Poets and their Poetry – Maura Dooley

Report by Lisa Nightingale

mauradooleyMaura’s poetry is inspired by her feelings for places, or people or situations. For example her wonderful poem inspired by her becoming star struck at meeting her idol, Leonard Cohen in a lift. In her travels she will often take a wander around the new place, looking in estate windows and imagining living in those houses, putting herself in the shoes of those that live there and she read us her poems about the Ace Sisters of Mumbles in Wales and Streatham Hill.

Her work sounds as though it has been well researched and she says that research is not the inspiration, but often she will be looking into something which interests her and a poem begins to form from it. On The Moor with Keeper was inspired by the Yorkshire Moors and Keeper was the name of Emily Bronte’s dog. And another on her arrival in London during the Thatcher years.oldauthenticinstruments

Maura also reads widely the work of other poets and writers. Another of her poems, Bellowhead was inspired by the bands ability to take ancient ballads and make them contemporary using old and authentic instruments and here she read us her own reworking of an old ballad.

Maura was honoured to spend time as Chawton Houses Poet in Residence. She used the comings and goings of those visiting to imagine what it was like in Jane Austen’s time. And looking at the grave Jane and her mother turned the stereotypical graveside feelings on their head to produce a positive poem which reduced the grave to what it is – a square of earth; Jane and Cassandra’s spirits are in the house.austengrave

Ideas often ramble around for a long time in Maura’s head until she finds a way to write it down. Her first poem was about a ghost. She called the ghost a ‘blip’ of light. Her teacher returned the work with ‘blip’ crossed through in red and the word ‘blot’ written in instead. Maura knew then that she wanted to be a poet.

Zones of Avoidance POSTPONED


The performance of Zones of Avoidance planned for Saturday, 29 October, 2016 7:30 pm in the Performing Arts Studio, University of Winchester has been postponed to a future date to be announced later. We will refund your tickets or you may chose to save them to use at the new date to be announced soon.

We apologise for any inconvenience that this postponement has caused.

Barbara Large MBE

Chairman Hampshire Writers’ Society   

Poets and their Poetry; Maggie Sawkins

Report by Lisa Nightingale


Maggie’s writing took off after attending a workshop on the theme of sound with the Poet John Burnside in Portsmouth. Originally she was at a loss. Knowing that she wanted to write something, she asked herself a challenging question (where does sound go to when it’s not there) which helped her to look at the subject from a new angle.

Maggie quoted the poet Charles Simic: ‘Poems are the translation of silence’. It was this that inspired her to write the poem that won the Winchester Writers’ Poetry Competition in 1998. It reminded her of returning home from school to find that whatever had been causing her parents constant rowing had been overcome – they’d made up and what ensued was silence. Maggie chose to interpret that silence in the prize winning poem, ‘The Birds’.

Maggie quotes and reads the work of other poets taking inspiration from them and asking questions of her own understanding of them and reworking them from challenging angles.

zonesofavoidanceThe arena of addiction provides a wide range of material for a writer. But it is the drama triangle that interests Maggie. She knew that she wanted to write a long poem sequence and became interested in the ‘walls’ that we and our society use as coping mechanisms. During her research she found that the biggest wall of all is in the Milky Way near the Zone of Avoidance.

The Zone Of Avoidance
The Zone Of Avoidance

Maggie takes pride in writing all types of poetry. She wrote ‘Hooked’ in the form of a pantoum in which the lines are repeated. Her starting point was the emotion of grief personified as an animal – in this case, a dog. ‘You curl up with me when I lie down/I vow each time not to feed/I should lock you out/but you’re too far in.’

She spends much time crafting her work and making every word count and advises that using a working title is a good idea as the overall title is so important.

Experience, publication and attendance at workshops have all attributed to her work evolving. ‘Maybe you grow into your voice,’ she muses. ‘Looking back, the preoccupations stay the same but the voice has changed.’

Poets and their Poetry – Isabel Rogers Hampshire Poet 2016

Report by Lisa Nightingale

‘When I feel an itch at the back of my skull, I think; there’s a poem coming!’ Isabel Rogers Hampshire Poet 2016 told the Society at October’s meeting.

isabelrogers-jpegIsabel is now three quarters of her way through a hectic but fantastic year as Hampshire Poet. The post has enabled her to take her poetry onto the radio and into many of the county’s schools running workshops and getting the children excited about poetry.

