2015 NZ Writers College Short Story Competition





The annual NZ Writers College Short Story Competition is held to acknowledge excellence in creative writing in the Short Story genre.

The contest is open to any emerging writer residing in New Zealand or Australia, who has had fewer than four stories/articles published in any format (print or digital).



The Winners


Congratulations to our top-placed winners in the 2015 NZ Writers College Short Story Competition.

These stories stood out with their largely effortless, unselfconscious, unusual creative writing. Those with a strong Kiwi flavour fared best. Well done!


First place: 'Aroha' - by Jeff Taylor


Runner-up: 'Out to Sea' - by  James MacTaggart


Third place: 'Contractual Remedies' - by Barnaby McIntosh

Fourth place is jointly awarded to Chris Botha for 'The Magician's Prestige', and to Tom Cunningham for 'A Brief Episode'. Read the judges' comments and the top three stories below the results lists.



The Principal's Prize


'A Brief Episode' - by Tom Cunningham

Among the top five, ‘A Brief Episode’ was perhaps the most difficult story to digest, but it was a clear winner for me. I’m drawn to stories that slap me awake with a fresh approach, and allow me enough space to draw my own conclusions.  Unlike some judges who wanted more of a story told in the second half, I was moved by the lack of story, by the compassionate telling of the mundane, predictable, blue-slug choices that those suffering from mental illness often have to make every day.




Highest Honours


Congratulations to our winners of the Highest Honours Award. It’s hard to explain why these stories narrowly missed being winners. Occasionally it boils down to personal taste. These stories were quirky, clever and beautifully written.

  • ‘Sasha One’ – by Alexandar Altman
  • ‘To X with Love’ – by Akshata Rao
  • ‘The Pot Plant’ – by Liberty van Voorthuysen
  • ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ – by Kathryn van Beek




These were well-written stories with good plotlines and moments of perfection. Well done.

  • ‘It Snows in Istanbul’ – by Julian Luckee South
  • ‘Train Tracks’ – by Nick Jones
  • ‘Floodgates’ – by Hayden Pyke
  • ‘Water is Forever’ – by Valerie Leussler
  • ‘Being Watched’ – by Gary Venn
  • ‘Sea Girl’ - by Matthew Griffiths
  • ‘A Note of Intent’ – by Alison McIntosh
  • ‘The Devil is in the Detail’ – by Victoria Hathaway
  • ‘Revenge’ – by Greg Hall
  • ‘Breath’ – by Megan Frith
  • ‘To Drown in a Salted Sky’ – by Stella Carruthers
  • ‘Dragon Slayer’ – by Rosalie ten Hove
  • ‘Tinderella’ – by Sarah Ellis-Kirifi

Honourable Mention

These stories held our attention and were enjoyable to read.
  • ‘The Visiting Room’ – by Hayleigh Clarkson
  • ‘The Funeral’ – by Barbara MacDonald
  • ‘The Canary’ – by Greg Judkins
  • ‘Game On’ – by Keith Duggan
  • ‘Margaret’s Choice’ – by Juliana Giraldo
  • ‘Telescope’ – by Rhys Feeney
  • ‘The Golden Man’ – by Angela Pye
  • ‘The Letter’ – by John Petterson
  • ‘Under the House’ – by Sharon Edinborough
  • ‘Sequins’ – by Iona Winter
  • ‘The Wasteland’ – by Shannon Hart
  • ‘This One’ – by A J Jackson
  • ‘Mia’ – by Natasha Blythe
  • ‘Don’t Do That’ – by Wendy Ni
  • ‘The Thing That Isn’t There’ – by Anjori Mitra
  • ‘Isolation’ – by Olivia Spooner
  • 'Lost in a Book’ – by John Glasse

More stories we loved:

‘Now you see it; now you don’t’ – by Catherine Pennruscoe; ‘The Stalker’ – by Julie Hartwich; 'What You Did' – by S R Kunac; ‘Patience and Time’ - by Jesse Leonard; ‘Blackbirds and Snakes’ – by Penny Boardman; ‘Money Bags’ – by Brad Coleman; ‘A Life Left Behind’ – by Nikki Crutchley; ‘Blind’ – by Matthew Fulton; ‘Now, You See’ - by Liz Manson.


