By Jude Dibia
The beauty of the short story form is its ability of depicting a character’s inner conflict or conflict with others, usually having one thematic focus. It was the writer Edgar Allan Poe who first defined the short story as the attempt to achieve a single, focused effect. So, unlike the novel that allows a writer to veer off various directions, using a number of characters and other literary effects towards reaching a denouement, the short story writer tries to crystallize an idea into a compact readable piece that, even if the territory may be quite familiar, or the narrative a familiar one, offers startling, new insights. It is always important to remember this when writing or reading a short story—no idea or story is original any more as writers have written on just about every topic and theme there is to write about. What remains original is a writer’s take on a familiar issue and the insights uncovered. And of course, one must never forget good writing to begin with.
I felt honoured to be asked once again to judge the Sentinel Short Story Competition. As a writer, I understand the pains that come with birthing a new story and I am quite familiar with the anxiety that comes with acceptance and recognition; the need for endorsement and the reassurance that follows one’s work being recognized as good or even excellent. Up and coming writers do need platforms like the ones created by Sentinel, not only as booster for their self esteem, but also as a means of getting their works and names out there and, hopefully improving their craft.
Close to 100 short stories were submitted for this edition of the competition and it was a huge task reading all the stories and trying to sift through the entries in order to come up with a shortlist of the very best stories. Sadly though, quite a number of the entries submitted suffered from syntax issues and a few exhibited a poor grasp of the short story form. In general, all the entries lacked something. It was quite sad to observe a certain level of nonchalance in the way many (not all) of the stories were packaged and submitted. I also observed that many of the stories lacked the universal feel and remained parochial.
However, I must commend all the entries and writers for the boldness to write on diverse themes.
Sadly though, I was not able to identify any winners in this edition of the competition. Underneath is a list of five highly commended stories in no particular order:
· The Editor’s Spike – for its immediacy and chilling denouement and the writer also showed a lot of promise.
· Esmeralda – The writing was interesting and exhibited some depth and control.
· The Light and the Exorcist – there was a good use of foreshadowing in this story and the writer was able to hold my interest till the end.
· Generations – In the use of limited words, the writer was able to tell a lavish family story of three generations of women.
· Our Dreams have gone out – showed a lot of promise.
It is an unfortunate and sad situation that the judge of this competition Jude Dibia was not persuaded that any of the stories entered deserved to win the first, second or third prizes. He has made recommendations to us about the disbursal of the prize fund to the authors of the 5 Highly Commended stories. The Sentinel Nigeria board will meet within the week to decide on the best way to reward the commended authors who all automatically qualify for the Highly Commended Prize of N4,000 each, this leaves us with N57,000 of the Prize Fund to work with, and we shall make sure that this amount is equally applied for the benefit of the authors either as additional cash or provision of service or products that will assist their growth as writers.
The 5 highly commended authors are in no particular order:
1. Thomas Szendrei (South Africa) – The Editor’s Spike
2. Cuba Ukoh (Nigeria) – Esmeralda
3. Abokhaiso Cathreya Fatima (Nigeria) – The Light and the Exorcist
4. Folakemi Emem-Akpan (Nigeria) – Generations
5. Olorunfunmi Temitope (Nigeria) – Our Dreams Have Gone Out
Further information will be released before the end of the week.