2016 NZ Writers College Short Story Competition



2016 Annual Short Story Award


For Emerging Writers in New Zealand and Australia


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




The Winners


Congratulations to our top-placed winners in the 2016 NZ Writers College Short Story Competition.

Our winning stories were superbly crafted, dense and thought-provoking. Each story was unique, written in a charismatic style. Congratulations for an outstanding effort.


First place: 'Till Death Do Us Part' - by Suzanne Main


Runner-up: 'Moving Pattern' - by Nicholas Buck

Third place: 'A Handful of Dust' - by Madeline Dew

Fourth place is awarded to Caryn Hunt for 'The Tiniest of Reasons'. Julie Oakes' story 'The End of the Pipe' was placed fifth.

The Principal's Prize


'Moving Pattern' - by Nicholas Buck



Honours List


Congratulations to our winners of the Honours Award. These beautifully written stories narrowly missed being winners.

  • ‘Making a Difference’ – by Denise Dent
  • ‘Between the Bus Stops’ – by Monique Reymer
  • ‘Out of the Woods’ – by Natasha Bland
  • ‘No Plea Entered’ – by Michal Horton

Honourable Mention

These were well-written stories that held our attention and were enjoyable to read. Well done.
  • ‘The Man Who Lost the Moon’ – by Hamish Cameron
  • ‘Genesis and Revelations’ – by Elliot Tremlett
  • ‘Dead Happy’ – by Matthew Fulton
  • ‘Undercutting Rapunzel’ – by Jayne Grace
  • ‘An Unexpected Place’ – by Matthew Armstrong
  • ‘The Less Said’ - by Julie Hartwich
  • ‘The Other Part of Me’ - by Michele Lines
  • ‘A Cuppa Tea and Fruitcake’ – by Heather McNaughton
  • ‘Dust’ – by Liberty van Voorthuysen
  • ‘Artificial Cold / Genuine Heat’ – by Danny Bultitude
  • ‘The Walker’ – by Paul Metcalf

More stories we loved:
This list acknowledges that the writing shows great potential. Award-winning writing is not only about polished skills, but also subtly pushing boundaries with words, characters and structure. Next year we expect that these authors will climb up the results ladder.
  • ‘Letting Go in the Half Light’ - by Donna Broadhurst
  • ‘Other’ - by Abby Grav
  • ‘Baby’ - by D.A van der Valk
  • ‘Pandora’s Woodshed’– by Kate Dowling
  • ‘A Foreign Blend’ - by Sally McGunnigle-Trail
  • ‘Which Way - Left, or Right?’ - by Shelley Lock
  • ‘Bottle-Brush Flower ‘– by Chloe Gong
  • ‘Confessions of a Taranaki Poacher’ - by Liam R. O’Neill
  • ‘Death’s Withered Heart’ - by Katie Ellis
  • ‘Stalled’ - by Sven Cropp
  • ‘Love.  What Is It?’ – by Rosetta Linda Abatematteo
  • ‘I’ll Go’ – by David Hinkley
  • ‘Dear Cuckoo’ – by Sarah Ellis-Kirifi
  • ‘Glory’ – by Ying Lim
  • ‘The Belly of a Whale’ – by Patricia Durance
  • ‘The Lost Ball’ – by Turene Huiarau Jones
  • ‘Sanctuary’ - by Harris Williamson
  • ‘Mud’ – by Yvie Finn-House
  • ‘Little Tastes’ – by Grace Walker
  • ‘Stoutie’s Day’ - by Christopher Zuppicich
  • ‘Hello Darling’ – by Julie Burrowes
  • ‘The X File’ - by Heather Kelland
  • ‘A Woman Don’t Need No Mantis’ - by Sam Bocock
  • ‘The Fortune’ - by Jessica Hayden
  • ‘Home’ – by Laurie Hyde
  • ‘Déjà Vu’ – by Zoe Millington
  • ‘Birdma, She Taniwha’ – by Yvette Carol
  • ‘The Hunt’ – by Darren Cray
  • ‘Lainey’ – by A. M. Keeble

Keep up the great writing! We look forward to hearing from you again next year for our competition closing 30 September 2017.