Isabel is also an enthusiastic advocate of the Winchester Poetry Festival and in partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust her latest commission has been produced for National Poetry Day. It is a poem in Book Morse on a book mark – you have to look at it as a column!

Isabel admitted to often working on a poem with no title adding it at the end and as for research – ‘I usually make it all up!’ she says. But on a serious note, Isabel fessed up to researching her subject to within an inch of his legend when once writing a poem about John Harrison.

John Harrison's Chronometer
John Harrison’s Chronometer

The poem was titled ‘John’s Curious Machines and it won the 2014 Cardiff International Poetry Competition. Still a man in her audience told her that one of her points was wrong!

Read other poets widely was her message – ‘It is essential. It is how we learn’.

Poetry Magazine, a publication based in Chicago (distributed internationally) has this month printed two of Isabel’s poems and she read Watching the Perseids to the Society.

Have a look at Isabel’s website – https://isabelrogers.org/


October 2016 Competition Results – Isabel Rogers

October 2016 Competition Results

Isabel Rogers, Hampshire Poet 2016, commented that she was looking forward to reading all of the entries when she adjudicated the competition for October 2016. ‘Inspired By Hampshire’ inspired our members to write a poem within the 300-word limit. Isabel has chosen the winners and shares her thoughts about them below.

1st Place: Scratch (Peter Hitchen) – New Forest UXB: ‘Historical’

2nd Place:  Hilary Hares – Hampshire

3rd Place: Sally Russell – The Bull of Bull Drove 

Highly Commended: Sue Spiers – The Alcorns and Avril Stephenson – Hampshire Haven 

1st Prize:

New Forest UXB: ‘Historical’ by Scratch (Peter Hitchen)

Isabel Rogers: This poem sustained a metaphor brilliantly throughout, as well as rooting the subject deeply in Hampshire locations. I loved the playful approach to language, teasing with multiple meanings of words, which brought out the deeper theme of the work. It conveyed a complex situation with huge economy and skill.

Jonny lit a blaze
in his father’s inclosure
then dashed to the front line
of his anguish and lobbed an F-bomb
that didn’t go off

he forsook his skateboard
for an unbridled pony
tacked his own pilgrimage out west
and made a small contribution
to the pink pound while he waited for
his pollarded psyche
to show signs of regrowth

regardless of grooming
sparse coppice was
the best it could manage
it aped charred furze
until he espaliered it onto
a stockade against pannage

it became a life’s work

sometimes he fantasised
about going back
maybe on a sunny
All Saints Day afternoon

they’d meet in the demilitarised zone of
a Burley tea shoppe

but he’d have dredged the F-bomb up
and have it with him
just in case he needed to
explode it at the precise moment
to cause maximum damage

2nd Prize

Hampshire by Hilary Hares

Isabel Rogers: I enjoyed this poem’s use of repetition and carefully controlled lines and stanzas, and the deliberate relaxing of line length – just once – to bring out some dark humour. It was an almost cinematic tour of the many aspects of our county, creating many images I loved.

That spits its history into its ports
like an indentured midshipman,
that hides its secrets under a hill
where a tunnel carries them to London.

That challenges France from
the quenelles of its downs,
that grew rich on milk and wheat,
that fattens its ponies on gorse.

That abolished its trams,
that closed its dockyard
where a siren released a flock
of black bikes every weekday at four.

Hampshire, where Gormley stands
in the crypt of the cathedral,
that boasts two kings, that despairs
of its trains.

That excels at sea, whose knights
are legend, that bred Brunel,
that guards its coast
with abandoned forts.

In a Hampshire keep a damsel
lets loose the tresses of a fable.
She writes behind a door
that once she painted green.

3rd Prize

The Bull of Bull Drove by Sally Russell

Isabel Rogers: This poem described a rich snapshot of the old Bull Drove open air swimming area, with a lot of vivid glimpses of character drawn with economy. The ending, encapsulated in the final two stanzas, is as disturbing as I’m sure it is intended to be.

