigeria or its history but it serves to open a window into a fascinating and diverse world. Politics are central to the novel and the author uses his knowledge with erudition. In his Acknowledgements, Richard Ali says that the events described in his book are:

‘…used for fictive and not factual, purposes…’

 

Nevertheless, the reader will no doubt be drawn to seek out the ‘facts’, and consequently wish to broaden their knowledge of contemporary Nigerian Literature.

 

City of Memories is published by Black Palms Publishers, 2012

and is available here: amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

 

 

Judge’s Report, SLQ Short Story Competition (April 2012)

By

Kate Horsley

 

The standard of entries for the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition April 2012 was high.  I was particularly impressed by the quality of the writing.  The stories were engaging and comical, dramatic and heart-rending by turns and evoked a variety of different cultural settings.  With such a good standard of writing, it was hard to choose winners!  Those I’ve chosen all made bold choices about their subject matter as well as the perspective from which the story was narrated.

 

 The First Prize Winner, ‘Duopoly’, is narrated in the second person – a daring choice followed through with conviction.  A story of bereavement, ‘Duopoly’ begins with brief, punchy sentences used to depict the monotonous existence of a character who appears to be emotionally frozen.  The author’s stylish prose propels the reader to an unexpected conclusion in which the reason for the main character’s trauma is revealed.  In contrast to the apparent cynicism and economy of the story’s style, the ending is startlingly poignant.

 

The Second Prize-winner, ‘The Naked Fisherman’, tells of a young photographer’s formative experience in Lima.  Simply and directly written, this story also builds emotional effects by means of contrast.  In this case, the matter-of-fact tone of the first-person narrator is juxtaposed with a shocking turn of events towards the end of the story.  Intentions are lost in translation and events spin out of control, but the day is ultimately saved by a special moment of understanding between photographer and fisherman.

 

The Third Prize goes to a beautifully written story about an elderly couple on holiday in their caravan.  ‘Sand’ is lush and melancholy in style and has a dreamlike feel as the couple ponder their current relationship and remember the past. The seaside landscape is delicately evoked as the faded love between husband and wife drifts over the dunes and shore like endless white sand.

 

The three Highly Commended stories, ‘Nature or Nurture’, ‘That Split Second’ and ‘Guilt Sweets’ are all very well-written stories that use bold characterization.  ‘Nature or Nurture’ evokes the lives of children growing up on a farm in the 1940s.  ‘Guilt Sweets’ explores the various excesses of a jaded marital relationship to darkly comic effect and ‘That Split Second’ tells the story of an isolated elderly couple provoked into extremity after an unexpected accident occurs.

 

The non-winning entries were often interesting and well-written, but tended to spell the meaning of the story out too much, especially at the beginning.  Some stories were richly wrought in terms of description – perhaps too much so – but unfortunately the very complexity of the description overwhelmed the narrative and made it difficult to read.  A few writers neglected to check spelling and grammar or made peculiar word choices that detracted from their story’s appeal.  In order to improve these (often very good!) entries to make them into winning stories, writers should make sure to double check their presentation before submission and should focus some energy on creating an arresting and unexpected first paragraph that doesn’t give too much away.

 

First Prize

‘Duopoly’

Second Prize

‘The Naked Fisherman’

Third Prize

 ‘Sand’

Highly Commended

‘Nature or Nurture’, ‘That Split Second’ and ‘Guilt Sweets’

 

 


Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition (July 2012). Closing Date: 20 June, 2012. Judge: Rosemary Dun. Enter here.

Sentinel Annual Short Story Competition 2012. Closing Date: 30 November 2012. Judge: David Caddy. Enter here.

Follow us on Facebook & Twitter

 

Gallery

Sentinel Poetry Movement | Poetry, Fiction, Drama, Poetry Competitions, Short Story Competitions

As you return to work after the long Easter weekend, Sentinel Poetry Movement wishes you the very best that the rest of 2012 has to offer. Be sure to take advantage of our publishing opportunities in Sentinel Literary Quarterly and … Continue reading






Gallery

SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY POETRY AND SHORT STORY COMPETITIONS (APRIL 2012) NOW OPEN FOR ENTRIES.

  The Short Story Competition for this quarter is judged by Dr Kate Horsley, an award-winning author and Creative Writing lecturer at Lancaster University. Total prize fund of £305.00 plus publishing opportunity. Click here to enter competition now.   The Poetry … Continue reading