2014 NZ Writers' College Short Story Competition


2014 Annual Short Story Award




The Winners


Congratulations to our top-placed winners in the 2014 NZ Writers' College Short Story Competition.

The judges' comments and ratings follow below, as well as our Honours List, Honourable Mention List and a 'more stories we loved' list. Well done to all our entrants this year.


First place: 'Norman's Letter' - by Lizzie Nelson


Runner-up: 'Being a Ghost' - by Abby Jackson


Third place: 'Other People's Lives' - by Ruth L. Jeffs

Fourth place is awarded to Collin Minnaar for 'Bouquet for the Broken-hearted', and fifth place goes to Matthew Griffiths for 'Tell Him He's Dreaming'. Read the judges' comments and the top five stories below the results lists.

People's Choice Award


Well done to our People's Choice Award winner Abby Jackson for her story, 'Being a Ghost'. Only four votes separated the two most popular choices! A big thank you to all who voted and showed your support for these writers.







Congratulations to our winners of an Honours Award. These stories narrowly missed making the top five.

  • ‘We Can’t Stop’ – by Ma Veronica Fatima G. Duque
  •  ‘Milk Carton Messages’ – by Hayden Pyke
  • ‘The Trapeze Artist’ – by Katherine van Beek
  • ‘The Favourite’ – by Janet Wutzler
  • ‘Lunula’ – by Elysia Jenson


Honourable Mention


These writers receive an Honourable Mention for stories that were well-written and enjoyable to read.

  •  ‘The Rescuer’ – by Katy Ingall
  •  ‘Bitter Waters’ – by Mary Elsmore-Neilson
  • ‘Stopped’ – by Terrie Berthold
  •  ‘Pixelated Shadows’ – by Nick Herbert
  • ‘Look at What We Did’ – by Hira Nathan
  •  ‘The Wake-Up Call’ - by Adam Slocombe
  • ‘Café Culture’ – by Hayleigh Clarkson
  • ‘Abandon’ – by Shweta Kissun
  • ‘Eventually’ – by Michael Ball
  • ‘The Dagger Gleams’ - by Helena Toren
  • ‘Results Day’ – by Natasha Bland
  • ‘The Importance of Passion’ – by Jessica Harvey
More stories we loved:

‘My Life on the Human Fields’ – by Duncan Pacey; ‘River Water’ by Megan Bell; ‘The Face in the Window’ – by Nicholas Colville; ‘Anywhere’ – by Liam Coleman; ‘The Stranger’ – by Elizabeth Marvelly; ‘Share with Me’ - by Georgia Rippin; ‘Average’ – by H. Baker; ‘Under the Overpass’ – by Brent Tollison; ‘Holly’s Folly’ – by Paul Metcalf; ‘Waiting’ – by Lyndon Walker; ‘Moonlight and Rain’ – by Peter Spencer; ‘Lunch Pudding’ – by Monique Reymer; ‘Red Wine Stains’ – by Hadassah Green; ‘The Haves and the Have Nots’ – by Joel Mahuika; ‘The Tower on the Hill’ – by Andrew Stiggers; ‘Tomorrow is Another Day’ – by Juliana Feaver; ‘A Matter of Judgment’ – by Leonie Crowden; ‘Confessions of a Misguided No-one’ – by Melanie Jones.


Keep up the great writing! We look forward to hearing from you again next year for our competition closing 30 September 2015.



The judges' ratings for the top five stories


A big thank you to our judges this year: Paul Smith, Edwin McRae, Philippa Werry, Rosemary Hepözden and Ginny Swart.


First Place

Norman's Letter

by Lizzie Nelson

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 21/25
Originality 21/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 20/25
Characterization 23/25
Imagery and use of language 19/25
Overall gut response to story 24/25
TOTAL 128/150

