SA Writers' College | 2013 Short Story Competition Winners


2013 Annual Short Story Award


The Winners


Congratulations to our top-placed winners in the 2013 SA Writers' College Short Story Competition. The judges' comments and ratings follow below, as well as our Honours List, Honourable Mention List and a 'more stories we loved' list. Well done to all our entrants this year for setting the bar so high.

First place: Carla Lever for 'Food for Thought'

Runner-up: Liam Kruger for 'Wholesale'

Third place: Eleanor Talbot for 'Sleeping Dogs'

Fourth place is awarded to Zainub E Dala for 'Room Number 25', and fifth place goes to Liz Dewing for 'Restitution'.
Our top five stories had that winning 'presence' we look for in SA Writers' College short stories: originality, authenticity, unpretentious writing, believable characters and this year, unusual storylines.


People's Choice Award

Your vote counts! Click here to vote for your favourite story.

Every year we allow the public to choose their winner out of the top five stories. In this way, you get to assess what makes for good writing, and you support a local writer at the same time. The writer who wins the People's Choice Award receives a prize of R2000.00.





Congratulations to our writers of an Honours Award. These stories narrowly missed making the top five.


‘The Pangolin Scale’ by Matthew F. Child

‘Circles’ by Orry Messer

‘Jonathan’s Creatures’ by Tania Terblanche

‘Silence’ by Hannelie Victor

‘Coffee Break’ by Jared Jeffery

‘Return to Hout Bay Craft Market’ by Joanna Evans

‘Lessons in snake charming and other useful life skills’ by Linda McCullough

‘The Mouth of the Machine’ by Rudi Benadé

‘Honest Harry’ by Duncan Aird

‘We Were Poets’ by Ryan Eric Lamb


Honourable Mention


These writers receive an Honourable Mention for stories that were well-written and a delight to read.


‘Doing the right thing’ by Riaan Els

‘Figments of the Unforgiven’ by Mandisi Nkomo

‘Thinking Pretty’ by Kayli Vee Levitan

‘Unexpected Angel’ by Matthew Thomas

‘Bitter Tears’ by Mohau Kotola

‘When the Old Men Come (Story of an African Jew)’ by Tapiwa Zvakavapano

‘The Overcoat’ by Caroline Maina

‘Finding Sara’ by Mark Thomas

‘Wanting’ by Farzanah Dawood

‘The Shebeen Queen’ by Nthepa Martha Moitsheki

'Makhulu’ by John Keith Anderson Holland

‘Decision Time’ by Ray Hattingh

'Doing the Right Thing' by Ken Farnsworth

‘Raid on a Black Lotus’ by Omri Pieterse

More stories we loved:

‘Doing the Right Thing’ by Leila Shadow; ‘A Room with a View’ by Jan Bowley; ‘My Grandfather’s Story’ by Adheesh Budree; ‘City of Gold’ by Anjuli Maistry; ‘The Nut-gathering Habits of Eco’ by Greig Douglas; ‘Change’ by Liezl Durie; ‘My Sisi’ by Andiswa Maqutu; ‘Thabo’ by Nkhensani Chimuse; ‘Hunting Knife’ by Kim Muller; ‘So Long  Sam’ by Annemarie van Basten; ‘Mazibuko and Others v City of Johannesburg and Others’ by Anita Vilaas; ‘Dark Wings’ by Kristien Wolmarans; ‘The Rover’ by Jacques Nel; ‘Night, Night Dot Reigh’ by Jade du Randt; ‘Defending Health with Military Precision’ by Theesan Vedan; ‘A Good Way to go Mad’ by Dione Choto; ‘5th Floor’ by Marie Claire Pierce; ‘Happy Ending’ by Louis Wiid; ‘Genie’ by Ramona Chetty; ‘Bogeymen’ by Varsha Patel; ‘Downtown Cinderella’ by Ilze Ludick; ‘Abuse’ by Cris Berry; ‘How Barry didn’t Survive’ by Megan Furniss;  ‘What is the right thing to do anyway?’ By Varsha Lalla; ‘Destiny’ by Chenél Pieterse-Boyle; ‘The Picnic’ by Nick de Pomeroy-Legg; ‘A Coat of Many Colours’ by William Oosthuizen; ‘Behind the White Line’ by Chelsea Haith

We look forward to hearing from you again in 2014.

