IT'S the missing details that make Tina Sorenson's Summer Herald 2014 short story winner: In so compelling.
It opens with the unnamed anti-hero reminiscing about summer afternoons - from inside the boot of a car.
How did he get there, who put him there, and why? The story focuses instead on his regrets and remorse, and it works.
Awarding the story first place in the second Herald Summer Short Story Competition, the judges praised In for its sharp imagery and pithy, affecting language.
This year's stories were inspired by three images of summer captured by Herald photographers. The 130 entries were blind judged by Herald editor Chad Watson, Hunter Writers Centre director Karen Crofts, Black Inc. publisher Jeanne Ryckmans, and Herald journalist and Newcastle Writers Festival director Rosemarie Milsom.
Mr Watson said he was impressed with the variety of writing styles.
"Entrants interpreted the provided photos in myriad ways," he said.
"The Hunter certainly boasts an abundance of skilful writers with great imaginations.
"Everyone who submitted a story deserves congratulations."
Ms Sorenson, a mother of two from Soldiers Point, said she was happily surprised to win first place and is keen to pursue her passion for creative writing.
She has worked as a public relations specialist, media advisor and journalist in the Hunter, Sydney and Wollongong, including a stint at the Newcastle Herald after graduating from the University of Newcastle with a Communications degree in 1992.
"I always thought [creative writing] was something I wanted to do but I didn't do anything about it since winning the NBN young writers award in year 9," Ms Sorenson said.
"I saw this competition and I thought I should give it a crack, and I had a plot, and that's always been my problem . . . but I looked at the photograph, and it just came pretty quickly from there."
Some of the imagery used in the story comes straight out of the childhood she spent in Port Stephens, Ms Sorenson said - the summertime swims, and the buzz of cicadas.
"That's pretty much what my afternoons were like," she said.
After a week of illness got in the way, the story was written up in two nights, and one child-free afternoon.
"I just didn't have the time so I just had to focus on the plot."
Ms Sorenson has won a library of 50 new-release books valued at $1000, as well as a Sony Reader and folio package valued at $168, courtesy of Domayne Kotara, and two VIP weekend passes to the 2014 Newcastle Writers Festival in April.
The second placegetter receives a $200 voucher from MacLean's Booksellers, and third place will receive a $100 voucher from MacLean's.
The six placegetters will each receive a 12-month Hunter Writers Centre membership.