On being a judge for the 2017 Aurealis Awards (@aurealisawards #speculativefiction)

 

Now that the winners of the 2017 Aurealis Awards for Excellence in Speculative Fiction have been announced, I reckon it is safe to reflect on my experience of serving as a judge for the Horror Novel and Novella Panel. Back in April 2017, I applied for a voluntary position on the judging panels, citing my participation and service as a panelist at the 55th Australian National Speculative Fiction Convention in Brisbane in March 2016. I also mentioned my so-called credentials of being a long-term fan of horror, science and fantasy fiction, and some of my reviews of books in these genres.

In May 2017, I was formally accepted as a judge on the Horror Novel and Novella Panel, along with Paige Belfield, Tom Woodward, and Matthew R. Davis as the panel convenor. Matthew had kindly (and repeatedly) reminded/warned us that we should read the entries as soon as they arrived, as there would be a lot of reading to do, especially near the year’s end. Well, he is absolutely right!

I have learned other lessons. First and foremost is to provide a secure mailing address, so that entries can arrive safe and sound on those rare occasions where authors, literary agents and/or publishers decide to send a hard copy of their work.

In the majority of cases, we received digital books in PDF, ePUB and/or MOBI formats. The standard advice here is to have your entry professionally formatted. More importantly, authors as well as editors of anthologies need to pay specific attention to editing, to ensure there are no typos or grammatical mistakes. The last thing any decent writer wants to do is to enter a literary competition, award or prize with a flawed copy of their work.

As for the stories themselves, our mission statement as judges is to look for horror stories that evoke feelings of such. In Matthew’s words: “We’ve had a lot of entries this year that feature genre elements, but that aren’t actually scary in any way.” That is to say, simply having a ghost or monster in your story does NOT make it a piece of horror fiction. Perhaps this Wikipedia statement will help: “Horror is a genre fiction which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten, scare, disgust, or startle its readers or viewers by inducing feelings of horror and terror.”

I know my reading taste may be considerably different from that of the other, more experienced judges. Yet, in the end, we reached our consensus and the winners clearly stood out, and I think everybody is happy with the results. Next year I would certainly love to serve again as a judge for the Horror Novel and Novella Panel, or even the Horror Short Story Panel. There is much to learn from my fellow writers and readers, so I will share some of my reviews in the coming days, while trying to get on with those horror novels and novellas I haven’t read.

Updated April 13, 2018: This blog post has been considerably edited since its first publication on April 8, to show some proper respect to all the wonderful, hard-working people involved in organising the Aurealis Awards. My sincere apologies to all for any inconvenience my original content has caused.

 

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