Judges’ comments
  • A  story about help and helplessness that succeeds because of its use of detail and strong characterisation.  It takes the reader step by step into Norman's bleak world of benign neglect. The characterisation of  his nurses  is deft, as is the motivation which lead the young nurse aide to help Norman carry out his little rebellion. Set against a background of a decaying rest home, it's a surprisingly powerful and uplifting story. PS
  • I still can't decide whether Chantal is genuinely caring or whether it's just accidental that she offers to collaborate with Norman in a letter of complaint. The tone of her language strikes me as unrealistic -- she sounds a bit too casual and critical -- but the reader is certainly left with the feeling of Chantal as a 'rough diamond'. Norman is very sympathetically drawn, and the depiction of what he finds less than satisfactory creates a poignant image of a formerly fastidious person experiencing mental decline. I was left hoping that he felt better after the letter was written. In other words, I cared about him. RH
  • I loved this one! I could just feel Norman's frustration at the limitations the stroke had put upon him - even if he didn’t realise it. The dreary picture painted of the rest home was spot on and Angie is sadly typical of many nurses who more or less dismiss  older people who can't communicate.  What a good thing Chantal was on his wavelength to give this a satisfying ending. GS.
  • (Norman's letter) This entry grew on me. I wasn't expecting much from a story about a resident of an old folks' home suffering from dementia, but the way the writer has got inside Norman's (muddled) mind is very clever and gradually enchanted me. The story flowed smoothly and the fact that Norman can't make himself understood, either in writing or verbally, is neatly hidden to start with. We get a sense of the sort of person Norman was before his mind started to go, and the growing relationship between him and Chantal (the "strange creature" with "peroxide-white hair" and "blackened eyes") is well drawn. There are some nice touches of humour (e.g. his reaction to the stewed apples). Loved the final sentence.  PW
  • Surprising and really touching.  A challenging perspective to portray but this writer really pulled it off! EM



Being a Ghost

by Abby JacksonRead-the-story-here-button

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 20/25
Originality 19/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 18/25
Characterization 17/25
Imagery and use of language 20/25
Overall gut response to story 19/25
TOTAL 113/150

Judges’ comments
  • An edgy tale that allows the reader to  imagine being a ghost, and even better - to imagine what it might feel like to be haunted. The writer plays upon the themes of cold, loss and sadness well, and triumphs by making the unseen real and threatening. PS.
  • The sense of mystery is sustained very effectively and the twist is handled well. However, I would have liked to learn more about the relationship between the two characters - why they remain so linked, even after the death of one of them. I think the story would have been strengthened if the reader were given a clearer picture of this. I wasn't convinced by the ending. RH
  • Outstanding! Imagery is terrific; the story is subtle and original. GS.
  • Story told from two points of view with very little dialogue. We know it is a ghost story from the title but there is still a clever twist at the end. It included some of my favourite lines in this selection of stories: the "heart-thumping cloak of multi-coloured sadness",  the woman walking away with "a wave of rainbows beating behind her" and the description of feeling lost like "swirling around and around like bathtub water". (Also one of the creepiest lines: "I think I will go home and lie close to my wife.") The two long paragraphs set in the study at the end of the first section disrupted the flow of the story for me; I thought they could have been shortened. PW.
  • The 'twist' was too obvious from the beginning. EM


Third Place

Other People's Lives

by Ruth L. Jeffs

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 19/25
Originality 16/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 17/25
Characterization 16/25
Imagery and use of language 19/25
Overall gut response to story 17/25
TOTAL 104/150

Judges’ comments
  • A  beautifully crafted and intriguing short story mixing love lost with poetry poorly remembered, and with an ending which plays upon the colours of life - and death. The copy flows effortlessly from one paragraph to another. PS.
  • There's a wonderful sense of menace in this story -- plenty of clues as what might have happened, and why – until the reader learns how the protagonist’s hand was cut. The explanation is interesting, but the description of the young man’s thought process weighs down the story just a little towards the end. From this point on, when we see the young man at the bridge again, the reader is told what to think, rather than left to draw conclusions independently. The possibility of a murderous act of revenge is no longer feasible and the tension dissipates. Different types of language are handled deftly and the contrast between literary quotes and prosaic dialogue provides a real note of interest. RH
  • A teenage boy suffering inner turmoil  after his girlfriend dumps him in public: cruel!  Although the writing here struck a real note of grief and angst, I felt at times that  the boy was a bit too distanced from his real emotions, too cool and analytical. He’s too fond of finding quotations to suit the story so he came across as a bit of a poseur. GS.
  • Opens with confidence; effective use of sensory descriptions to convey changing sky colours, gathering darkness, growing cold and increasing pain. Other descriptions are also evocative and original: drizzle-soaked hair,  the ghost town of jail cells, the greyscale world and the passersby who are "bloodless and unexceptional". The ideas of "captured moments" and "future nows" tie the story together but some sentences feel a bit too long and could be edited down, and the shifts in scene and time are not always easy to follow. We don't meet any other characters in person apart from the introspective teenage narrator, and don't learn a lot about him, but through his inner monologue and remembered conversations and quotations, we watch him struggling to come to terms with his first personal "tragedy". PW
  • A real clash between the character's age and supposed mental maturity. EM