Keep up the great writing! We look forward to hearing from you again next year for our competition closing 31 August 2016.



The judges' ratings for the top five stories


A big thank you to our judges this year: Paul Smith, Sonny Whitelaw, Alex Smith, Karen Jeynes and Sarah Lang.


First Place


by Jeff Taylor

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 23/25
Originality 22/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 24/25
Characterization 25/25
Imagery and use of language 23.5/25
Overall gut response to story 22/25
TOTAL 139/150

Judges’ comments
  • Simply written from the point of view of a fabulous character, made so because he is the classic 'everyman' in the literary sense, who becomes the equally classic 'reluctant hero called to the quest'. His story is not unique. Quite the opposite, but it is compellingly original in its execution and setting, wonderfully contemporary and real, and with just a touch of magic to make the reader smile. Ties well to the theme, no excess words, and the pace and style is elegant. Very well done. SW
  • This is a knockout of a story, with an excellent level of detail - not too little, not too much. And it's very hard to write funny, but you do it so well.  You have a lovely turn of phrase and a knack for believable dialogue.  There is wonderful characterisation - not just of Aroha but of the other AA members. (One small thing: I think the last three words strike a clichéd, discordant note - I'd end on 'walk away'.)  SL
  • It's a good story with simply wonderful characters, and some fantastic descriptions like: 'Mandy, part-time cleaner, with teeth like lopsided tombstones...' At times though it feels like a very good synopsis for a novel or screen play - there's a sense of not being quite inside the story, walking along with the characters, but rather viewing the story from the outside.  AS
  • A complex story, sensitively handled. A great combination of storytelling, characterisation, and poetic language.  KJ
  • Written with a light, sometimes comic touch, this story, particularly rich in similes, is about Aroha, who turns up at an AA meeting looking like a Maori Princess ('with more paua jewelry and bone carvings than an Auckland Airport  souvenir shop'). The writer evokes the (initially hostile)  atmosphere of the meeting as women snipe at Aroha for her class, her clothes and her private school upbringing. The writer uses the group's responses  to fill out Aroha's character and over time realises he is falling for her. He also reveals her inner garment of self-debasement, and the way that later lands her drunk on a river pathway, 'wasted like a pretzel...' 'her eyes dark moons sitting in bruised sockets'. The story reads as if it has been crafted effortlessly and ends in triumph as their mutual enemy, alcohol, is emptied onto the ground. PS



Out to Sea

by James MacTaggart Read-the-story-here-button

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 23/25
Originality 20/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 21/25
Characterization 22.5/25
Imagery and use of language 21/25
Overall gut response to story 21.5/25
TOTAL 129/150

Judges’ comments
  • Written from the heart with the skill of a professional writer, this is an exceptional piece dealing with a common but no less heart-wrenching reality that reflects the theme. The style captures simple everyday actions now wrapped around an absent spirit, absent mind. It takes a moment for the reader to find the character, which is risky in a short story, but works brilliantly in his instance because in spite of this 'absence' through use of what at first seems to be an omniscient narrator, the emotional connection is there from the outset. The inability to really get inside the character’s headspace is exactly the way it should be because of his absence of self. The Imagery is just right, not too excessive, and the language is equally just right. There are no excess words or concepts; everything is exactly where it should be. I read this twice after marking it purely for enjoyment, because it contained nuances that deserve to be relished. I'm trying to find some flaws in this so I can offer some creative critique, but I can't. Hence the high score. SW
  • Moving but never mawkish, this story gets right to the heart of ageing, Alzheimers and family ties. You have just the right level of detail, a great informal style, and some inspired black humour that adds a little light to the dark. SL
  • Excellent detail and characterisation. Also the story ends with a fascinating and hard question posed to the narrator - his father had asked him to point him out to sea should he become what he has become and yet this is turns out to be easier said than done. Though hugely thought provoking and well written, the structure of the story and the execution of how it all unfolds needs more work. AS
  • The writer evokes mood well, and obviously has a clear sense of the world they're wanting to conjure up.   KJ
  • This story seethes with bitterness suffused with obligatory compassion as the son watches over his Alzheimers-ridden father. The writer makes no attempt at hiding either, and his skill in picking just the right detail illustrates character and daily routines. He shows, never tells and so his father sleeps on the same side of the bed as his late wife, though he doesn't have to; mismatched merino and polka dot socks one with a hole in it; bone dry electric kettle... You  feel that the son, not the father, is at breaking point, that he may well take his father's advice and point him to the waves nearby, or leave him outside the door at  night. It's a moving story with strong characterisation and tone. PS