The judges' ratings for the top five stories


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


First Place

Till Death Do Us Part

by Suzanne Main

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 23/25
Originality 20/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 23/25
Characterization 22/25
Imagery and use of language 24/25
Overall gut response to story 22/25
TOTAL 134/150

Judges’ comments
  • Excellent setup and execution. Equally excellent writing style and character development. Good foreshadowing, but it does lead to an (equally good) but nevertheless predictable ending, as this is a fairly common plot device. One area you can improve: after Agatha is introduced, less use of her name and more use of a personal pronoun would generate more empathy from the reader. Using personal pronouns has the effect of embedding the reader in the character's mind, as if they become the character. Using Agatha's name excessively has the effect of making her seem remote; as if the narrator is merely describing to the reader what she is doing or feeling. The result is that the story feels more like 'telling' from an omniscient third person rather than 'showing' from a limited third person point of view. A subtle detail that nevertheless reduces the power of the story, especially when there is a brief and very effective diversion from third to first person. SW
  • You immediately hook the reader and hold their attention. You've created such a strong scene that the reader can picture it all.  Short sentences help create pace, and incomplete sentences add to the colloquial feel. Evocative use of literary devices. Beautiful and original detail and description. You use shock value to powerful effect. My only quibble is that surely it would be obvious if he wasn't dead - but your story is a knockout (pun intended). SL
  • Oh, a dark one! Love the dark side. Peppered with little hints for the astute reader to pick up all the way through. Great story. GS
  • The tone is very dry and distant, obviously for intentional effect, but at times it makes it hard to connect to the story. It grew more compelling, and ended very well indeed. KJ
  • Subtly crafted, strong on atmosphere - mourning the loss of a loved one. Powerful imagery, and finally a capsule of loathing at the graveside. PS


Runner-up (Principal's Choice Winner)

Moving Pattern

by Nicholas Buck Read-the-story-here-button

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 20/25
Originality 20.5/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 22/25
Characterization 23.5/25
Imagery and use of language 22.5/25
Overall gut response to story 21.5/25
TOTAL 130/150

Judges’ comments
  • Good story, with honest and therefore very credible insights from the key character. Somewhat over-written in places; there is no room in short stories for excessive wording. Using more powerful nouns rather than strings of adjectives would improve flow and interest.  After Kim is introduced, less use of her name and more use of a personal pronoun would generate more empathy from the reader. Using personal pronouns has the effect of embedding the reader in the character's mind, as if they become the character. SW
  • I love that you've kept this story understated, not resorting to high drama to pack an emotional punch. It really says a lot about a writer when they can make something small feel like something big. You use colloquial language and incomplete sentences beautifully, with lovely detail. I really like your subtle use of humour. I also love the way you've made her dream feel real. SL
  • Terrific, spot-on details of her past and present life as she dreamed it would be, and then, how it has 'turned out'. Positive, upbeat ending that the school re-union will turn out to be all right, even if it isn't what she had imagined. GS
  • The strongest element here is character  - this character feels very well fleshed out. As a character sketch, it succeeds incredibly well. As a story, I feel you need to find a moment or two more to really make us understand 'why this; why now'. KJ
  • A superb slice of life about failed hopes and dreams. It is packed with telling detail and imagery, and uses the device of a reunion to match soaring hopes with a very different reality. The story is marked by pungent phrasing and draws the reader in, making a familiar situation come alive. PS


Third Place

A Handful of Dust

by Madeline Dew

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 20.5/25
Originality 20.5/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 21.5/25
Characterization 21/25
Imagery and use of language 21/25
Overall gut response to story 21.5/25
TOTAL 126/150

Judges’ comments
  • Fabulous characterisations and a beautifully rendered post-apocalyptic world. Great twist as it is unexpected, although not original, as the plot device is a sc fi standard. This story would be far more powerful if you removed, 'In the real world' at the end, and instead wrote both sections of the story entirely from the limited third person point of view of each brother in turn. Mixed and incorrect verb tenses make the story hard to follow in places. This is always tricky when reflecting on the past; especially harder when written from omniscient third person narrative. A little work on grammar and punctuation, and writing in the limited third person, would turn an excellent story into a highly publishable one. SW
  • What an incredible start - you've captured the reader's attention and then some. The Wall is such a powerful concept, and you allude to why very well. Your descriptions are pitch perfect, and you've really thought about original ways to write things (e.g. 'Sean supposes the word for them now is men'. Very effective use of colloquial dialogue. I'm not a fan of the switch to the 'real word'; I would have ended it on "can Sean believe it". SL
  • Started out thinking this was a really good, unusual  sci- fi, and then, coming back to reality was a real kicker. GS
  • The tone of this piece is excellent, conveying humour, emotion, empathy, but also taking the story forward, and taking us along with you. The characters are so well created, so very real, that when the breath leaves, we feel it. KJ
  • Perhaps because this story is meant to replicate a coma with all its fragments, it is difficult to follow. Its style is overstated and lacking the right detail in the right places. This makes the piece too hard to believe. The writer does try to create a post-apocalyptic world through this lens, but the story falters and finally stalls on the return flight to reality. PS


