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The judges of the 2017 Short.Sharp.Stories Award discuss the winning entries of Trade Secrets

Liesl Jobson is a writer, photographer and musician. Her collection of prose poems and flash fiction, 100 Papers, won the 2006 Ernst van Heerden Award and was translated into Italian as Cento strappi. She is the author of a poetry collection, View from an Escalator, a short story collection, Ride the Tortoise, and three children’s books. At dawn she is a single sculler. By day she is a communications officer for enterprise development specialists, Fetola, and at night she plays the contrabassoon for the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra but only when the planets are aligned.

Judging is always a privilege and a challenge. The encounter with the creativity and endeavour of writers at work is humbling. The sincerity, intelligence and courage it takes to commit to the page gives one hope in the vibrancy, immediacy and relevance of the narratives. The offerings in this collection come from a wide range of external geographies and internal experiences, opening seams of contemporary experience from the most personal places of loss, violation, recovery and aspiration. Readers of this collection will find a variety of genres too: crime and pulp, chick lit and dick lit, as well as the experimental and literary. There are writers publishing their first stories, as well as experienced authors who have previously been nominated for international awards; there are experienced journalists and established poets crossing from their familiar zone into different forms. Particularly refreshing are the new voices who articulate stories that historically have not been well represented.

Phakama Mbonambi is a deputy editor at Sawubona magazine. A strong believer in the power of literature to help create bridges, he founded and edited Wordsetc, a literary journal on contemporary South African writing. While the journal may be in hibernation at the moment due to the shortage of funds and time, he hopes to revive it someday in one form or another.

I was looking for an original voice that tackled the theme of ‘trade secrets’ – directly or obliquely. I was looking for stories that are enjoyable, enlightening and entertaining – my primary reason for delving into literature. South Africa is blessed with a diverse population, ensuring that writers come from different backgrounds with their unique voices and singular world views. The richness of the writers’ imagination and the vastness of the topics tackled are something to behold. I hope readers of this anthology will be delighted and enlightened. The Short.Sharp.Stories competition is, without doubt, a powerful platform to discover new writing talent and to showcase excellence.

Tim Richman is a publisher, author and editor. He has worked closely with Joanne Hichens on all the Short.Sharp.Stories anthologies to date. In his twelve years in the South African book industry, he has authored and/or edited more than sixty titles. His next book, to be published internationally in 2017, is 50 People Who Stuffed Up The World, co-authored with Alexander Parker and with illustrations by Zapiro.

As a publisher, I hope to create books that are accessible, eye-opening and memorable, and this description applies perfectly to the ideal short story. There is sometimes the temptation to do too much, when the format’s limited length provides the opportunity for its great strength: to focus on a limited cast and setting to leave a lasting impact on the reader. As a judge, it was important to measure entries against the brief: stories shouldn’t be shoehorned to fit a brief. Some stronger stories fell down in that area, whereas the winners, in particular Wedding Henna, were often sublime in the way they incorporated a trade secret into their tale. And it’s important to reflect a genuine – though not necessarily mainstream or expected – South African-ness in a South African collection of writing; all those on my long-list hit the mark there. There is also the matter of our politics and demographics: a collection like this simply has to be inclusive and reflect the writers who have entered, as well as who we are as a country. Finally, as a reader, I value a story which keeps me turning the pages and leaves me with a sense of satisfaction at the end of it all.

Best Story
Wedding Henna
by Mishka Hoosen

“A powerful exploration of the erotic taboo behind the hijab. Tender and sensual writing that weaves a haunting tale as the narrator decorates her ex-lover’s hands before her wedding. At its core it’s about a broken heart and the longing that comes of it, but also hints at greater themes of personal ​identity and the questions of higher power. Beautifully bittersweet” – 2017 Short.Sharp.Stories Judges’ Choice


The Line of Beauty
by Mapule Mohulatsi

“This is different — courageous, intriguing, thought-provoking, undeniably South African. Mohulatsi will prove to be a strong voice on the SA short story writing scene. A literary storytelling journey of note, about a storyteller and where stories come from” – Tim Richman

Eye Teeth
by Megan Ross

“This is a lyrical psalm of recovery written from the worst type ofbetrayal. The reader is treated to a masterful rewriting of traumanarrative by a storyteller who reclaims the geography of her body to effect a re-imaging and re-imagining” – Liesl Jobson

Handle With Care
by Amy Heydenrych

“Most South Africans have horror stories about the postal service. This tale of redemption is successful at an allegorical level; it touches on fixing that which is broken in the country. The story is enlivened with a dose of magical realism and underscored by a heart-warming empathy and romantic optimism” – Phakama Mbonambi


My Cuban
by Stephen Symons

“A gripping tale, a page-turning rumination on war and its victims, with excellent craft and structure, that left me wishing this was the first chapter of a 20-chapter novel. Lovely to see a poet retain the condensed power of the short form in an expanded line” – Liesl Jobson

Home Cooked
by Ntsika Gogwana

“The unhappiness in the marriage between Sizwe and Nomafa is firmly established. A powerful read which sustains interest as it focuses on male abuse and the rage of women against that abuse. The story contains compelling descriptions of shack life” – Phakama Mbonambi

Foul Hook at the Witsand Botel
by Bobby Jordan

“Rollicking, amusing storytelling that delightfully weaves the best type of magical realism into a convincing and uniquely South African setting” – Tim Richman
by Bobby Jordan

Trade Secrets is now available at book stores.


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