The judges’ ratings and comments for the top five stories

A huge thank you to our judges this year: Ginny Swart, Alex Smith, Lisa Lazarus, Karen Jeynes  and Sarah Lang


First Place

Food for Thought

by first Carla Leverread-the-winning-entry-here

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 21.5/25
Originality 19.5/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 17.5/25
Characterization 22/25
Imagery and use of language 24/25
Overall gut response to story 21/25

TOTAL 125.5/150

Judges’ comments

  • Certainly held my attention from the start and got better as it went along. Yes, it presents a fresh angle on thoughts of death and dying.  The woman is immediately revealed as a deep thinker and a philosopher about all aspects of her life, as well as about her own impending death. Excellent use of language, terrific phrases, not a word wrong. Filled with admiration for this writer. This is the sort of story that stays with you for a long time afterwards. GS
  •  Phew, a big story (essay) dealing with the biggest of issues and yet quite exquisitely brought down to earth with the baking of a good briyani. It's provocative and thought provoking, and very well written. Moving, inspiring, insightful. It could perhaps be trimmed in parts. Is it a story though or is it an exceptional essay, in the fashion of Anne Fadiman? To this reader if feels to veer more towards being an exceptional essay. Thank you to the author though, it did what few pieces do – made one think and what's more feel resolved to do something with one's own beautiful hands.AS
  •  The story beautifully dances between the big and small pictures, between external and internal horror, and looking at all the angles of illness and pain. It does so with tenderness but without unnecessary sentimentality.KJ
  •  Some interesting insights about death. Be careful about the voice of the character slipping.  'Problem solved, bru' - this doesn't see to fit the voice of the narrator.LL
  •  This story grabbed me with its opening hook and didn't let me go. I love the way the story upsets the reader's expectations as the narrator is revealed to be the patient – and your shift in tone matches perfectly. The points you make are profound and insightful (and that's no easy feat when so much has been said on this topic). The subtle black humour works well and you have mastered the use of the incomplete sentence. Your use of language, imagery and literary devices are excellent, with some  brilliant metaphors. A few transitions need work. This is a stirring  story that left me with goosebumps. SL



by Liam Krugerread-the-runner-up-entry-

Readability: Does it hold your attention? 21/25
Originality 21.5/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 20.5/25
Characterization 17/25
Imagery and use of language 21/25
Overall gut response to story 21/25

TOTAL 122/150

Judges’ comments

  •  Terrific energy in this quirky story - a whole new take on marketing in your local discount store. The story bounded along at a great rate with no side paths. The protagonist’s cynical voice came through loud and clear and I felt I knew them both by the time it ended. Loved it. I almost missed the murder in the second last line, it was so casually done. If there had been any more clever observations it would have been a bit too far off- the- wall but as it is, it’s great. GS
  •  This is a most intriguing concept, and potentially a good story, but perhaps could do with further developing. The narrator's view of the world is quirky, engaging and, in the end, disturbing, and yet perhaps not fully convincing.AS
  • Love the concept of a futuristic religion crazed society, and I think that is very well realised. I was never clear what the relationship between the narrator and the character being described was, and I didn't feel the ending worked. KJ
  • Found this dystopian future scenario both chilling and amusing. Thought the author did well to combine two rather different tones. The story was perhaps a little difficult to follow in parts, but certainly original. LL
  •  Wow. This is such a clever, ironic postmodern story, and so original that it really challenges the reader. The story deftly satirises the commercialisation of faith and uses wonderful absurdist humour, while making profound points about human nature. This is tight, concise writing with a great conversational, colloquial style. The killer ending upsets expectations and makes us rethink the entire story. SL

Third Place

Sleeping Dogs

by Eleanor Talbot    


Readability: Does it hold your attention? 19.5/25
Originality 18/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 20/25
Characterization 20.5/25
Imagery and use of language 17/25
Overall gut response to story 18.5/25