Fourth Place

The Tiniest of Reasons

by Caryn Hunt

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 21.5/25
Imagery and use of language 20.5/25
Overall gut response to story 21.5/25
TOTAL 126/150

Judges’ comments
  • Great set up and characterisations, good flow and a well rendered counterbalance to complete the story. The plot device is not original, but the character brings their own originality to the story by making the reader feel it is their story, with all the necessary emotional underpinnings. The sense of being divorced from emotions, of the soul, is palpable, while the ending rounds out an excellent story. SW
  • This story is a good reminder of the depths of trauma. Creating suspense can be effective, but you've left the reader wondering what's going on for too long at the start of the story; I'd suggest really editing down that intro. It's fine to use punctuation loosely in some places but try to hold back on the commas. You use conversational language well. SL
  • We are right there with the writer as she goes through such gut-wrenching pain and misery all those years ago. A happy relief to read the joyous  ending. GS
  • There's a starkness to this piece that is very captivating and fresh. You use words well, they work for you, and you definitely have a good direction here.  Another story with a very strong ending. KJ
  • A heart-breaking account of loss, fear and in the end, life's reward. It is cathartic - underlined as such at the very end when the writer declares 'this is my story'. Told in an unadorned manner, but expressing a pain readers can only guess at, 'The Tiniest of Reasons' meets its premise and at the same time would move any parent. PS


Fifth Place

The End of the Pipe

by Julie Oakes

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 20/25
Originality 20.5/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 21/25
Characterization 19.5/25
Imagery and use of language 20.5/25
Overall gut response to story 19.5/25
TOTAL 121/150

Judges’ comments
  • There are some really outstanding attributes to this story. The reader is rapidly embedded in a contemporary and very accessible world that is at once both familiar and yet vastly unfamiliar and disturbing, simply because of this commonplace familiarity. The character pulls the reader into this world with ease, and therein lies the power of the story. The ending is disturbing, as it should be.  Technical errors including incorrect punctuation and formatting, a misplaced modifier (Dingy and dark with black paint for curtains, only one dim light hung from the ceiling), occasionally careless scene -setting (the character 'steps back onto' the couch, rather than sitting on the couch) throws the reader from the story, forcing them to re-read sections for clarity. Cleaning up technical errors would vastly improve readability. SW
  • You use short sentences and strong nouns and verbs to good effect. But there are a few too many stacked-up adjectives, and phrases like "murdering the air with his death song" feel a bit over-the-top. You have used some evocative, unexpected detail to powerful effect. I'm not a fan of the reader not being clear on exactly what happened to her, though. Some of your observations, like 'Stupidity is too hard to explain', are very powerful. SL
  • For me, this one has it all - great characterization, imagery, emotion, a tight story and a perfect ending. Kept going back to read it again for sheer pleasure of the words. GS
  • A really strong read, I'm engaged throughout and I care about what happens - always a good sign. The story is at once relatable and natural, and also highly literary. KJ
  • The story sets the scene of a drug house and deal well, taking us to the place with its chemicals and a dealer who wants more for his drugs than money. However, it tries too hard, and that fault limits the potential of the piece. 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.



In the unlikeliest of places

DEADLINE: Midnight 30 September 2016 - Now closed.

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




View our Archived Competition Entries Here >   Competition-Archives



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.

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   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.

  • The competition is open to anyone living in New Zealand over the age of 16.
  • The competition closes at midnight on 30 September 2016. The shortlist is published on 17 October, and the winners will be announced and displayed on our website on 31 October 2016.
  • Prizewinners will be notified via email as well as on our web site; 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 as your email 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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