Fourth Place

Bouquet for the Broken-Hearted

by Collin Minnaar

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 18/25
Originality 18/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 15/25
Characterization 18/25
Imagery and use of language 16/25
Overall gut response to story 17/25
TOTAL 102/150

Judges’ comments
  • The writing is fluent  and some of the observations perceptive, but in the end this story defeats itself by trying too hard. Flashbacks get in the way of real characterisation and in the end fail to evoke any engagement with the character. PS.
  • Clichéd imagery and clichéd characterization marred this story for me. I didn't care about the central character, a washed-up, self-absorbed daytime-soap actor who seems to have difficulty separating his acting role from his real life. RH
  • A great insight into how a man feels when he is being kicked off a show after starring in it for 35 years. And not even a glamorous ending for him! Enjoyed this a lot. GS
  • Enjoyed the character of Clint and the section where he speaks has lots of energy; felt we got a good picture of him, even though we only meet him over the phone. Some good images; I liked the traffic logjam: "a metal tongue rolling up and down and over the hills", but was halted by the helicopters "flapping like demented birds" (can a helicopter flap?). Some adverbs felt unnecessary and I would have liked more unusual adjectives than, for example, a youngish woman, expensive handbag, very nice eyes, long smooth legs, a quiet corner. Writing could have been edited down but final two lines, with a lot of meaning telescoped into them, are very good. PW
  • A sad yet strikingly funny situation. The writer absolutely nailed this character and their ironic dilemma. EM


Fifth Place

Tell Him He's Dreaming

by Matthew Griffiths

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 15/25
Originality 15/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 13/25
Characterization 16/25
Imagery and use of language 14/25
Overall gut response to story 16/25
TOTAL 89/150

Judges’ comments
  • Mid-life crises and estrangement  are well-captured in this story and the shifts in time and place build to create some tension. The story was carried largely through dialogue, but nonetheless it reached a soft and credible landing in which family was valued more than his dreaming.   PS.
  • I'm completely confused by this story. I'm not sure what the relationship between Brian and Mike is, where they are, or what ultimately happens.  Does a desire to design green buildings break up Brian's marriage? Does he go to China? Why does Adriana fancy him so much? The dialogue doesn't ring true for me either. A lot of necessary background seemed to be missing, and I'm afraid I wasn't interested enough in any of the characters to read the story again in order to untangle all these mysteries. RH
  • I liked the way this came the full circle with Brian getting his environmental issues off his chest, but it was a bit too easily resolved for me. GS.
  • Got a good picture of Brian and Mike; less so of Sue and Adriana. Good realistic dialogue between the two men. I especially liked the opening scene where we hear Brian's thoughts, both spoken and unspoken, that trigger his next moves.  Felt the frequent changes of scene made it a bit disjointed, as there were a lot of "jumps" in focus. Some punctuation errors. PW.
  • A very believable situation competently told. No real surprises but enjoyable nonetheless. EM


  • First Prize: $1 000.00 and publication in an anthology of winning stories
  • Second Prize: $ 500.00 and publication in an anthology of winning stories
  • People's Choice Award $ 500.00


Competition-Archives3 View our Archived Competition Entries Here



THE JUDGES for 2014:

Ginny Swart Short Story Tutor lb Ginny Swart has sold over 600 short stories to women's magazines all over the world. On any day of every month she has at least 15 stories out there on editors' desks. Her more serious work has appeared in literary publications in America, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and on the Web. She is also the author of three romance novels (Ulverscroft Press UK), a book of short stories (Lulu.com) and a book for teenagers: Nosipho and the King of Bones (MacMillan Boleswa SA).

