I Was Scared winner announced; gothic expert Richard Bayne explains how he overcame his fear of judging to select it
8th January 2015
I was scared about being guest judge. After thinking about various approaches, and becoming nervous about how many different ways there seem to be of looking at a piece of text - polished writing or a good idea? immediate impact or slow-burn stimulus? - I decided the only way to go was with the piece I liked best. This means my tastes, prejudices and unreasonable gut instincts are in charge, and some really good stuff has been overlooked, mostly because I never have got to grips with poetry.
I am a lazy reader. I don’t want to be made to work too hard. I want to be able to understand what’s going on immediately. I like a story, a narrative. I’m not very good with the avant-garde and the experimental – which makes me not quite ideal for Hour of Writes, because I recognise and applaud the fact that one of the many things it aims to do is encourage and provide a forum for exactly that. Sorry. But the good thing about HofW is it happens every week – so next time there will be a judge who likes to be challenged and is bored by the conventional…
Disclaimers and apologies dealt with, here we go:
My winner told a complete and coherent story, with a pleasing twist on a classic Gothic motif set in a resolutely modern context (“Bugger me, Diana…”). Quibblers, including me, might accuse it of being a little too obvious - did it have to be Transylvania? Oleander? – but should accept that it has its tongue gently in its cheek, as do some of the best stories in the genre – check out M.R. James if you don’t believe me. It’s not the most stylish of the pieces, but the writing works, lively and effective and not placing any obstacle in the path of this lazy reader.
Featured entry number 1 is a very sophisticated bit of writing, exploring emotions around pregnancy in a way that felt beautifully intimate and true. Again I enjoyed its completeness and coherence, and appreciated its adherence to the theme of fear.
Featured entry number 2, which was peer-rated very highly, built suspense with great skill, creating the purest evocation of being scared of any of the pieces, but then blew it by running out of time.
And I can’t resist an honourable mention for the piece titled Immortal - seek it out in the Ephemera - which is the most magnificently over the top flow of pure Gothic, executed with so much enthusiasm I reckon the writer has a future in the field, if only they can get themselves under control!
Richard Bayne won a short story competition a long time ago and has been trying to be a writer ever since. He was recently very lucky to have an opportunity to parlay his love for old-fashioned ghost-stories in particular and old-school Gothic in general into a book that aims to foster a similar love in younger readers.
[Ed: A Young Person's Guide to the Gothic by Richard Bayne is published by Indie Books and available at http://indiebooks.co.uk/]