This is the eight or ninth InkTears short story I've judged, and while there are variations on themes and quality year over year, some things stay the same. One common thread is that in our final judging round, when all of our 8-10 judges vote on their favourite stories (blindly, without knowing either the author or what other judges are voting), there is never a single winner... by which I mean at least half a dozen stories end up getting the top vote by at least one judge. Which really goes to show how subjective reading & judging a competition can be. Often (and this year definitely fit this pattern) the judges struggle to separate their top 3 or 4 stories, and decide which they prefer. What we also commonly see, is that the eventual winner and runner up are stories that nearly all of the judges voted for - at least one or two judges will have placed these stories in first place, but many others will have listed it as their third or fourth place. I can also tell you, that we had one story that was rated as a winner by one judge this year, which didn't even make it into the Highly Commended category (sadly for them). What can you take away from this? Well, I would say that it shows how fine the margins are for success in the final stages of a contest. Personally, I consider every shortlisting a 'win', and have come to the conclusion that the difference between 1st and 5th, or 10th, is often a matter of the judges personal preferences. If you made it to our longlist - give yourself a hearty slap on the back. If you made that list more than once (I know several people did), and yet didn't make the eventual winners list, given yourself two hearty slaps on the back and a big glass of wine. You did really well.

The themes for this year were as wide and varied as ever. Our winners included a ghost story (we'll save that for October), a moving tale of a challenging childhood, an intriguing and original story inspired by a photo found in a junk shop in Sarajevo, a sci-fi tale set in a small room that is really about a couple's relationship, a tale of summers past, and one with great local accents about the struggle to do better in life. The winning story, Da by John Holland, stood out from the crowd because it made us laugh - several times - despite being based on a very macabre subject, which is normally taboo, and because it felt so real - people behaved in a very human way, despite the tough situation. As a writer myself, currently entering many competitions and getting very few good results (=none),  I frequently read the judges comments elsewhere, and one thing you will see repeated often, is 'no more deaths and depression!' It can be bleak to be a judge, living your normal daily life of stress and pressure (we don't get paid for judging - it's not a profession), and then in the evening, you read ten short stories and in every tale someone dies or is murdered by their partner. I think that was part of the joy of Da. This is definitely a story with death at the core, but the subject is treated with humour, and is uplifting rather than depressing. This is at the core of good writing for me - create something original, something people feel better about themselves after they've read it. If I could give one tip, that would be it. Now, I need to go and change the endings to at least half of my own stories...

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