Short story competition winner follows dream

02:56, Nov 19 2013

When Faith Oxenbridge was told she'd taken the top prize in the Sunday Star-Times short-story competition, she was just heading off to a creative writing class. Not as a student, though; she's the teacher.

Read judge's full comments

Oxenbridge, who has a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Canterbury University, teaches creative writing and journalism at Hagley Community College in Christchurch and tutors at the Hagley Writers' Institute.

Oxenbridge's winning story, What You Have, takes the reader inside the mind of a woman as she prepares for her mother's funeral.

It was praised by judge Carl Nixon for its "seemingly effortless artistry".

Nixon said although the story explores grief and the mental illness of a parent, it is "never bleak or overwrought".


He said: "Beautifully controlled use of simile and metaphor and a wry tone, in what could have been a depressing tale, combine to make What You Have a clear winner."

Oxenbridge wrote the story about six months ago, when her own mother was in hospital and frail. "I thought I'd prepare myself emotionally for her death but, in fact, she's fine. But then my father died about a month ago - and I wasn't prepared for that."

Oxenbridge, 52, started writing only a decade ago. She had been running a bookshop, "and I got sick of just reading, and started writing".

Encouraged by the publication of a story in The Listener, she took an undergraduate writing paper at Canterbury University, then the Masters degree.

Her fiction features in Turbine, Best NZ Fiction 5 and the NZ Book Month Six Pack2 collection. She was a runner-up in the BNZ Katherine Mansfield short-story competition last year, and is on the shortlist of Australia's Overland writing competition.

She is also living proof persistence pays off: Oxenbridge has entered the Star-Times competition half a dozen times, and was highly commended in 2001. Her ambition: get a collection of stories published.

Second prize in the Open category was awarded to Auckland writer David Herkt, for his story The Man Who Photographed Clouds, which Nixon said had "one of the best first sentences" he had read.

Third place went to Angela Barnett of Napier, with her story Over 500, an account of a woman admitting her secret-alcoholic friend to hospital.

The Secondary Schools division of the competition was judged by Joy Cowley, who said many entries showed a maturity that would fit the adult section of the competition, leaving her "grateful to the education system in New Zealand, that fosters such creativity".

First place went to Charlotte Steel, from Kavanagh College, Dunedin, for her story Taking Tickets, which Cowley said was a polished story, "told directly with words so well chosen that there is no waste".

Second place went to Isabelle McNeur of Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti High School in Christchurch for An Angel and a Demon Walk into Starbucks, and third was Sophie Van Waardenberg from Auckland's St Cuthbert's College, for Any Way the Wind Blows.

In the new non-fiction category, first place was taken by Ellen Rowntree of Auckland, second by Megan Doyle Corcoran of Wellington and third was Jane Bloomfield of Queenstown.

FULL RESULTS: Open division: 1: Faith Oxenbridge. 2: David Herkt. 3: Angela Barnett. Highly commended: Leanne Radojkovich, John Procter, Jack van Beynen, Barbara Koziarski, Mark Stephenson, Juliette Rose Wunrow.

Secondary school division: 1: Charlotte Steel. 2: Isabelle McNeur. 3: Sophie Van Waardenberg. Highly Commended: Michaela Sandoe, Katrina Hansen, Luana Leupolu, Erin Ramsay, Joanna Li, Isabelle McNeur.

Non-fiction division: 1: Ellen Rowntree. 2: Megan Doyle Corcoran. 3: Jane Bloomfield. Highly commended: Edgar Clapshaw, Charle Farnell.

Sunday Star Times