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The nation’s best short story writers announced

The nation’s top short story writers were announced tonight at the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards ceremony in a star-studded literary affair.

 Book short storiesThe nation’s top short story writers were announced tonight at the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards ceremony in a star-studded literary affair.

Supreme Award for the open division went to political analyst Gemma Bowker-Wright for “The Red Queen Hypothesis”, who struck gold with her second entry into the competition after taking out the runner-up spot in the Secondary School category in 2002.

Gemma’s story “The Red Queen Hypothesis” was also the People’s Choice for best short story.

Head judge of the Awards’ open division and award winning fiction writer Charlotte Grimshaw says she was instantly struck by the winning story.

“Bowker-Wright’s ability to create atmosphere with the use of spare, straightforward language – somehow unleashing the mysterious power of ordinary words – demonstrates a real talent for writing,” says Grimshaw.

“The Red Queen Hypothesis” is a story about three Wellington students flatting together in a dilapidated old house. All three are students studying evolution as part of a science degree in their final year of University.

The story has won the author $5000 cash, publication of her story in the Sunday Star-Times and $500 worth of books from Random House as well as an additional $750 cash for winning the People’s Choice Award.

Second prize in the open division went to Alexandra Sides of Dunedin for her story “End of a Holiday” and third prize was awarded to Cantabrian Anna Keir for her story entitled “Stalking Ella Ryman”.

The number of short story entries entered into the Sunday Star-Times competition continues to grow with over 2,400 received, 600 more than the number of entries submitted last year into the open division, and over 300 in the secondary school division.

Open division head judge Charlotte Grimshaw said that she has been so fascinated by the judging process that she is considering writing a short story about the judge of a short story competition.

“I’ve always been interested in the voices of New Zealand, and in these stories I’ve encountered a terrific range”, says Grimshaw. “I’ve read and reread, and discovered more about the stories in the process and I believe this year’s winners have written truly impressive stories.”

Grimshaw was joined by prolific writer Joy Cowley, head judge of the secondary school division, along with eight pre-jdges who are all professional writers or book editors to help whittle down the number of entries.

Now in their 26th year, the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards, in association with Random House, encourage and recognise the talents of published and unpublished New Zealand writers. The top prizes were announced in an awards ceremony at Fables Galleries in Parnell, Auckland tonight.

The awards are nationally recognised for championing and showcasing New Zealand short fiction. Some of this country’s leading writers, including Norman Bilbrough, Judith White, Barbara Anderson, Linda Olsson and Sarah Quigley have achieved success in the competition.

First prize in the Secondary School division went to Hamilton Christian School’s Tim McGiven for his story “The Long Lake”. McGiven went home with $1000 cash, $500 worth of books from Random House for his school, a work experience day at Random House and publication of his story in the Sunday Star-Times.

The winning stories will be published in the Sunday Star-Times on Sunday 31 October.

Open Division Winners

First Prize Winner: Gemma Bowker-Wright (Wellington)

The Red Queen Hypothesis

Second Prize Winner: Alexandra Sides (Dunedin)

End of a Holiday

Third Prize Winner: Anna Keir (Christhchurch)

Stalking Ella Ryman

Secondary School Division

First Prize Winner: Tim McGiven (Hamilton Christian School, Year 13)

Gardening Lessons

Second Prize Winner: Cally Sharpe (Nelson College for Girls, Nelson)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Third Prize Winner: Tessa Forde (Northcote College, Auckland)

Blue Eyes

Best Unpublished Writer

Alexandra Sides (Dunedin): End of a Holiday

Peoples’ Choice Award

Gemma Bowker-Wright (Wellington): The Red Queen Hypothesis

Excerpt from the winning story: The Red Queen Hypothesis

Classes started in June. The first lecture for Evolution was on the Red Queen Hypothesis. Alice, Daniel and I weren’t early and sat somewhere near the middle of the lecture theatre. The lecturer was a tall, thin man with oversized limbs. He looked a bit like a giant, spindly bird. While he was waiting for everyone to arrive and stop talking he strutted along the runway at the front of the lecture theatre – his black silhouette outlined against the projector.

“For an evolutionary system, continuing development is needed in order to maintain its fitness relative to the systems it is co-evolving with,” began the lecturer, when everyone was finally seated. Alice started to write notes furiously. Daniel sat very still and closed his eyes. I wrote ‘lecture one’ and the traced the outline of my left hand. The lecturer showed a slide with a picture of the Red Queen standing beside Alice in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’. There was a speech bubble coming out of the Red Queen’s mouth; “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”, she was saying.

“The Red Queen,” said the Lecturer “provides a metaphor – a conceptual underpinning to the evolutionary arms race. One example of the evolutionary arms race is a predator-prey system. In such a system, the predator is continuously evolving to become better at catching the prey. The prey, therefore, has to keep evolving to become better at avoiding the predator – or it will go extinct. As neither predator nor prey are making significant gains in the other, it seems like they are both “running on the spot” in an evolutionary sense.”

The lecturer strutted as he talked, back and forth across the front of the lecturer theatre. As he moved, the projector did odd things to his silhouette, making it very small and then very tall and long – it looked as though, with every step, he was covering a great distance.

“Do you remember at primary school,” whispered Alice, “when everyone used to call me Alice in Wonderland?” I looked across at her in the semi-dark. She smiled, not requiring an answer, and began to take notes again.

What the judges had to say about the winning stories:

Open Division: The Red Queen Hypothesis. “The language is spare and straightforward and the plot isn’t complex, but the story is immediately striking for its clarity, control and command of atmosphere. There’s the clever and original use of an evolutionary theory that echoes the action, and there’s something charged and intense in the writing that makes each scene distinctive.” Charlotte Grimshaw, Head Judge of the Open Division.

Secondary Division: The Long Lake. “This story of a teenager and his relationship with a seventeen year old mother and child, has a stunning sense of actuality. This is another writer who is already earning a place in New Zealand literature.” Joy Cowley, Head Judge of the Secondary School Division.