50th Anniversary Short Story Competition 2016 – The Results

Published on 14 December 2016

As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, IDS ran a short story competition open to staff, students, alumni and organisational partners with a story to tell about development. Offering an opportunity to express aspects of life from the development environment in a more evocative way than purely academic texts and with the freedom to illuminate larger aspects of human experience, some diverse and memorable entries were received.

With Melissa Leach and Hilary Standing (Director and Emeritus Fellow respectively) of IDS and Lucy Lamble (Editor of Guardian Global Development) as judges, we are now delighted to announce the three winners:

  • First prize: ‘Choosing the Sea’ by Roberto Franco-Alba
  • Second prize: ‘The Interview’ by Madhushala Senaratne
  • Third prize: ‘The Tourist’ by James Georgalakis
  • With two runners-up: ‘In Small Places’ by Stephen Thompson and ‘Great Achievements’ by Diana Conyers

The judges said ‘We enjoyed the diversity of the entries which took the reader into so many different worlds. We particularly enjoyed those that offered a wider interpretation of development, where the local worlds of the characters echoed global themes of inequality, conflict and connectedness. So, well done to everyone! The judges were unanimous in their choice of winners and runners-up. We were looking particularly for high quality writing that had narrative drive, characters that lingered in the mind and emotions, and a wow factor.’

The judges noted that Roberto Franco-Alba’s winning entry was ‘in a league of its own’. They commented, ‘We felt this haunting story of a young boy caught up in Mexico’s drug trade has great depth and substance and a sustained emotional drive. The writing is vivid and powerful and brilliantly conveys a sense of menace and threat. The characters are ones we really cared about. The narrative picks up very strongly on broader themes of the price of development for those at the sharp end and associated themes of governance, corruption and insecurity.’

Madhushala Senaratne’s second-place piece inspired the judges to say ‘We loved this very short but beautifully composed narrative about a Sri Lankan woman who applies for a job in the new tourist complex that opens further along her modest street. The story is very rooted in the point-of-view character’s voice and perspective and her everyday life. It was wonderfully observed on a spatial level, with the street’s architecture (such as real versus faux thatch huts) acting as a sustained metaphor for the broader development themes of migration and inequality. The sense of worlds colliding was conveyed with great subtlety and with very good pacing and control over language’.

And reflecting the diversity of the themes and manner of storytelling, James Georgalakis’ third place entry gave a different angle and pace. The judges said, ‘We really liked this story about a young man who goes backpacking and becomes disillusioned. It picked up strongly on development themes of inequality and universalism. It has a great reveal at the end which successfully turns the reader’s assumptions on their head. It was refreshing to have a protagonist who had a believable arrogance and was not all that likeable, yet we could also identify with him.’

The judges expressed thanks to all those who submitted stories, saying that ‘It is an act of courage to enter a competition of this kind and we were delighted at the response.’

In the spirit of critique, they also commented that ‘a number of the entries were in need of copy editing – short story writers need to apply the same rigorous standards to writing, spelling and presentation as to any other formal writing. There was sometimes a resort to cliché and a predictability about the characters and scenarios. We wanted to see unpredictability and transgression. Finally, there was some tendency to tell the reader what to think instead of letting them make their own judgements (or none).’

In addition the judges wanted to give an Honourable Mention to ‘The Abyssinian Shield’ by Fiona Wilson. ‘We could not include this in our overall judging as it is a non-fiction essay and personal reflection and we had specified works of fiction, but we enjoyed reading it.’

The three winning stories will be published soon on The Guardian Online and the top five including runners-up will be published also on the IDS website.