TOTAL 113.5/150

Judges’ comments

  •  Great South Effrican feel to this. It was a bit choppy, going from the conversation between the two mates and then the wife being interviewed by the police and then back to the two men. All the characters were sharply drawn: you could walk down any street in Brakpan and know you’d meet them (sorry, Brakpan!). No discernable imagery but the spot-on slang and genuine feel to the language made up for it.  Loved it. Read it with a smile on my face all the way through. I liked the way it didn’t miss a beat with the hilarious interview between the wife and the cops. GS
  •  A great start to this story. Some good dialogue pushing the plot forward. The author does a good job of drawing the reader into the character's world, but for this reader the character is a tough one to like or care about, so although there is potential here, ultimately, the story isn't compelling. AS
  • The story is clever in revealing the plot through dialogue rather than spelling it out to us. The twists and turns are very well thought out. Personally I struggled to find someone or something to care about in the narrative. . KJ
  • A humourous story, though perhaps a touch cliched. It's difficult to get a very accurate sense of character just through dialogue, especially when the characters don't speak that differently from one another, though I understand that using only dialogue was a feature of this story. Make sure that your character remains consistent. Would the main character - clearly a pleasure-seeking, rather amoral kind of guy - say this: 'There’s the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things.'? The language seemed too pedantic. LL
  • Very few writers could pull off a story that only uses dialogue (and dialogue  from three different conversations), but this bold move has more than paid off. It takes great skill to write a story which is more about what isn’t said than what is said. I love the way the story makes the reader do some work to read between the lines and work out how the three conversations intersect. I love the subtle humour that comes from misunderstandings (eg Jannie’s lack of imagination/stupidity), and what this interaction tells us about the characters.  The conversational, colloquial style feels effortless and captures both the South Africa setting, and the way that people go off on tangents during conversations. I also love the self-referential way the story draws attention to good and bad metaphors (milkshake etc). And 'the right way to do things' is a clever spin on the theme. An incredibly impressive story that I can't fault. Bravo. SL

Fourth Place

Room Number 25

by Zanub E Dala


Readability: Does it hold your attention? 17/25
Originality 16.5/25
Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?) 18.5/25
Characterization 18/25
Imagery and use of language 20/25
Overall gut response to story 17.5/25

TOTAL 107.5/150

Judges’ comments

  •  Excellent use of imagery and gorgeous language. Two disappointed people and an unusual take on sex in the afternoon. I read it through, waiting for something else to happen beyond the summing up of the story which we read in the first paragraph. It just felt very ponderous. It flips back and forth between now and the past, and every now and then we read her thoughts, although it is mostly Ian’s musings. It was hard to get to grips with Ian. He seemed to drift through the story. I just didn’t get involved with these two characters. And his remark at the end, about doing the right thing, seemed tacked on just to suit the theme. The language was beautiful but the whole thing felt distanced and remote, a bit like the two characters I suppose. This is a really good writer and I wish I liked the story more. GS
  •  The author's use of Tetchikoff's orchid is genius – so vivid that image that I lost track of the rest of the story, my thoughts kept going back to that scene created in the first pages. The characters are well drawn, original. The story has great potential, but it lacks something, perhaps momentum? AS
  • I found this story to be told with a truthfulness and unflinchingness, to offer a refreshing perspective, a well observed snapshot of two lives colliding, of potential, taking a turning point in two lives and laying it bare. KJ
  • The disparity between the fantasy and the reality of an affair was well brought across. However, try and show through detail - rather than piling on adjectives -e.g. 'mediocre beachfront hotel'. Can this be shown to the reader through detail? Readers like to work things out for themselves. Be careful about over-writing. Also, be careful about shifting from inside one character's head to the other. It can be confusing for the reader.  LL
  • The idea at the heart of the story is a good one – often reality doesn't match up to our expectations – and the aborted affair is a nice spin on the theme. Try to use fewer similes, as using them too often lessens their impact, and try to use fewer adjectives. The best paragraphs are where you play it straight and don’t overwrite. Lovely opening and ending, and great flow. SL
Fifth Place


by Liz Dewing


Readability: Does it hold your attention?


Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?)


