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2006 Judge's Comments: David Schembri

The influx of submissions to the Australian Shadows of 2006 was quite extensive. First receiving entries from Agog and FlashSpec Volume One, was then followed by the Lotian Books Dark Fiction novel series. Once these first entries were on the desk, there was a strong taste of what was to come.

Numerous submissions began their way into my mail box at home, and through my email at work, then quickly, the reading list grew longer than my arm. Submissions from independent and major publishers, and individual authors themselves. What had truly become exciting was the range and scope of the imaginations out there. Treating me to stories of both the dark and the mysterious, and there were also the odd couple that made me chuckle whilst looking over my shoulder.

One would ask:'How do you judge such a large amount of work? What will you look for?"

The answer to that was not an easy one. My main factors for assessing a story of any potential for shortlisting were:

The works structure and pace, character development, narrative, writing style, and most importantly, if I actually liked the story or not, and does it do anything for the genre?

What I found most disturbing, was not the depths of depravity I was led into, but of the decision I was to make during selection, before presenting my choices. That's when a harder hammer had to fall. I even found myself re-reading stories to find out if they still held their strengths.

Some kept grip, and others stepped aside. What I was left with was a group of final choices that expanded from works contributed by masters of their craft, and by up and coming authors, to whom I believe, will have a great impact on the respective genres.

Among my final favorites were the collected work of Terry Dowling. His collection: Basic Black (Tales of appropriate Fear) was an ensemble of beautifully written, well paced, and researched pieces, constructed with such elegance. A supreme, consistent, and terrifying read that I would recommend to anyone.

An excellent example of the 'Less is More factor', was the tale about obsessive beauty by Paul Haines. His short story "Lifelike and Josephine" proved that you do not need blood and violence to deliver a tremor to a readers hand. A beautiful piece of writing detailing character, humor, and well paced story flow. (His collection "Doorways for the Dispossessed" also holds some wonderful gems within.)

Stephen Dedman's story "The Blow Off," was another beautifully crafted piece with well described settings and convincing characters. This 5000 word story did more for the genre for me, than some of the entered novels.

Another impressive highlight was the work of Kathryn England, and her confident and gripping tale: 'The Coffin'. Story pace was the definitive element, carrying in tow, an effective and intimate group of characters, to which I cared about. The ending of this story was the first I had read to make me gasp.

The novel highlight, was the wonderful work of Will Elliot: "The Pilo Family Circus." The strong plot, well visualised settings, and engaging characters, make this book a most enjoyable read. Terrifying, and in places, hilarious. A wonderful blend of laughs and fear. A recommended read.

The Authors of note that I wish to honorably mention here are: Martin Livings (his wonderful short story entries,) Barry Riley (his work 'The Overcoat',) and particularly, the debut novel by James R. Cain 'Ek Chauh' (a powerful, emotional, and explosively paced story.)

The overall quality of the entries was outstanding, embellished with the colour and variety of experienced and new coming authors (give or take a few misfires.) I feel there is a great outlook for the future of Horror and Dark Fantasy, and many great things to come...

Credits

I must mention and give my thanks to Mark and Miranda. You both have made this Judging process a gifted experience. The final choices that were made over in-depth discussions of the works, have resulted (I believe) in a well constructed and amazing final line up. Thank you, team! My thanks also go to Marty for managing the flow of stories, and handling all the stress.

A sincere thank you also goes to my Wife and Son, for giving me the time to read. "Finally, I can now join you both for dinner!"

Back to 2006 Shortlist