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 donâ€™t want to be made to work too hard. I want to be able to understand whatâ€™s going on immediately. I like a story, a narrative. Iâ€™m not very good with the avant-garde and the experimental â€“ 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 â€“ so next time there will be a judge who likes to be challenged and is bored by the conventionalâ€¦
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 (â€œBugger me, Dianaâ€¦â€). Quibblers, including me, might accuse it of being a little too obvious - did it have to be Transylvania? Oleander? â€“ but should accept that it has its tongue gently in its cheek, as do some of the best stories in the genre â€“ check out M.R. James if you donâ€™t believe me. Itâ€™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 canâ€™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/]