The Robert N Stephenson Australasian Horror Writers Association Short Story Competition has been scooped by writer Michael Botur of Whangārei, New Zealand.
Botur won this year’s award for ‘Test of Death,’ a tale in which a man attempts to save the life of his cancer-riddled friend by employing a disturbing Buddhist meditation technique designed to safely guide a person through death and out the other side.
The story will appear in Midnight Echo magazine in late 2022, and the Whangārei writer will include ‘Test of Death’ in a collection of horror stories to be published in the US and New Zealand around the same time.
Australasian Horror Writers Association coordinator Anthony Ferguson said the judges - a mostly-Australian range of publishers and writers of horror in Australia - found Botur’s winning story “Original, dark and weird.”
“The judges loved the characters and the whole concept. It was an entertaining blend of the grotesque, the humorous and the crazed with a natural progression of insanity that somehow couldn’t be resisted.”
The competition included a flash fiction award which went to Queensland writer Danielle Ringrose.
The award has previously been won by Australians every year, with one exception - New Zealander Alissa Smith won the flash fiction award in 2019.
The Australasian Horror Writers Association has been running for 17 years and provides a unified voice and sense of community for writers of dark fiction across Australia, NZ and the Pacific.
“This year we had the most entries in the short story comp (and in flash) since I took over in 2019, so the comp was definitely hotly contested,” Ferguson said.
Botur said after publishing six volumes of short fiction, he focused on horror for a change because he feels “Literary fiction takes itself too seriously.”
“It’s all about the party conversation test. At a drunken party, imagine you’re describing the plot of some wanky piece of supposedly acclaimed literary fiction to another person. It may not capture their attention because literary fiction can be so obtuse. However, horror quickly captivates people and it translates much better to film than literary fiction. Basically, horror is way more fun and way more appealing for audiences.”
“Another reason I’ve entered the world of horror fiction is it’s a natural extension of the stuff going on in my stories. I usually write about people getting themselves into conflict and then making more and more mistakes to try and get themselves out of their self-made messes - so that’s a good foundation for turning any literary fiction story into a horror. Plus I like to think that I’m bringing some beautiful prose and characterisation to horror stories so the worlds I create feel three-dimensional, rather than some of the cardboard characters you occasionally get in horror. Plenty of horror writers seem to think that a successful horror story only involves chucking a monster in a tunnel and describing the monster, but actually, the reader won’t enjoy thrills unless a convincing character is enjoying thrills. This is my first foray into horror and I’m learning it takes a lot of artful skill to balance a successful horror story.”
Botur said he will be pitching film treatments to producers in 2022 to try and get some of his horror writing onto the screen.
“To take something from script to screen takes up to five years, but hey - artistic challenges keep you moving forward.”