How do you approach judging?
“You want to remember that while you’re judging the book, the book is also judging you”, wrote Stephen King in his short story collection Night Shift – and the same can be applied to judging short stories, too – by which I mean a certain open-minded approach and paradoxically a non-judgmentalism to what’s before me, so that I avoid pinning on pre-conceived thoughts. A strong voice tends to grip the reader from the word go and hold the attention until the very end so often it’s a visceral emotional as well as cerebral experience that one’s taking into account in the reading and judging process.
What do you look for in a short story?
“The short story, which acts like the flare of a match struck in the dark, is the only real form for describing the briefness, the brokenness and the simultaneous wholeness of people’s lives”, wrote William Carlos Williams. I look for that flare, those moment of startling insight, to be moved and transported into another’s world, another’s mind.
But as well as flare I also, of course, look for flair.
What would you hope for in terms of responding to the theme?
“Short stories are absolutely about the present moment”, insisted Nadine Gordimer. But in the present moment often whole lifetimes are compressed – the seething regrets of the past, or dreams of the future jostling for attention. Short stories in their very brevity of form compress time but can paradoxically also expand it. Time has always been a fascinating theme for literature; in their very nature, words and language are a time-bound medium, moving from then to now, so time is always an intrinsic theme – but bringing it to the very forefront is a great way of shining even more of a spotlight on it. I’m looking forward to reading about that elusive present moment but also about the past and the future, too – and perhaps even those moments that are able to stand outside of time.
The ‘solstice’ is also a brilliant day to focus the attention on the transience of time through the festival. I always remember a scene in The Great Gatsby which takes place on the longest day of the year and Fitzgerald powerfully grapples with the issue of temporality; the shortest day of the year could well prove an equally potent point in time for writers.