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showcaseGUILTYWhenever I’m judginga competition my initial longlisting is done according to the sheer enthusiasm I feel for a piece of writing, which might not necessarily coincide with texts of the highest literary quality – though with writing from mslexia, the standard is already pretty high. And I need to print out the poems, so I can see how they sit on the page. The white space around a poem is as important, in some ways, as the words themselves.A comfy chair is essential for the assessment process; as is a footstool. And lots of space for the different piles. The first pile is for the pieces I had to force myself to keep reading, which is nothing to do with the complexity of the work; it’s more about a writer not knowing how to keep a reader interested. The second pile is for all the others, the maybes, the ones with a spark, that I actively want to read again. I leave them for a few days, then start shortlisting, and shortlisting, over several more days,which gets harder as I reread the poems and stories and get to like them more and more. In the end there were 20 I would haveliked to see published, so that final culling down to the ones you see here was really difficult. Because they were all so good I started worrying, what if I get it wrong?Some people, at this point, start curating a kind of collection of contrasting items. But I think that’s unfair to an individual writer, to be rejected just because there are two poems about frost, or daisies, or whatever.I hate those themed collections with titles like ‘100 poems about friendship’. When I recently edited a book of crime stories by women, the publisher suggested grouping them according to theme, but I insisted they were in chronological or alphabetical order. It seemed more democratic and organic.Anyway, back to this selection... Starting with the stories, I chose ‘Joyriding’ by Kate Mitchell because it was so intriguingly hooky. She shows you one piece of the jigsaw, then another. And each new piece subtly alters your idea of what’s going on and whothe guilty party is. It’s very readable too, so you’re never aware of a writer straining for a particular effect, and I like that. The lack of punctuation in dialogue normally annoys me – I like inverted commas – but here it adds to its directness and strengthens the vernacularness (is that a word?) of the piece.Jackie Taylor’s ‘Breathless’ is a sensitive and sophisticated approach to the topic of guilt, about a girl blaming herself for her parents’ marital problems. All the things we are wondering about, as the story unfolds, are revealed in the denouement at the end – as in The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. But in ‘Breathless’ it’s made even more poignant by the fact that (spoiler alert!) the tragedy the protagonist fears has been averted. The story is saying that there are two obstacles operating here: people’s unwillingness to be open about what they feel, and the fact that we can never know everything...‘The scent of oranges’ by Paola Trimarcois really unpleasant – but in a good way. It’s told from the point of view of the wrongdoer,Our judge Sophie Hannah introduces her selectionof prose and poetry submitted on the theme of 'guilty'SOPHIE HANNAH is a bestselling author of psychological crime fiction, published in 32 languages and 51 countries. Her 2013 novel The Carrier won the Crime Thriller of the Year Award. Her two new ‘Hercule Poirot’ novels – Closed Casket and The Monogram Murders – were instant bestsellers; two of her brain-teasing police procedurals have been televised in the series Case Sensitive. She’s also published two short story collections and five volumes of poetry, including Pessimism for Beginners, which was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Award.mslexia Mar/Apr/May 2017 19PHOTO: PHILIPPA GEDGE


































































































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