Robert Kitchin / Stuff
Writer Dame Fiona Kidman OBE at her home in Wellington.
Don’t mess around – start with a bang if you want a shot at winning the Sargeson Prize, New Zealand’s richest short story competition. You will also need to create believable characters and possess a strong and clear “writing voice”.
That’s the advice of renowned New Zealand author and Chief Justice Dame Fiona Kidman OBE.
Named for acclaimed New Zealand writer Frank Sargeson, the University of Waikato-sponsored annual award was established in 2019 by creative writing lecturer and author Catherine Chidgey.
Each year the prize pool grows and this year the top prize in the Open Division is worth $10,000.
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The competition also aims to encourage young writers. The winner of the high school division will receive $500 and a one-week summer writing residency at the University of Waikato, including accommodation, meals, and mentorship.
“It’s a big prize and I’m very happy to be a part of it,” Kidman said.
“I don’t believe there are hard and fast rules for writing short stories. I think to have a clearly established theme, a central idea is important. If people ask for advice on writing a short story, I’d say there aren’t too many characters – you can quickly clutter a story. Listen to the voice, listen to your own voice, understand your characters. If there is an interesting beginning, it helps.
The contest drew nearly 850 entries in the open division and 150 in the high school division last year.
Citing Canadian “rule-breaking” author Alice Munro as a favorite, Kidman said it was important for a short story arc to have “a point of conflict”.
“Whether inside or with the world around him, there should be a point of conflict – I like something to happen. Above all, it is about listening to your own voice to tell a story.
She added that the award recognizes the “wonderful history of short story writers” in New Zealand.
“This prize is named in honor of Frank Sargeson who was one of our pioneers in short stories. Writer Catherine Chidgey was instrumental in getting this project off the ground and making it happen, because I think it represents the generosity of spirit that I like to think of among our writers,” Kidman said.
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Fiona Sussman, a writer who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, is the big winner of the 2018 Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards.
“Sargeson demonstrated that quite significantly. He was known as a person who supported other writers and that’s something I love about this award. Aside from the generous award which is wonderful for a writer, I like the idea that it’s writers working for writers.
Stories can be up to 5,000 words in the open division and up to 3,000 words in the secondary category.
The winning stories in each category will be published online on ReadingRoom, the literary arm of Newsroom, run by journalist and author Steve Braunias.
Sargeson Prize entries close June 30, 2022. There is no entry fee and stories are limited to one per person.