Writing Magazine, January 2017: Judges Comments for ‘Jacob Stanley’


The judges comments appeared in the online January 2017 edition of Writing Magazine. They are reprinted here, with spoilers removed:


A journey does not have to encompass long distances and arduous feats to be an epic experience. In Jacob Stanley, Andrew Allen’s touching winning story in our Travel Short Story Competition, the six year old protagonist’s bus journey with his mum is the vehicle for a profound, deeply moving insight into the way mother and son experience a family tragedy.

Andrew pulls off a neat trick in his narrative voice, which combines a third-person, present tense omnipotence of Jacob’s own state of awareness that borders on stream-of-consciousness. It is very personal, and all about Jacob as a person and not simply Jacob as a representative ‘child’. Many writers fail to write convincingly in a child’s voice and the reason Andrew succeeds is because his Jacob is a fully-formed, layered character in his own right, with thoughts, opinions, experiences and a viewpoint, all expressed in a convincing voice and with gentle humour. The story hinges on this: we identify with Jacob on his journey (both literal and emotional) as we would with any other great character, because the author has made him feel real to us.

It’s particularly key when the tale shifts from the experience of the journey to the darker theme .. slotted in seamlessly by Andrew like a master craftsman .. all the more harrowing because of how invested Andrew has made us in Jacob’s character.

If there’s a rule for a good travel story, or for any other kind of story for that matter, perhaps it’s that something, and someone, should irrevocably change, or be changed, by the end of the journey. It goes for the reader too – a good travel story should have a transformative effect. Andrew Allen achieves this beautifully in Jacob Stanley, and it’s an outstanding winner.