She teeters on the Bull Drove river bank
like a riparian wood nymph.
Messy dark blonde bob, thick cut fringe,
hand-me-down seersucker costume

the colour of waving weeds.
Frayed straps cut her pubescent shoulders raw.
Her naked heels are rooted in mud,
a shaggy grass rag rug tufting between her toes.

She hugs herself with pipe cleaner arms,
pale and goosebumped, fingertips blue.
A cacophony of children bob up and down
like jumping fish, splashing, dive bombing,

shooting dank-smelling froth over her skin.
Her eyes dart about, searching for
the bulls of Bull Drove. Languorous swells drift past;
pondweed tendrils flutter like watery windsocks.

A submerged shoal of teenagers ripples past,
picking freckled, age-worn pebbles
from the river bed, while shafts of sunlight
pierce the cloudy depths.

A bull-shaped head breaks the surface.
He rolls his neck, shakes a Catherine wheel
of water from his shaven scalp.
He smiles and grasps her hand.

Her mouth opens in a silent scream
as she leans away. He tugs. She slides
down into hostile waters.
It is her turn to learn to swim.

Highly Commended

The Alcorns by Sue Spiers:

Isabel Rogers: A beautifully drawn portrait of grandparents, with tender descriptions shining through what must have been a hard life for Lily. The final stanza is heartbreaking, with its mention of money almost as an afterthought but providing the emotional after-kick of this poem.

Gentleman Jack they called him in The Crown,
always wore a jacket and bow tie in the pub.
On Sundays my cousins and I sat outside
with a bag of crisps and a lemonade each,
giggling at nan’s ‘fag-ash Lil’ nick-name,
a cigarette bobbing on her lip, scattering ash.

I never knew she was disabled, she had thin legs
and one Frankenstein shoe with a platform.
She got her shoes on the NHS, custom made.
A work pair in black and a best pair in fawn.
Sometimes she’d let me fix in the rod
and lace up the strap under her swollen knee.

Grandad showed me his Readers Digest books
pointed out countries in the World Atlas,
talked with me about the photos in the zoo book
colour photos of leopards, dolphins, anemones,
given to me when he died because my cousins
showed no interest in that kind of stuff.

Their son died in infancy, around the time
granddad was living with another woman.
Lily took him back against her brothers’ advice.
Their third girl was born a year later.
I calculated their first was born six months
before the date on their wedding certificate.

Lily wouldn’t let doctors tell him he had cancer,
convinced them to diagnose tuberculosis.
The sitting room became his sick room for a year.
She got it nine years later, gave up within a month
owing £40 to the co-op. £400 to bury them together,
to get her name added to his headstone.

Highly Commended:

Hampshire Haven by Avril Stephenson

Isabel Rogers: This was a delightful sense-fest, with rhythm and internal rhyme combining to create a cascade of a prose-poem. We are shown a beautiful day at the beach and its surroundings. I could almost taste the salt spray.

Sunbeams stridently escape the clouds, glinting, hinting at long summer hours, easy days, lazy crowds, loud laughter, raft of strong shadows
Glimmering horizon shimmers through the heat haze, terns swoop down, skimming the waves, follow shoals swimming, dip for a tit-bit, gone in a flash, dash away, specks in the sky

Skin blushed by the kiss of sun, massaged with balmy lotion, notional protection from fearsome rays, motion of the ocean, soothing the soul, whispering lullaby held in a spell
Cool off in the water, gently enter in, deliciously fresh, coldly shocking, sparkling wavelets rapid racing, bracing, slowly succumb, enticing arms enfolding, holding, beckoning “come in!”