Third Place

Contractual Remedies

by Barnaby McIntosh

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 21/25
Originality 19.5/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 23/25
Characterization 22/25
Imagery and use of language 18/25
Overall gut response to story 20/25
TOTAL 123.5/150

Judges’ comments
  • Great concept that ties well to the theme. Although not original, this is an interesting and compelling approach to an all-too painfully familiar scenario, which is what makes it such a great story. Every reader can connect with the character. His psychological state is evocative and the style in which it is presented, a little risky for a novice writer, but extremely well executed. SW
  • This story really evokes the experience of being in love, desperate to impress, and having the same thoughts spiralling round and round. What's most impressive is that the story takes place in his mind, yet feels as real as could be. A few sentences are a little too long, meaning the reader can lose track, and it's a little repetitive in places. You use humour well. SL
  • Though endearing, perhaps too much detail of the same sort - if you used only some of that to convey his insecurity and desire to appear cool and collected to his lady love, it would have more power; too much detail and the story begins to become repetitive and the pace drags. It is a circular story that artfully reflects the repeated anxiety the character feels; however, from start to finish, there is no actual conflict or character development. His state of mind on page one is repeated on every page following. So though it is an honest, microscopic perhaps, study of the character's thoughts, it is more of a moment than a story. AS
  • Wonderful idea to foreground subtext, and explore the moments in between. It works effectively as a structural device also. A very different way to get to know characters. I enjoyed it. KJ
  • This  powerfully imagined  story  takes us to the desperate heart of longing, playing on the themes of  'What if?', 'What  could be?' and finally -   most fittingly in the silence of a history section of a  library - 'What is'.  It is  a tribute to the stubbornness of hope, and a remembrance enriched by  the frequent use of some stunning figurative language: 'an idea...chomping so close on the heels of her confusion'; 'settled into a social nook, entering  interactive auto-pilot';  'wearing psychology text books as black letter armour'. This is an elegant  creation and short-story writing of the highest standard. PS


Joint Fourth Place

The Magician's Prestige

by Chris Botha

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 22/25
Originality 17/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 22/25
Characterization 23/25
Imagery and use of language 18.5/25
Overall gut response to story 20.5/25
TOTAL 123/150

