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Entries Open For New Zealand’s Richest Short Story Competition

Entries for the Sargeson Prize, New Zealand’s richest short-story competition, open on April 1 with first prize in the Open Division now worth $10,000.

The competition, named for celebrated New Zealand writer Frank Sargeson, is in its fourth year and is sponsored by the University of Waikato. The winning purse has increased year on year, and this year the total prize pool is more than $12,000.

Chief judge for the competition this year is Dame Fiona Kidman OBE, one of New Zealand’s best-known novelists and short-story writers.

Dame Fiona has some tips for would-be entrants.

“I don’t believe there are any absolute rules for writing short stories. The well-made beginning, middle and end went out the window long ago. And yet, when I'm judging a competition, it’s the spark at the beginning that grips me, the moment when I begin to read and I know that I have to keep going. The voice of a character reaches out and I go ‘oh hullo, tell me more’.

“Straight away, I can tell you that a short story with a clearly defined character, who the author knows and understands, is a great help. If the writer knows the character then they will know that voice, hear it in their heads as they write. And if I can hear it too I will almost certainly be hooked. Listen… listen to the world around you.”

Catherine Chidgey, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Waikato and herself a well-respected and internationally recognised author, established the award in 2019.

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“Year in, year out, the quality of the entries in the Sargeson Prize has wowed me – enough excellent stories to fill many anthologies, and always a thrilling mix of established, emerging and brand-new writers.”

In addition to the generous prize pool for the Open Division, the competition also encourages young writers to take part. The winner of the Secondary Schools Division will receive $500 and a one-week summer writing residency at the University of Waikato, including accommodation, meals and mentoring.

Last year there were almost 850 entries in the Open Division and 150 in the Secondary Schools Division. Catherine would like to see more young writers have a go.

“It’s a wonderful chance to get your work published, and also to take up a writing residency that I'd have killed for in my teens. You’ll get one-on-one feedback to help you develop your voice, and you’ll also get a taste of what studying creative writing is like at Waikato.”

Entries for the Sargeson Prize close 30 June 2022. There is no entry fee and stories are limited to one per person. Stories in the Open Division can be up to 5000 words and 3000 words for Secondary Schools stories.

Winning stories in both categories will be published online on ReadingRoom, the literary arm of Newsroom, managed by journalist and author Steve Braunias.

For more information and some further advice from Dame Fiona, check out the full story on the University of Waikato website.

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