SPEECH BY PETER MCGRATH, JUDGE OF WORD FEST TOOWOOMBA 2023 SHORT STORY COMPETITION
I wish to express my gratitude to Word Fest Toowoomba organisers for inviting me to judge the short story competition.
I am a teacher with over 40 years of experience in Australia and overseas, teaching a variety of senior English programmes to senior high school students, including teaching international Baccalaureate and O and A levels in international schools.
I have had the privilege of helping to inspire some of my students to take up writing and I have had a long history of also helping scrutinise manuscripts. I am very proud when young people have a passion for reading and even more proud when some of them have asked for my critique of their efforts. Two have recently had manuscripts published, one by the University of Queensland Press.
So, the chance to judge some short stories from this competition has been a great joy. In the space of no more than 1000 words, writers have allowed me to suspend disbelief, to immerse myself in texts which aim to move the reader and they have succeeded in spades.
I had and have no idea of the age, gender or background of any of the writers, but so many of them achieved success by making me respond emotionally. I wanted to laugh, to cry, to feel anger, empathy and love. The beauty of words is that they can immerse the reader so well.
Other writers chose to deal poignantly with the essence of the human condition, the passage from youth to old age, and symbolism figured so strongly in some of these.
Others chose to explore the power of friendship and the beauty of ‘belonging’.
Yet, others used the setting, particularly the Toowoomba region, to develop the setting to become a character.
The power of language and the passion it provoked in some epitomises the purpose of this festival – words are powerful tools, powerful weapons, and has the power to move and shake.
Other writers chose to show how deeply we can be immersed in a story and the lives of characters in a story.
And then there were the stories which were simple, beautiful, thought-provoking and real.
In my deliberations, I followed a straightforward set of criteria, but I also had to respond to the texts emotionally.
First Place, and a delightful, quiet short ‘short’ story goes to THE MAN WHO FORGOT HIS NANCY’S, a bittersweet story of ageing, memory loss and the toll it takes, but with a beautiful ending full of love.
Second Place goes to a short story about a young person who has enormous respect for words. HUNGER describes their passion from a young age and I am sure any writer or even avid reader will be able to relate to this highly metaphorical story.
I would like to add a JUDGE’S COMMENDATION to the subversive A PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS. Be provoked and be challenged by a person who will have you all arguing about subtle nuances of meaning in this text.
To all the people who submitted, I thank you. To the finalists, to which it was ‘whittled down’, you are all incredibly worthy and I hope I get a chance to read more of your work in the future.