Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 22, 2017

Forty South Short Story Anthology 2017

Every year, Forty South Publishing sponsors The Tasmanian Writers Prize,  a competition for stories of up to 3,000 words on an island, or island-resonant theme.  It’s open to residents of Australia and New Zealand, with a cash prize of $500 and publication in the Forty South Short Story Anthology.  It’s a hotly contested competition which often unearths writers of great talent.

This is the Peter Grant’s blurb from the 2017 anthology:

“Those of us who live in this heart-shaped island of Tasmania often experience a restive contentment. We sense an internal tide, sometimes tugging at us to leave in search of more, sometimes flooding us with an ache to return. This dynamic tension can be a powerful generator of creativity.

Like the peasant at the edge of the court, we recognise the fragility, folly even, of those cloest to the throne. We see clearly that even at the glittering , crowded centre nothing will suffice.

So we return to our fringe, wiser perhaps. But there is a melancholy here, a sense that – like the Irish – our island’s troubles will continually resurface.

You will find in this anthology an exploration of these elemental themes. There is promise, and love, and a simplified life, certainly. But alongside these there are sometimes secrets, loss, enmities, and violence. Thankfully there is humour too.”

This year’s winner is Jennifer Porter, whose story The Reverend is set in Hobart Town in 1822.  The Reverend of the title ministers to the motley congregation of convicts and their gaolers, and on this day, the Reverend has a solemn duty which will haunt him for all his days to come:

Jacob Scholls – such a red-faced runt as an infant, sixteen years before.  His mother, narrow-eyed and wide-hipped, his father a reedy man with a limp and sharp chin, not long freed.  There were so many to feed already, and here was another.  But I wet his head and said the holy words and his mouth let out a howl, as if he knew what was to come, as if he knew of life’s ultimate betrayal.

I brace myself against the bench before me, the same one I use as a pulpit when there is too much rain to conduct service outside.  I pronounce the sentence, and beneath the churn of scurried indignation from the galley, comes a long low bellowing, like the wail of a cow newly kept from her calf.  It is the narrow-eyed woman, his mother.  Scholls stands tall, as if bracing for a gale and looks toward his father, a mirror of calm dignity.  I think of the fellows with whom I mix, government officials, often unruly with drink, failing in their duty to family and office, and I know that many would sink to their knees if faced with such a fate. (‘The Reverend’, p.3)


Amongst the finalists is a name well-known to readers of this blog.  The author of 8 States of Catastrophe and a collection of short stories called Flame Tip, Karenlee Thompson has written numerous guest posts, mainly reviewing short story collections with a writerly eye.

Finalists (I haven’t read them all yet)

On the Ebb Tide by Margaret Dakin (QLD): a tale of grief and regret, memories triggered by finding an old tin

The Church of Lost Objects by Penny Gibson (VIC): a wife is tormented by a handwritten envelope addressed to her distant husband

Matchbox Beetles by Annabel Larkey (TAS): a story of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship

The Rasp of a Hungry Flame by Carmel Lillis (VIC)

Liberty by Ruairi Murphy (TAS), another story set in colonial Hobart, focussing on the journey to homelessness

Wash-up by Melanie Napthine (VIC)

Tybee Bomb by William Stanforth (VIC)

Alice … Incomplete by Karenlee Thompson (QLD)

The Tartan Factor by Polly Whittington (TAS)

Tears of Chios by Lynette Willoughby (SA)

Karenlee’s story ‘Alice … Incomplete’ is achingly sad.  The blue ribbons given to Alice by old Mr Carlisle next door betray his ‘agenda’, and the motif of feeling ‘blue’ distils the damage done by the betrayal of innocence.

Sometimes Alice dreamed of her father, interchangeable with Mr Carlisle, indistinguishable in his caresses and whispers.  Her efforts to dismiss the dreams were stymied by Aunt Sondra’s knowing stares.  Her father’s sister would talk to her about memories which should remain buried.  Men are men, she whispered.  She seemed angry with Alice, constantly reminding her that every girl has responsibility over her own body.  Aunt Sondra had rivers grooved into her upper lip which became more pronounced when she sniffed and pursed, something she did regularly when Alice’s father entered the room. (p.86)

I loved the allusions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice and to Blue Alice and The Cypriot paintings in the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.

Contact Fullers Bookshop in Hobart to buy a copy of the anthology.

