Collections are often a mix of good with poor, but this anthology of prize-winners and near misses isactually quite consistent in terms of quality. It features the top 3 prize-winning stories along with 17 shortlisted entries to the 2011 contest. As an entertainment, it provides a series of interesting reads.
There are a few too many urban grit stories for my personal tastes, but that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the offering. Interestingly, many of the stories are written in the present tense, a technique that lends urgency and immediacy to the tales.
Just one of the stories (I won’t name it) was disappointingly peppered with typos and grammatical errors, but one out of twenty is pretty good, I suppose. It does, however, cause the reader to wonder why it made the short list. In general terms, the selection does give some idea of what judges might be looking for when faced with selecting winners for short story competitions. Unfortunately, such hints are notoriously unreliable, since each set of judges seems to have its own ideas of what is or isn’t desirable in short fiction. And even the same judge can change opinion from contest to contest, so very little help to be found by reading the winners.
For the writer who may want guidance about such entries, however, it is clear from the anthology that a degree of literary merit is valued over formulaic or genre specific approaches. Good use of language, well-developed characters and interesting themes seem to win over plot-driven and fast action tales.
In spite of the lean towards urban grit and present tense, I enjoyed this collection and happily recommend it.