In 2003 Ginny won the esteemed UK The Real Writers' Prize from over 4000 entrants. Ginny tutors the Short Story Course at NZ Writers' College.

Paul Smith Magazine Journalism Tutor lb Paul Smith is a veteran journalist, author and former media commentator. He began his reporting career on the Auckland Star in 1964 and then went to London for three years to work on newspapers and magazines. He was a senior reporter for the New Zealand Herald, Dominion and the New Zealand Times.

Paul was New Zealand correspondent for the London Standard for 20 years, and the Sydney Morning Herald's correspondent for five. As a freelancer his stories have appeared in magazines ranging from the Readers' Digest to the Guardian and Asian Wall Street Journal.

Paul is a winner of the Sir David Beattie Award for best news reporter in the print media, and a runner up in the 2002 Peace Awards. In 1986 he was awarded a Press Fellowship to Wolfson College Cambridge.

A past President of the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN), he has written six best-selling non-fiction books, ranging from social histories to a text on the social impacts of broadcasting de-regulation. Paul has also published short stories and a radio play. He tutors the Magazine Journalism Course at NZ Writers' College.

Phillipa-Werry-lb-v1 Philippa Werry is the author of several published children’s novels and has written numerous children’s stories, plays, poems and articles for educational publishers. Her novel Enemy at the gate was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in 2009.  The great chocolate cake bake off and A girl called Harry were both named as Storylines notable books. Her latest title is a children's non-fiction book titled  Anzac Day: the New Zealand story: what it is and why it matters (New Holland, 2013.)

Philippa also writes travel articles and non-fiction for adults. She has been shortlisted three times for the Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Creative Science Writing Prize, and won second prize in the 2011 Cultural Icons and Vernacular Lounge Non-Fiction Writing Competition.

In 2010, she was awarded the NZSA Mid-Careers Writers Award.

Edwin lb Edwin McRae is a freelance games and transmedia writer and has written for numerous digital media projects, including Nymph (in assoc. with AUT), Path of Exile (Grinding Gears Games), Big Little Bang (Podscape), Cash Stash and Skeleton Eater (InGame).

Edwin graduated with an M.A. in Creative Writing (Script) from Victoria University (Wellington) in 2006 and shortly after began as a writer at New Zealand’s highest rating drama, Shortland Street.  After four years with South Pacific Pictures, Edwin now writes exclusively for games and new media. He is editor and founder of The Fiction Engine, and teaches games writing at Nelson/Marlborough Institute of Technology.

rosemary-lb Rosemary Hepözden has three decades of editing, writing and teaching experience. As an editor, she has worked as a freelancer and also in-house for book publishers in Canada and New Zealand (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Crabtree Publishing, Hodder Moa Beckett and indirectly for Continuum, Radcliffe Publishing, Taylor & Francis).

She also has 14 years’ experience in magazine publishing, as an editor, sub-editor, proofreader and staff writer for a range of consumer and trade titles.
Between 2006 and 2011, she taught several courses at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Continuing Education, including Working With Words (an introduction to editing and proofreading) and Getting to Grips with Grammar.
Rosemary is also the author of four nonfiction books.

CRITIQUES: We unfortunately do not have the time to supply a critique for each submission. If you wish to receive a professional one- to two-page report of your work, please state your requirement on your title page. We charge $65.00 per critique.


  • The competition is open to anyone residing in New Zealand and Australia over the age of 16.
  • The competition closed on 30 September 2014. The shortlist was published by 18 October and the winners announced on our web site by 31 October 2014.
  • Prize-winners will be notified via email as well as on our website; please ensure you supply a valid email address with your entry.
  • Prize money will be paid via electronic transfer.
  • We only accept entries written in English.
  • Entrant must own full copyright of the piece.
  • Writers retain copyright, but give permission for their work to be displayed on our website.
  • The judges' decision is final; no disputes will be entered into.
  • If your entry has not been acknowledged within 72 hours, please contact us. Your mail may have got lost in transit.
  • NZ Writers’ College reserves the right to extend the competition deadline, or cancel the competition should the entries not be of publishable quality or up to the required standard.
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