Editors: Peter Grant, Margaret Johnson and Fiona Stocker
Title: Forty South Short Story Anthology 2017
Publisher: Forty South, Tasmania, 2017
ISBN: 9780648106357
Gift of Karenlee Thompson



  1. You would hope that the ‘uncles’ of stories like Karenlee’s were from on era now passing, but sadly that does not seem to be the case.


    • Sometimes I think I must have been just very lucky never to have come across anything like this or ever heard about it even as gossip – until the silence broke in the public media. But my father, who grew up in London, said that as a boy playing in the street with the bigger children, they were always warned by them never to go near a certain man in the street. So there, in that place and in that time, there was a culture of not keeping quiet about it, even if nothing was actually done by the authorities. That, I think, is something that should be encouraged…


      • The kids I knew, came to know later in their lives, warned each other but never or only rarely responsible adults.


        • Well, there was a sort of code of things that you told your parents, and things you didn’t. There were all kinds of reckless things I did in my childhood and none of us would ever have told our parents what we got up to.


  2. It must be short story season since I keep seeing blog posts about them


  3. All the short stories you describe here are doom, gloom, misery, guts. It may be because I have been so sick, missing out on everything, but I would love to read more uplifting, beautiful garden, happy relationship books. I am at the point with so much negative news, politics and so many really tragic books and stores in the media I don’t want to read anything. I might end up sitting in a corner cutting out flowers and gluing them to the wall, haha. It will be interesting to see who wins though. No doubt when I am well again (coming off long term MS meds-withdrawal- lost my lunch at Hadleys writers Festival amidst 200 plus people) I will be right back into these books and stories. I might write my own-lol. Just an observation, not a complaint. Lovely review for this competition.


    • Well, to be honest, that’s why I stopped reading the collection. Individually, the ones I read were good stories, but collectively, they were a bit depressing.
      It reminds me how clever Dickens was: he wrote social justice novels with some pretty heavy themes, and yet he made us laugh as well. Maybe today’s writers feel that’s disrespectful, I don’t know…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Travellinpenguin does have a good point (and I’m sorry you are so unwell travellinpenguin). There is a fair bit of doom and gloom in many of the stories (but I don’t think that is just shorts). I think there is a tendency for judges/publishers to show interest in ‘serious’ pieces and most of us are guilty of being a little too earnest in our writings. However, there is a bit of humour in the collection, especially in Polly Whittington’s ‘The Tartan Factor’ which I thought was good fun.

        The funniest short story writer I have read is Ryan O’Neill. His story ‘My English Homework’ which I read in one of the Escape anthologies is ‘spit out your coffee, laugh out loud hysterical’. I’ve actually written a few funny ones myself (is that a bit like laughing at your own jokes?) but they just haven’t found a home yet.

        I do hope you were well enough to enjoy some of the festival travellinpenguin. I certainly had a great time (luckily I was not present when you lost your lunch).


        • It’s certainly not just shorts, and it isn’t just Australian fiction either. *chuckle* It used to be Irish fiction which was known for being gloomy, but now it’s universal.
          Maybe it’s just the times….


          • Oh yes, the Irish fiction. That’s right!


          • Haha, yes, Irish fiction. I think that’s why I loved Irish fiction so much, when I first met it! I don’t mind doom and gloom if it is well written.

            However, I disagree with the idea often put around that you can’t write good stories that are also happy. We readers though need to read them and show we like them, but I feel we don’t (or don’t enough). Why, else, would Karenlee be finding it so hard to place her funny stories? Because publishers don’t think we’ll read them? (I loved all of John Clanchy’s collection Six, but the particular story I remember is a very funny one about a husband home sick and unable to make himself some toast. It made me laugh because he drew the picture so well.)


            • Maybe it’s because humour is such a tricky beast? I like satire and irony… I’m having a grand time currently reading Michelle de Kretser’s new novel… and I like pathos a.k.a. Australian dorkiness though right now I can only think of TV series like Rosehaven, and Mother and Son. The Spouse OTOH can’t see anything funny in any of those. Conversely, I never saw anything funny in MASH or any other American TV comedy, I like subtlety and I loathe the concept of a ‘roast’.


              • Yes, I’m sure that’s it Lisa, so you can see why publishers steer clear! I like most forms of humour, if done well, though I can’t comment on MASH as I never watched it. My parents loved it, though. I often find myself the only one in a cinema laughing because I love the ridiculous and also that sort of rueful humour about the things we do. Overall though I love satire, irony and the absurd. BTW I loved Mother and Son too, but Mr Gums didn’t. But he’s very tough on humour.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Perhaps a whisperings might be on the menu?


                • I did think! But that’s a hard one… Will give it some thought. 🤔


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