Newcastle Herald short story competition 2017 - the finalists

The submissions for the 2017 Newcastle Herald short story competition are beautiful, sorrowful, sometimes comical and always thrilling.

Writers were asked to pick from any genre but had to draw inspiration from one of the five photographs in the gallery. 

Here are some of the short story competition finalists:

Leonardo’s Flight by Otto Fischer

LEONARDO was getting twitchy. 

Eternity was a long time, and one of the few mathematical problems he had not yet got his head around. He’d only been here a mere 497 years and 17 days and he didn’t know if he could last the distance. Read more. 

Bunch of Doves by Ewa Ramsey

I TOLD Mum about the birds at dinner.

“And then we were walking out of the shop and Mr Harrison’s truck made a big bang and a huge bunch of doves went flying out of that tree on the corner. 

“They were so noisy! Eak eak eak! Pippa nearly cried!”

I thought she would laugh but she didn’t laugh. Read more.

Groundless by Holly Bruce

I FEEL the cushion of dry grass beneath the ball of my foot, followed by a barely perceptible spring and release. I tuck my leg into the sling of cocoon-harness, skim saltbush, and lean into nothing. Surrendering my last point of contact with the earth, I hover low over a shimmering sheet of ocean. I drift. Life unreels in slow motion.

The office — in the last fortnight — has held a collective compulsive twitch. Tension tight and unyielding has bounced in destructive beams from wall to wall, office to office. Read more here.

IN frustration, the fiery-haired girl stormed out the front screen door, slamming it behind her. 

Fire and the Moon by Alison Hawksworth

She plonked down on the top step of the decaying, weather-beaten veranda, mulling over what had just happened. She felt totally out of control and her feelings began to boil and bubble inside of her, despite the coolness of the night. She found that sitting still was impossible, so she marched out the gate and down the tree-lined road.

She didn’t know where she was going but the act of just doing something, anything, seemed to help ease her mind a little. Read on.

White Noise by Brenda Proudfoot

WHEN Shane was arrested, the bush telegraph went into overdrive. Women squalling and squawking like a flock of corellas flung into hot air. 

The day after the news broke, Carol and I were having a coffee in the bakery during my lunch break.

Carol was pleased the police had caught him. Read on.

Over The Edge by Pam Garfoot

THEY say that a steady light breeze is perfect for beginners. 

Today it seems far from perfect to me: at first the wind comes in little spurts and then it drops away to nothing. 

I don’t like it. I really don’t like the whole thing. Read on.

Bloodstained by Jessie Ansons

When a semi-trailer thunders towards you, it’s usually best to get out of the way. 

But the bird’s face made me hesitate on that particular day. It looked so sad. ​Read on.

A Second Chance by Anne Davy

DON wiped his paintbrush on the tin hooked to his ladder and boldly stroked the cobalt across the rough brick. 

It was his third day and he was gaining in confidence. This was the last square in the chalked grid at the top. He gathered his brushes and rollers and carefully climbed down. Read on.

Fine by Jane Hollier Brown 

Nina Small is perfectly fine.

Not that it’s any of your business, thank you very much.Why do you ask, anyway? This is a funeral; her mum’s funeral. Bit ridiculous to ask someone how they are at a funeral. Read on.

The Continent by Mark Konik

Tony didn’t think that Europe would be so hot. Every idea of Europe he had was of reindeer, von Traps or snow-capped mountains. But now as he stood in front of the Trevi Fountain, he was dripping with sweat.

He now felt oafish for packing a heavy fleeced lined coat and he was sick of carrying, unpacking and repacking six thick jumpers. Read on.

Question of Music by Peter Wells 

THE question of music came up.  Safe ground for both of us, even if the ’80s was a long time ago. 

Spandau Ballet?

Hmm, maybe. Not Gold. Maybe True?

Human League?

Don’t You Want Me? I don’t think so. Read on.

Justice Takes Flight by Deborah Arthurs

ACROSS a screeching sky they flew in ominous formation.  

The air around us closed in, became solid somehow, like there was less space to breathe. The atmosphere was leaden with heat. Moisture clung to us for protection from the searing sun. Boiling clouds of eerie green swathed the distant heavens, as crackles of light slashed through them. Faint rumblings echoed deep across the dry tussock grass.

Above and around us, spiralling and splintering, a feathery screaming tornado rent itself apart, agitated; looking for a victim, for solace, for some relief.

And then, as one, the shards arced and focused, acting as one collective thought. Read on.

Same Stone by Susan Francis

I DIDN’T tell the old woman we were coming and James, always the virtuous one, objected.

“I’m not sure about this Gretel …”

But I wasn’t prepared to wait. Not through all the inevitable explanations, the arrangements, the niceties. Because none of this was nice, was it? Read on. 

The Darkest Forest by Vaida Shaw

THEY say you can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you realise you are coming out the other side. 

Well I entered the forest around two years ago, and the only discovery I have made is that I can walk in circles. I pass the same lonely tree every time I search for a way out of this depression. Read on.

The Sister of Icarus by Catherine Moffat

HE WAS always a favoured son. A little too plump, too soft. Delighting the aunties and the grandmothers with his curls, the ripe pout of his lips. He was a child for whom the word “no” meant little. In adolescence he took to exercise Narcissus-like, sculpting his body and endlessly preening. Read on.