Judges’ comments
  • Wonderful story. Perhaps not as brilliantly executed or as original as some of the others, but compelling in its simplicity and characterisation. The theme is captured on several levels and ties with the ending, which in my view makes this story stand out. Reading is of course a very visual encounter with a story that needs to be experienced by the reader using all of the senses.  A parking meter is not spelled 'metre'. When years are contracted, they are a plural not a possessive, so should be 80s, not 80's. This may seem trivial, but the last thing the reader wants is to be thrown from the story by silly mistakes, including punctuation and spelling errors that made me wince. This did not factor into the marks, but is something the author should be more careful with in the future, because it detracts from the overall reading enjoyment. SW
  • The story tends toward mawkishness, but it's still draws in and engages the reader. You've woven in the theme nicely - I'd be tempted to finish on the line: ‘I finished for him: 'Now you don't'. Hold back a little on the italics.  Your description of the father's cancer-ravaged appearance is brave and honest. SL
  • Very sad and moving, absolutely authentic. The opening paragraph's philosophical ruminations could possibly be cut - they don't seem to add much, the story can speak for itself - consider maybe starting at the start of the story. E.g. 'The office phone had buzzed shortly before 12.15 pm, and a moody woman’s voice had barked out.‘Jim, caller on line 6. Says it’s urgent, something about your father. I didn’t catch the rest’.  The end is possibly a touch melodramatic - if you could reign it in just a little, it would be even more memorable. AS
  • The strength of this story is in the characters, who are deftly conjured. The writer is very confident with where they're going, the story they're telling us, and it moves well from point to point. KJ
  • A skillful, measured evocation of the pain of parental loss, 20 years apart - first his mother's death then father. The writer toys with Time in much the same way as his Magician Dad did with his disappearing coin trick. An acute sense of the right detail ('room numbers 16 and 17' ; 'a deathbed  hug'; 'his bony shoulder stabbing me in the chest') creates character and tension as the bond between father and son becomes stronger as the sand in the hourglass of his dad's life, slips away.  We know how this story will end, yet when it does, the writer manages to fuse characters and the key elements of the story into a heart-wrenching moment. PS


Joint Fourth Place (Principal's Choice winner)

A Brief Episode

by Tom Cunningham

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 19.5/25
Originality 20/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 19.5/25
Characterization 22/25
Imagery and use of language 23/25
Overall gut response to story 19/25
TOTAL 123/150

Judges’ comments
  • Superbly rendered; the reader is immediately pulled into the mind of the character, empathising with him because at some stage in our lives we are all given contradictory advice:  'follow your dreams' and 'wake up'. Once this emotional connection was made, it is easy for the character to pull the reader into his psychosis and keep him there, empathising with him, cheering for him, wanting him to 'win', whatever winning looked like. I particularly loved the 'blue slug'.  I would have given my overall gut response a '5', except I found the connection between the two scenes just a little too esoteric, and so I felt no sense of wonderment or an 'ah ha' moment, or that the story was concluded, even though the connection to the theme was excellent. The quality of the writing and imagery led me to expect something exceptional at the end. However, while I understand what the writer was trying to achieve, it missed the mark for me, and consequently, I was disappointed, perhaps even more so because the writing and execution right up until the end was so well done. However, this is just a personal opinion that should in no way reflect on the superb quality of the writing and overall story concept. SW
  • A clever take on the theme, the story slowly but surely evokes how real it feels to experience mental illness. Your chatty style and the right tone help us identify with Herbert, and I like the way you've upset the reader's expectations with your sentence on his lust. You lose the reader's attention a little toward the end, however, with paragraphs that aren't necessary to the story. Your use of imagery and language is top-notch. SL
  • Some very fine details and vivid imagery - could perhaps trim away some of detail so that what remains is more powerful (like the 'I approach the bird paragraph'...could go? Note too the repeated word 'approach' at start of the following paragraph). Well handled mania - absolutely convincing. And yet it feels like an episode rather than a story. The mere having of an episode, even if it is well described, is not in itself entirely compelling or original. AS
  • The writer has such a distinct voice, and a real talent for conjuring images from words. Many of these phrases will stay with me. A delight. KJ
  • The writer captures the tic in his character's being with staccato prose. It unsettles - but provides an insight into the the mind of the medicated mental patient. We have to assume that's what he is because the story doesn't quite make that clear. He is returned home soon after visiting a hospital/clinic. The story lacks clarity there and falters a little. Figurative language is fitting and sometimes striking: 'sighing grey walls' and 'noon-sky whiteness'. The writer has described the prison of his character's mind, his mundane routines and his loneliness, but the story is ultimately missing something, and so lacks the power to move the reader. PS


  • 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
  • Third Prize: $ 250.00
  • Principal's Choice: $ 250.00
The top five winners will receive editorial comments on their submitted works.



