NCLA’s UK International Students Short Story Competition 2012

A few days before Christmas last year, I sat myself down at the dining table of my English housemate’s childhood home in a village tucked away in the Midlands. In between the hearty home-cooked meals, half-written sonnets, Christmas carols, and an essay on Edmund Burke, I began working on a short story that eventually became “Lily of the Valley”. Upon its completion, I entered “Lily” in the Newcastle University’s International Students’ Short Story Competition, where it was shortlisted early last month.

Last Saturday, I went to one of NCLA’s “Festival of Belonging” events, where I had the pleasure of meeting Hari Kunzru, one of the guest authors in attendance. To my utmost surprise and delight, he announced (on behalf of judge Tahmima Anam, who was unable to make the event) that I had won the competition. “Lily of the Valley” can be now found at the NCLA’s online archive.

Needless to say, I am in turns thrilled, humbled, and flabbergasted by the honour. The competition itself allowed me a creative outlet for the amazing experiences I’ve had as an international student in the UK thus far, while the form of the short story was well-suited to capturing an array of intense emotions. Additionally, I am extremely grateful towards a great number of people, without whom “Lily” could not have been conceived and molded to its current shape. In many ways, this post is as much a set of acknowledgements as it is an announcement.

“I would like to especially commend the writer of Lily of the Valley, who conveyed many of the deep ambivalences of exile – of feeling, faith and belonging – through the subtle and moving story of a young Japanese student.” — Judge Tahmima Anam

My heartfelt thanks go towards the following: Emma, my wonderful English housemate, whose strength lies in tolerating my many ups and downs, and whose weakness is in being too lovely to tell me to shut up; Mr and Mrs Jones, who invited me to invade their beautiful house over the Winter break and gave me the magical gift of an English Christmas, and whose resemblance to the Joneses in “Lily” is purely superficial; Zwanetta, who was a most gracious host when I visited her daughter in The Netherlands over the New Year, and was understanding and supportive when I then proceeded to do nothing but eat chocolate and write; Maria and Jenny, who fed and encouraged me for the fortnight I invaded their home in Belgium to do even more writing; Durham University’s English Department, who issued me the offer that brought me here; St. Chad’s college, for providing me with my first collegiate experience in its warm and vibrant community; St. Chad’s college choir—and particularly its brilliant but somewhat terrifying music director—who allowed me the opportunity to experience singing and music like never before; the NCLA, for running this competition and rekindling my love for the short story; and my three amazing beta-readers, whose timely and invaluable feedback improved “Lily” and gave it a fighting chance in the competition. Lisa, Maria, and Meg, you all deserve many uber huggles when I see you next. Any typos in this post exist because I have not run it past one of those three.

And of course, as he continually insists on being responsible for my literary and musical genes, endless thanks and love to my dad: Three more months until I’m back in Sydney, and we can discuss Shelley while I reacquaint myself with your wine collection!

If you happen to read “Lily of the Valley” and have a moment to spare, please leave a comment either here, at the NCLA site, or drop me an line. I would love to know what you think!

3 thoughts on “NCLA’s UK International Students Short Story Competition 2012

  1. Dear Samantha,

    Thank you for the lovely story. I will admit, being a stubborn, somewhat self-absorbed dimwit, I entered your literary world adamant I would not enjoy your writing, intent on disapproval. Upon finding your website, I scoffed belligerently at your pretentious use of “tucked away” to describe your housemate’s village.

    But, to be honest, your “Lily” rekindled my enthusiasm for short stories. Having been disappointed by anything written after the time of James Thurber, your tale brought warmth to the shackles of my decrepit soul. Yes, I may have tried to write off your Big Issue seller as cliched given the Christmas theme, but the toasted regions of my mind overwhelmed the bitterness (at my not being able to write as well as you do, what else?) inside. Where does cliche stop and heartbreaking truth start? I’m not personally privy to this, but I believe you may have found that sweet spot.

    Your travels overseas sound terrific, and I hope you won’t mind my living vicariously through you while I brush the cobwebs off my inkpot. Again, I wish to thank you for sharing your talent with us, and I hope you didn’t take offense to my initial disdain.

    Yours Sincerely,


    P.S. Your father sounds very cool. The most artistically-inspired thing I’ve done with mine was drink light ale and eat poultry. And even then we had to ask the bottle-shop owner which beer to get.

  2. Oh, I love the story so much Sammy. The loneliness that Sayuri feels is palpable throughout the entire piece. You’ve just reminded me why I always used to enjoy short stories. Might have to turn my own pen to some in the coming months. :)

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