Costa Short Story Awards: The Cat’s Meow…

cat-reading-paperVoting is now open for the Costa Short Story Award. Unfortunately, my little story didn’t make the cut, but reading the finalists I can understand why. There is a depth and breadth to them that my own lacked somehow. Having read them all I know which one is going to get my vote. But, before I divulge such information, let me explain my thoughts as I read through these six pieces of work; what follows are my own opinions as a reader after looking through the stories once – initial impressions, if you will. Feel free to disagree! 🙂

[Please note, there may be spoilers – therefore if you haven’t already read these stories, download them and take the half hour or so it will take to read them: it’ll be worth it!]

Still Water
This is one of those stories where you get to the end and feel disappointed. Not just because the writer has created a character you like, but because you want more. I was never quite sure how certain the narrator was that she had lost the baby. The change between who she was at the start and in the end was subtle, but it makes an impression. I just wish there had been opportunity to understand how the men so vital to those opening scenes would react to the only woman in the camp losing a child….The second half was too insular for me after such a vibrant opening, while it might have mirrored the mood – the fear of the child no longer being alive – I felt the story stopped short of it’s promise, not quite quenching my curiosity.

The Gun Shearer
I like this one. It’s clever in such a very sneaky way. I finished reading it not quite knowing what conclusion to draw, but knowing that it had been enough: a sliver of something interesting, coy and hushed. The writer manages to tell a very uncomfortable scene with such simplicity that it speaks for itself. The character unemotional and yet sympathetic. Still, the final line was too abrupt to leave me satisfied.

The Keeper of the Jackalopes
This story confused me at first. I didn’t know what to make of it. The problem was obvious – someone wants the land Clary’s father does not want to surrender. Yet I don’t feel that a resolution for this particular issue was addressed clearly enough at the end of the story provided. Instead, it shifts, to become about survival and creating a future out of make-believe animals. The roles are reversed, sure, but will it be enough? As readers, we’re left wondering.

The Old Man and the Suit
I have to admit to not really liking this one very much. There isn’t anything wrong with it, per say, just that it isn’t to my taste. I found the subject dull and difficult. The writing is good, it flows well. For such a short piece it certainly has impact. But, I could not like the characters even though I wanted to, for the sake of the prose.

The Papakh Hat
Sharp, relevant and emotional, this story caught my attention. It felt like no scene was wasted, no words misplaced. The story was told through without playing on cliche or expected sympathies. It is simple, honest and bare. I wasn’t sure about the break at the end; the three month jump in the text. This is my only real criticism, but I can understand its significance. Still, I think it could have had just as much impact ending with the heavy, shocking words ‘Arash Sharaniyar becomes one of the disappeared.’

The Forgiveness Thing
Something about this reads like a script. Yet, I don’t think it would work as such. The uniqueness about this story is that the dialogue only serves to tell it, hiding all of the usual descriptors we rely on as readers to understand the story. The spoken words here tell us enough, even the way the writer weaves in the back story that explains the opening interview. I also like the suggestive ending – enticing us to make our conclusions, daring us to believe that forgiveness was not granted, could not be granted and what the consequences for this might be.


As you may have guessed, I intend to offer my vote to The Forgiveness Thing. Of all the stories it was the one that stood out for me as a reader. It didn’t expect me to think too much, to delve into the symbology of the text or leave me questioning the value of the words I’d read. It was enjoyable. I read it always wanting more and when I reached the end I was satisfied. A couple of the others left me wondering if I’d misinterpreted the point, or questioning my skills as a reader (and a writer); some of them I just didn’t ‘get’. As a result, I have to choose the one that intrigued me without challenging my understanding of what might make a good story…


What did you think? Did you enjoy the stories chosen to be finalists, and who will your vote go to?



3 responses to “Costa Short Story Awards: The Cat’s Meow…

  1. Pingback: 2013: In Review | Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

  2. My story didn’t make it in either! But, like you, I can see why. I agree with you on your initial impressions of the stories, I felt much the same way though my vote went to The Keeper of the Jackalopes. I loved the characters and the ambiguity of the ending. It left me wondering but didn’t leave me frustrated. Out of them all, that was the one that I kept thinking about afterwards, probably because the characters were very real.

    Glad to have found someone talking about the stories 🙂

    • It was a tough call on who to vote for, the jackalopes, papakh hat and forgiveness all stood out for me. I think what made my decision was the successful use of dialogue as the main story vehicle: it’s so difficult to get dialogue right sometimes. Sorry that your own story didn’t make the shortlist either- I wonder how many entries they got? Glad that you appreciated my post commenting on them – I wasn’t sure how it would fare! God luck with your writing, thanks for stopping by. Take Care, Cat x

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