Imagery and use of language

Overall gut response to story

TOTAL 106.5/150

Judges’ comments

  • Very readable story. From the start of her uneasy relationship with her neighbours you know this is not going to end well for someone. After opening in the present it slips back into the past events quite seamlesssly. Excellent studies of the bullying husband and the beaten, cowed wife who tries to excuse him practically to the last. Not a lot of imagery, this story is plainly told but that’s fine. It ended so well. Without spelling it out we knew Jodie was going to a better life in the peaceful Karoo and Kenny was going to get his just deserts. This story had two places where Doing the Right Thing came into it - once when Kenny wouldn’t, and at the end when she took Jodie away, which was the right thing to do. For me, it was the content of this story which stuck with me, not the writing which was OK but fairly pedestrian. GS
  • Awful, but good. It is the kind of story I wish did not exist. Any kind of abuse sickens me and I find it hard to read about, but the narrator here is well developed, and the story has a fine arc with some positivity at the end (of course, it is a relief that little Jody is going to have a new life in Nieu Bethesda, which is a rather lovely spot and a ray of light in a very dark story). However, I feel the Denise character is a bit of a stereotype, underdeveloped and then kind of thrown away at the end – left in a ditch to die both literally and figuratively. The complexity of her situation isn’t examined – one could argue that the narrator sees Denise’s staying with her husband as crazy and for her it is impossible to understand and thus as a first person account it is fair enough to leave Denise as the stereotypical battered wife. However, when taking on such a grave topic, one that touches so many South African lives, it is the opinion of this reader that it is perhaps important to reflect a little more sensitively on why on earth Denise didn’t get out of there before. That is the real question a story like this raises and it is not one the story answers. In fact, the final paragraph is almost glib about the dead wife ... and it ends on something that seems to be a joke, which is effective from the narrator and narrative’s point of view, but chilling and is it appropriate? To be honest the topic of this story is something that makes me so angry, I feel so much for that woman Denise and others like her, that it is impossible for me to tell if I’m being objective about the story. AS
  • What interests me about this story is how everything about the narrator is revealed through the other characters. It's a dark tale, well told. The ending leaves so many open questions. KJ
  • This story covers the horrific subject of domestic violence. The writing is smooth, but I felt that the characters were too black or white (not sufficiently ambivalent or nuanced) - they were either terrible or very good. Also, I don't have much sense of the character of the protagonist, Mrs Harding (not even her first name), or anything much about her life - besides her terrible neighbours. LL
  • This story has a good start and ending, and a nice flow. I'd advise trimming back the non-essential dialogue and adding detail that develops the characters and helps us engage with them emotionally. The story would benefit from  some more adventurous language, imagery and literary devices to add to the nice simile in the first line.  The interaction between the narrator and the policeman weary of her complaints is a nice touch. SL
PRIZES: by bennyyap
  • First Prize: R 5 000.00 plus entry into one of our short courses
  • Second Prize: R2 000.00
  • People's Choice Award R 2000.00

Top five entries will be published on our college site and the top five winners will receive editorial comments on their submitted works.


THEME:  Doing the Right Thing



  • Entry is limited to South African residents only.
  • Entrants must submit a story of maximum word count: 2000 words. Any entries exceeding the word count by 50 words will not be considered.
  • We aim to support and acknowledge beginner writers, so we only accept stories from writers who have been published fewer than four times in any genre, in any publication (for payment or otherwise). This does not include articles for community or work newsletters where the circulation is under 1000.
  • Stories must not have been previously published. Entrants must own full copyright to the story submitted.
  • Only one story per entrant is allowed.
  • Only e-mail submissions are acceptable, with stories attached as Word Documents. Mark your entry clearly with the subject line: SAWC Annual Short Story Competition, and submit according to rules below.
  • If you have not received an acknowledgement of your submission within three days, please re-send your entry.
  • All submissions must be sent to Nichola Meyer: [email protected]



  • Your first page of your Word document must include the story title, your name, email address, and total number of words of the entry.
  • Do not include your name on any page of your story, except the title page. All entries will be judged blind.
  • Make sure your story has been edited and polished according to tips and guidelines provided on our college site under “Writing Resources”.

Archives View our Archived Competition Entries Here


THE JUDGES: Our panel of judges for 2013 include Ginny Swart, Lisa Lazarus, Karen Jeynes, Alex Smith and Sarah Lang.

Ginny Swart has sold over 500 short stories to women's magazines all over the world. On any day of every month she has at least 30 stories out there on editors' desks. Her more serious work has appeared in literary publications in America, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and on the Web. She is also the author of three romance novels (Ulverscroft Press UK) and a book of short stories ( and a book for teenagers: Nosipho and the King of Bones (MacMillan Boleswa SA). She has an eBook available on Kindle called Something to Read, a collection of short stories. In 2003 Ginny won the esteemed UK The Real Writers' Prize from over 4000 entrants.