Close to nature, buoyed up by the water, darting like a fish, relaxing with the waves, vista of hills rising steeper in the distance, broad shoulders standing importantly in line
Pebbles worn smoother than a ping-pong ball, crunchy sand crystals nestle between toes, seaweed blisters hold bladders of water, optimistic sand hoppers bounce amongst driftwood, leaping along with unharnessed glee

Tang of dried flotsam, fish and driftwood, taste of salt carried on the breeze, jellyfish remains, transparent, rubbery, tentacles menacing with suckers underneath

Cliffs wear drifts of purple heather, rusty bracken slackens, bows to the ground, feather ends brush on dry sedge grasses, worms slither sinuously along the sandy soil
Excited children’s voices waft across beaches, chirping like birdsong, mixing in a melody with whispers on the wind

Broody chalk-white needles rise majestic from the sea, aloof from the island, distant, mysterious, boldly guarding the twinkling bay

Motorboats and ski-jets rudely intrude, disturbing the calm like hornets at a picnic, fumes race away in the breezy summer air

Kite-surfers skilfully use nature’s forces, powerful as horses, gliding, turning, racing, embracing silently the power of the wind.

Poets and Their Poetry

Maura Dooley has published several collections of poetry, most recently Life Under MauraDooleyLifeUnderWaterWater and edited verse and essays including The Honey Gatherers: Love Poems and How Novelists Work.

Maggie Sawkins won the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry 2013 with Zones of Avoidance. Her two poetry collections are Charcot’s Pet and The Zig Zag Woman.MaggieSawkinsZigZag

Special Guests: Isabel Rogers, Hampshire Poet 2016 and Hugh Greasley, local poet and ceramicist.

Mingle and meet poets amongst many other writers on Tuesday 11 October 2016. The evening will incorporate a short AGM which will start at 7.15pm

P&G Wells Book Stall with books available for sale

Wine, soft drinks available for purchase from 7.00pm

Members and students free; guests £5

Q&A with Barry Cunningham, MD of Chicken House Ltd, Publisher, Agent and Discoverer of Harry Potter

barrycunninghamQ. In your talk at the September meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, you told us that a writer’s voice is important to an Agent/Publisher. To save a writer many painful rejections from targeting the wrong agents – how would they know if their voice is that of a children’s writer? Is there a checklist of things that the writing must or mustn’t have?

A. I THINK THIS IS ALL TO DO WITH BEING ABLE TO ‘ACCESS’ YOUR SUBJECT. IF YOU SET OUT TO WRITE FOR CHILDREN THEN TRY AND FIND THE VOICE APPROPRIATE TO THE AGE GROUP YOU ARE AIMING AT – IF IT COMES EASILY – GREAT – IF IT DOESN’T THEN YOU’LL KNOW THAT CHILDREN’S BOOKS ARE NOT FOR YOU!chickenhouselogoQ. Similarly, as an Agent how would you know if what has been submitted is a teen or a YA? Do you think that there are any taboos? Or ‘must haves’?


Q. The lines between children’s, teen and YA are very blurred – can you outline them for us?


Q. How should a children’s author writing a trilogy or series go about submitting?


Q. And what about their commitment – should they finish book one and sell it before starting book two?inkheartA. NO – ACTUALLY BEST TO HAVE BOOK 2 IN PROGRESS – BE CONFIDENT!

Q. Advice is to ‘write what you love’. Simon Trewin of WME said ‘don’t even think of publishing until your book is finished.’ The Writers and Artists Yearbook advises us that when you come to submitting, first decide on a genre. Shouldn’t we decide on a genre first, saving ourselves a lot of heart ache and work? And that brings me back to question one!


Barry Cunningham, Managing Director of Chicken House Publishers and discoverer of Harry Potter.

barrycunningham‘Children’s publishing is going through a second Golden Age.’ BARRY CUNNINGHAM announced.

The children’s writers of the past, Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan to name two of Barry’s conquests, knew how to get inside a child’s head, but also when to accept that the adult knew best.

These days children as readers are much more respected. 36% of all book sales are children’s books. Over half of Young Adult books are bought by adults. 78% of these for their own reading satisfaction. What does that tell you about adult’s books? Publishers and writers both need to listen and respond to the requirements of their target market.

‘Publishing a book is very different from saying whether it is well written.’ he says. Barry stated that his job as a publisher is to find readers for his writers’ books. And if he isn’t able to find those readers, he won’t take on that book.

Ally Sherrick, one of Chicken House’s debut authors, entered the SCBWI 10 word pitch competition and answered correctly. Further reading of Ally’s draft gave Barry the idea of Ally’s ‘voice’. This is what captures the publisher/agent’s attention.black-powder-aw-2-195x3001

‘Access the child in you,’ he advises, ‘Go back and feel how you felt then.’ Play tricks with narrative.

