In their heyday, the Ian St James Awards offered the biggest fiction prize in the UK and Ireland. Launched by the thriller writer Ian St James in 1989 to encourage new writers, the awards were open to 5,000-10,000 word short stories by unpublished writers.

In addition to the prize money, Harper Collins published the twelve finalists in an annual anthology.

I submitted several short stories to the awards when I lived in England (as I wrote in my Short Stories profile). The delivery deadline was the end of February to post a typed copy of the entry with a self-addressed envelope for the return of the critique from the first round of judging. January and February are cold and bleak in England, and the daylight hours are short — perfect for writing.

My routine was to flesh out a story outline by mid to late January, type it up by mid-February, and edit and revise furiously before the deadline.

Not that short a short story

I struggled with my first entries. A 5000-10,000 word story is not that short. And this partly explains why I submitted the same story twice.

However, I did rework the second entry, based on the critique of the first and what I had learnt from another twelve months of reading and writing (for instance, I introduced flashbacks). Both were semi-autobiographical pieces about a young man who sets out to find himself through travel but realises he carries a hidden quest within him.

Inspired by a popular Phil Collins song, my third entry was more ambitious. I wrote four vignettes as backgrounds to news items and pulled them together with a fifth story which reflected upon the accounts and tried to make sense of the character’s actions in each.

The fourth and final entry again drew from my life, my travels and my desire to return home to Australia after eight years of living in England. The main character is a family man who has never travelled and is befriended by a new work colleague who has lived overseas for several years and seems to be his antithesis.

Judges’ critiques

The following are the critiques from the first-round judges for each of the short stories I submitted to the Ian St James Awards:

The First One (1992)

Very few stories score all four ticks for plot, pace, dialogue and characterisation. This story is excellent – well-drawn characters, convincing dialogue and face moving plot. Passed forward for next round of judging.

The First One (1993)

You write well and capture the atmosphere of Bangkok effectively. It would be improved if you worked on the plot, which is rather disjointed. I like your use of flashbacks, which reveal much about your central character.

Both Sides of the Story (1994)

A well written, ambitious and impressive piece of writing. The author’s flair for language is considerable, but I think plot-wise this entertaining story exceeds both the limits and the rules of the genre. Thus, I feel this would be better suited for a novel, and as a short story, it isn’t quite self-contained enough.

A Fine Pair (1995)

I enjoyed the main storyline of this; in the end, both protagonists have become convincing and likeable characters. However, this main theme needs to be emphasised a little more – there’s a tendency for other minor plots and characters to compete for attention.

Thanks for the encouragement

None of my short stories was a finalist, let alone a winner. But the professional critiques provided by the judges inspired me to keep writing! And they still motivate me today.

Share Your Writing on

So thanks for the encouragement, Ian St James Awards!

Both Sides of the Story – 2020 Update

Towards the end of 2019, I revisited my 1994 Ian St James Awards entry, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2020, taking on board the judge’s critique, published it as a collection of short stories.

And I wrote a blog post about Reworking Both Sides.

© 2018, 2020 Robert Fairhead

N.B. This blog post is also published on the Tall And True writers’ website.

This post was proofread by Grammarly


Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.


  1. Steve P

    Ian St James seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth after his final novel in the early 90s. Search engines turn up no obituary, no interviews, no mention in book reviews as to whether his name was a pseudonym etc. So, would you be able to shed any light on this mystery?

    • Robert Fairhead

      Hi Steve, Thanks for reading my blog post. Ian St James was a real person, but his life reads like a character from one of his fiction novels! While like you, I can’t find recent references for him, here’s a link to his profile on Also, you might be interested in this BBC interview from 1989 where he discusses the Ian St James Awards. Thanks once again for reading my blog. Hope you enjoy my other posts and you may also like to visit, an online magazine, blog and forum, where I publish a lot of my writing. ^Robert

  2. Moyra Manifold

    Hi Robert. I just came across you as I was trying to find an ‘Acclaim’ 1994 magazine as I had a short listed story in it that year.
    Of course I got a huge bundle of the mags. then but I was so excited and pleased about the story that I gave them all away!
    Now I would love to have one for I still like showing off. I’ll follow you from now on.
    Good luck. Moyra (Manifold)

    • Robert Fairhead

      Thanks, Moyra. In addition to my blog, you might like to follow Tall And True, an online showcase and forum for writers, readers and publishers, for which I’m an editor and contributor. You might also like to share your writing on the website — perhaps your short story from ‘Acclaim’ 1994? I recently shared a short story I wrote for the Ian St James Awards in 1994 (Both Sides of the Story). Unlike you, I didn’t get published by Ian St James, but all these years later, I’m still proud of the writing!

  3. Moyra Manifold

    Hi Robert
    I’d love to send my story.
    I’m just playing with my phone
    in bed on Saturday morning.
    I just came across this by accident. Hope you are still there!!!

    • Robert Fairhead

      Hi Moyra, Yes, I’m still here, but somehow I missed your message. So apologies for my tardy response, but here’s a link to Share Your Writing page on the Tall And True writers’ website:

  4. Jayne

    So, do you know where he is now? is he still alive? In my travels in Ireland, I sought out St Patrick’s Wishing Chair because of his novel, The Killing Anniversary.

    • Robert Fairhead

      Hi Jayne, I searched for details about Ian St James when I wrote this article but I couldn’t find anything contemporary. So I’ll have just live with my fond and grateful memories of him!


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