Alex Smith is the author of three novels, Algeria's Way and Drinking from the Dragon's Well, both published by Random House Umuzi. Drinking from the Dragon's Well was long-listed for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award. Four Drunk Beauties, her third novel, was published by Umuzi in 2010.

Alex has had many short stories published in anthologies and journals. Her short story 'Buffalo Panting at the Moon’ was short-listed for the 2007 SA PEN Literary Awards. Most recently her writing appeared in Touch, along with other SA writers, including Henrietta Rose-Innes, Damon Galgut, Andre Brink, and Nadine Gordimer.

Alex was shortlisted for the 2009 PEN/Studzinski Literary Award. She won a silver award at the 2010 Sanlam Youth Literature Awards and has been nominated for the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing. Most recently her latest novel, Four Drunk Beauties, won the Nielsen sponsored 2011 Bookseller's Choice Award.

Karen Jeynes has an Honours Degree in the Art of Writing and is currently pursuing her Masters in Adapting Austen for the Stage at UWC. Her plays include "Getting There", "Laying Blame", "sky too big", "I'll have what she's having", "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee", and the multi award-winning "Everybody Else (is Fucking Perfect)". Her adaptation of Thomas Rapakgadi's "The Purse is Mine" aired on Bush Radio, and Safm has featured her series "Office Hours" co-written with Nkuli Sibeko, as well as the radio version of "sky too big". She also writes for SABC,and is currently on the writing team for Thabang Thabong and other works in planning.

Her teenage novels, Jacques Attack (co-authored with Nkuli Sibeko) and Flipside, co-authored with Eeshaam September, were released by New Africa Books. She has a children's story published in the new anthology "Metz and Bop and other stories".

Karen also freelances for online and print media, and lectures and consults in Digital Culture and playwrighting.

Lisa Lazarus is a freelance journalist for a variety of publications, including Men's Health, Femina, Psychologies, Shape, Cosmopolitan, Femina, Healthy Pregnancy and the Mail & Guardian. Her memoir The Book of Jacob, co-written with Greg Fried, has  been published by Oshun. She has also published a novel When in Broad Daylight I Open My Eyes (Kwela, 2012) with Greg Fried, under the pen name Greg Lazarus. Lisa tutors both the Magazine Journalism Course and the Memoir Writing Course

Previously she worked as Principal of City Varsity for six years. She has a Masters Degree in Educational Psychology. In 2011 she completed her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town (cum laude).

Sarah Lang, an award-winning feature writer,  began her career on staff at North & South magazine, and for the last five years has freelanced for around 20 publications. She is a book reviewer of novels, short stories and occasional non-fiction.

Sarah has interviewed everyone from Dame Helen Mirren to sick children and science boffins, and has written hundreds of stories from profiles, entertainment and arts features through to science and business stories.

Awards and nominations include: 2007 Qantas Media Awards: Human Relations winner, 2008 Qantas Media Awards: Science and Technology winner, 2008 Qantas Media Awards: Junior Magazine Feature Writer finalist, The Magazine Awards 2010: Journalist of the Year (Women’s Interest) finalist, The Magazine Awards 2011: Journalist of the Year (Home, Food & Garden) finalist, and The Magazine Awards 2011: Journalist of the Year (Lifestyle) finalist.

Sarah is a booklover with a BA in English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington and a Bachelor of Communications (journalism major) from AUT University.



  • The competition is open to anyone living in South Africa over the age of 16.
  • The competition closes at midnight on 31 March 2013, and winners will be announced and displayed on our web site by 30 April 2013.
  • Prizewinners will be notified via email as well as on our web site; please ensure you supply a valid email address with your entry.
  • Prize money will be paid via electronic transfer.
  • We only accept entries written in English.
  • Entrant must own full copyright of the piece.
  • Writers retain copyright, but give permission for their work to be displayed on our website.
  • The judges' decision is final; no disputes will be entered into.
  • If your entry has not been acknowledged within 72 hours, please contact us –your mail may have got lost in transit.
  • SA Writers’ College reserves the right to extend the competition deadline, or cancel the competition should the entries not be of publishable quality or up to the required standard.

Photo credit: Benny Yap
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