Age-Old Natural Law by Maree Gallop

BILL’S in his front yard, flapping his arms around, shooing the corellas away again.

“Go on, get! Hey Glad. Ya know they chewed through the telegraph wire up the road the other day?”

He looks at me waiting for an answer. I shake my head as if I don’t know, but of course I do. The lights were out all night.

“They’re a nuisance. Screechin’ and squawkin’, creating a hell of a racket and vandalising the neighbourhood.” Read on.

The Pipi Master by Brydie Piaf

GRAN said she’d be back in half an hour. Stopping half way down the sandy walk way she turned back, “You sure you’ll be OK up there by yourself?”

It was the third time she’d asked, so instead of giving her a bunch of reassuring words like he’d done the other times he waved her away with a smile, walking further up the headland. 

She knew where he’d be, up the top, looking out over the beach. He would be able to see her, and she him. Except he didn’t need to keep tabs on her like she did. Read more.

The River by Rhonda Mackey

Elly kicked Kendall into a canter. Her mind raced as the horse gathered speed. She'd beat the river, if she could.

Today it looked harmless, but she knew its power. A wise person never underestimated its potential to wreak havoc. Those murky depths held many secrets. Read more.

The Mission by Anita Lamond

THEY huddled together in the Twin Towers café listening to the rain beating on the roof. They were scared – these were tough people who had seen floods come and go before but this continuous downpour was testing them all. Read more.

Unconstrained by Diana Threlfo

I STAND on the balcony of our apartment overlooking Newcastle beach and swallow the dregs of my wake-up espresso. 

I try to scrub away memories of my girlfriend’s distorted features, the iciness in her voice. They’ve plagued me ever since dinner last night when I’d excitedly shared some incredible news. Read more.

Squawk by E. C. Lutz

SO engrossed in my thoughts, the sound startles me. 

I look around to see a solitary white cockatoo sitting on my mailbox.

“What are you doing here little guy? You scared me.” Read more.

A Life Well Spent by Kevan Smith

HIS breath came slowly these days. It was short and shallow, sometimes interspersed with a guttural cough or two. 

“That’s from ’Nam,” he would tell anyone who wanted to listen. 

There were fewer and fewer to listen these days. All his friends and even those who used to be friends had gone or simply disappeared. “Probably dead,” he often thought.  It was a very rare time he recognised a face or a read a name or a saw a place he still recognised from his youth. Read more.

Twisted by Maxine Jacobi

“MY grandad used to swing from this tree,” Sam told me.

The swing rope was tied onto the largest limb of the old tree by the river’s edge.

The river was a deep green colour. It lolled between steep banks of heavy, grey clay where the huge trees grew. Tree branches stretched like thick, strong arms over the water then spread into broad, firm, green leaves which reflected in the river’s surface. Read more.

Low tide by Anna Stoddard

THE sharp tang of salt rode along the currents of the breeze as it gently weaved itself between tall pines and tufts of spinifex grass.

It carried forth the music of childish laughter backgrounded by the rhythmic thwack of a cricket bat. Read more.

After The Dance by Robyn Timmins

GONE midnight, New Year’s Eve, 1975. The Palais Royale was starting to wind down. 

I look around for Jenny – no sign of her. Come to think of it I haven’t seen her brother Peter lately either. Peter had driven us here with the offer of a lift home. 

A night nearly over, a mish-mash of streamers and weary dancers scattered across the dance floor.

The day had started with such promise. Read more.

Fractured Waves by Rebecca West

AN infinite calm, an infinite unrest.

A blue-soaked peace. A blue-soaked killer.

Its waves are the greatest escape.

Its waves, the deadliest escape; and its depth a boundless freedom;a false and fractured freedom. Read more.

Breathe by Ash Keeling

I SPEND my days on this same bench seat, overlooking the whitecaps. My doctors tell me, every breath inhaled here earns me another. Dare you disagree.

I peel back my throwover to capture some early rays working hard to burn away the morning chill. Only, my nightingale, Billie, fusses over me. Read more.

Awakening by Bruce Jones

TOM sits in his car, staring out through the windscreen at nothing. His passenger is doing the same. 

There is a light rain falling and the scene through the windscreen is blurred. The riotous burst of a flock of cockatoos startles the occupants of the battered old Corolla back to the present, as the birds wheeled across the road in front of them. The cacophony of screeches and squawks recedes into the distance as the birds roost in a large angophora.  Read more.

The competition

A winner and two highly commended entrants will be selected. The winner will be announced January 28, 2017. The winner will receive a library of 50 new books, a weekend pass to the 2016 Newcastle Writers Festival in March, as well as a Lenovo TAB2 A7-20 tablet computer and case courtesy of Domayne Kotara. Highly commended entrants will receive 10 news books plus a weekend pass to the writers festival. All three will also receive a 12-week subscription to the Herald.

Judges include Fairfax Media's Newcastle/Hunter group managing editor Chad Watson, Herald deputy editor Matthew Kelly, author and academic Matthew Thompson and Hunter Writers Centre director Karen Crofts. Shortlisted stories will run in the Herald from December 26 to January 27.