Now you see it; now you don't.

DEADLINE: Midnight 30 September 2015 - Now closed.

All submissions can be sent to Nichola Meyer: Nichola@nzwriterscollege.co.nz



The top five entries will be assessed by our panel of award-winning writers.

Sarah-Lang  Sarah Lang is an award-winning feature writer freelancing for around 20 publications including North & South, Next, Canvas, NZ House & Garden, Reader’s Digest, and the Herald on Sunday’s magazines.

She is a television and film reviewer for the Herald on Sunday, a fiction reviewer for North & South magazine, the co-editor of website Scoop Review of Books, and the books' writer/editor for Wellington magazine Capital.

Awards and nominations include: 2007 Qantas Media Awards: Human Relations winner, 2008 Qantas Media Awards: Science and Technology winner, 2008 Qantas Media Awards: Junior Magazine Feature Writer finalist, The Magazine Awards 2010: Journalist of the Year (Women’s Interest) finalist, The Magazine Awards 2011: Journalist of the Year (Home, Food & Garden) finalist, The Magazine Awards 2011: Journalist of the Year (Lifestyle) finalist,: runner-up for The Best Travel Story about New Zealand at the 2013 Cathay Pacific Travel Media Awards.

Originally from Wanganui, Sarah is a booklover with a BA in English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington and a Bachelor of Communications (journalism major) from AUT University. After 10 years in Auckland, she now lives in Wellington, where she runs the Wellington Classic Literature book group.

Karen Jeynes  Karen Jeynes has an Honours Degree in the Art of Writing and is currently pursuing her Masters in Adapting Austen for the Stage at UWC. Her plays include "Getting There", "Laying Blame", "sky too big", "I'll have what she's having", "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee", and the multi award-winning "Everybody Else (is Fucking Perfect)". Her adaptation of Thomas Rapakgadi's "The Purse is Mine" aired on Bush Radio, and Safm has featured her series "Office Hours" co-written with Nkuli Sibeko, as well as the radio version of "sky too big". She also writes for SABC,and is currently on the writing team for Thabang Thabong and other works in planning.

Her teenage novels, Jacques Attack (co-authored with Nkuli Sibeko) and Flipside, co-authored with Eeshaam September, were released by New Africa Books. She has a children's story published in the new anthology "Metz and Bop and other stories".

Karen also freelances for online and print media, and lectures and consults in Digital Culture and playwrighting.

sonny whitelaw  Sonny Whitelaw has enjoyed a successful career as a writer for more than thirty years. Her work as a photojournalist has appeared in dozens of international magazines including National Geographic. She won a Draco Award for her first novel, The Rhesus Factor and all eight of her novels including five based on the television series, Stargate, have been international bestsellers.

A qualified adult educator with an MA in Creative Writing, Sonny taught writing courses to adults and teenagers in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. In 2008 she moved with her teenage son to a small lifestyle property in Oxford, Canterbury.

Alex Smith   Alex Smith is the author of five novels, Algeria's Way, Drinking from the Dragon's Well,  Four Drunk Beauties and Devilskein & Dearlove all published by Random House (Umuzi) and Agency Blue published by Tafelberg. Drinking from the Dragon's Well was long-listed for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award. Agency Blue  won a Sanlam Youth Literature Award. Four Drunk Beauties, which has been translated into Turkish, won the Nielsen Booksellers' choice award and Devilskein & Dearlove is nominated for the 2015 CILIP Carnegie Medal in the UK.

Paul Smith   Paul Smith is a veteran journalist and author. He was a senior reporter for the New Zealand Herald, Dominion and the New Zealand Times. 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. Paul has taught freelance and non-fiction writing at Auckland University's summer schools for 18 years and was a non-fiction mentor for the Society of Authors. Paul lives in Auckland City.
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