Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize Judges' Notes

Winner: Jenah Shaw | The houseguest

For such a formally inventive story – a mosaic of descriptive and narrative passages of varying lengths and degrees of evocativeness, ‘sorted’ under subject headings – it’s remarkable that ‘The houseguest’ feels so warmly humane and is such fun to read. The narration has an intriguingly hypothetical tone and the characters hover between anonymous and specific. This gives the story the feeling of, alternately, a common and universal experience, and an autobiographical incident from which the narrator wishes to distance themselves. The tension between these two states holds the reader’s attention and maintains a thread of quiet humour throughout.

Runner-up: Elisabeth Passmore | Westernport Crossing

‘Westernport Crossing’ is very well shaped, from its lovely opening scene to its poignant ending. Linguistic and formal inventiveness are not the point here; this is a straightforward story, powerfully told, of social and emotional deprivation being enforced in a setting of great natural beauty. The characters’ untold stories provide a strong undertow of grief and loss; one man’s rage is set against a group of boys whose fear and abjection have not yet conquered their kindness, their collective loyalty and their abounding physical energy. The reader feels everything with them: the flaring of their hope, its sudden theft and their unexpected, bitter-sweet release.

Runner-up: Alan Sincic | The Postcard from Nowheresville

Described by one judge as ‘Faulkner on acid’, ‘The Postcard from Nowheresville’ is as brightly coloured as the screen of the homemade cinema it describes. Throughout, the language is ebullient to the point of incandescence, the images pile up almost-but-not-quite willy-nilly and the tangents veer off without impeding the only-just-controlled velocity of the central narrative. Tremendous fun to read, it calms itself down sufficiently to deliver a conclusion of slightly sardonic pathos, entirely in keeping with the well-sustained narrative voice.

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Joshua Mostafa

Joshua Mostafa is a fiction writer and doctoral candidate at the Writing and Society Centre, Western Sydney University, researching the poetics of prehistory in fiction. His novella Offshore (2019) won the 2019 Seizure Viva la Novella prize.

His creative practice explores the interstices of prose and metrical poetry, of narrative and the lyric, and of the written and the spoken word. He lives in the Blue Mountains.

Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan is an internationally acclaimed writer of novels and short stories. She is a two-time Printz Honor winner and a three-time World Fantasy Award winner. Lanagan lives in Sydney, Australia, and can be found online at and on Twitter as @margolanagan.

Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. She is the co-founder and publishing director of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. She is the author of Burial Rites and The Good People.

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