Villains, whether that be the villainous situation or as an actual person is the most important character. Heroes come and go. ‘Harry is not as important as Voldemort.’

Dialogue is also important. Use it rather than description to show key moments.

For Barry, planning is precious. He has one writer who has killed off the same character twice! ‘Even so, she’s very successful’, he said. Perhaps chose to plan by listing your characters. You will have lots of information that may not go into the book, but it is important stuff to write down as reference that the writer needs to know.

Read your work aloud – this shows you where the weaknesses are.

When you submit your work, take a look at the writers already represented by your chosen agent. And compliment them! Do as you’re told.

Barry is exasperated that there are still some writers who don’t send 3 chapters, a synopsis and covering letter. Make the synopsis short – one side of A4 will do. Agents read hundreds of synopses. Tell the agent something about yourself ‘Perhaps not that you’re a motorcycling vicar.’ he says, but ‘what you have planned for your character’.

Everyone wants to know about book 2. Barry didn’t suggest that there might not be one.

Use the Publisher/Agents website. Here you’ll find details of competitions and open days.chickenhouselogo

The children’s market is fiercely competitive. But it is still an industry that does dreams. Chicken House relishes finding new voices and ‘if it is good enough, children will follow you through the back of the wardrobe’.

Ally Sherrick Debut Children’s Author of Black Powder

black-powder-aw-2-195x3001ALLY SHERRICK, debut author of Black Powder, a tale of gunpowder, treason and plot, a twelve year old boy and his mouse best friend was our speaker with Barry Cunningham, Publisher and Managing Director of Chicken House Publishing in Somerset., .

‘I hope you’re enjoying your MA course in Creative Writing as much as I did.’ Ally said to those Winchester MA Writing for Children students present at the inaugural meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society Sixth Season.

It was during her two year course that she re-discovered her creative seed which had been crushed by the professionalism of the past twenty years of ‘crust earning’.

At the end of her working day, ‘writing was the last thing I wanted to do.’ she said.

In early 2000 Mark Haddon, award winning writer of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, suggested to Ally during an Arvon Course that the voice of the peice that she written for the course wasn’t written for children!

Ally didn’t despair. Instead she set about devouring books by other children’s writers, including Meg Rosoff, Plenary Speaker at this years Winchester Writers’ Festival.

When redundancy forced Ally to ask herself ‘What do I want to do with the next section of my life and with the backing of a supportive husband she embarked on the MA Writing for Children at Winchester University.

The MA opened up access to networks including SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)

Her first novel, a sci-fi was finished. She submitted it and when it was rejected, she had the good grace to put it in her bottom drawer and move on. The story and the characters are the important ingredients’, she tells us, ‘it doesn’t matter where you set it.’ A SCBWI ten word pitch competition won her the attention of Barry Cunningham.allysherrick

Since then, she and the Chicken House team have worked, not always agreeing but stayed focussed. Together they brought Black Powder to publication.

‘Connect with your inner child’, Ally says, ‘My dial is stuck at age 11.’

Ally is now writing book two, a children’s book set in WW2.

December Competition Results – Daniel Clay

Our adjudicator for the December competition was Harper Press’ acclaimed author Daniel Clay. As well as being nominated in 2008 as one of Amazon’s best eight debut novels, his novel Broken was shortlisted for the Best First Novel Award by both The Commonwealth Writers’ and The Authors’ Club. It was made into a film by BBC Films. His second novel is SWAP.

Daniel was a pleasure to work with and wanted to add that he does try to help anyone who gets in touch. The site is danielclaywriter.co.uk where the Q&A section is great as there’s some really good advice in there from a couple of top agents and writers, plus the writers have also shared their successful slush-pile letters and synopses.

Daniel’s comments:

Thanks to everyone who sent entries in. There were 33 in total and, as with the last time I judged a HWS competition, I thought the standard of writing was excellent. I also really enjoyed the diversity of the entries, with very few writers choosing to write about the same themes and those who did taking very different approaches.

I found picking a shortlist almost impossible; after reading through each entry a couple of times I began to discard any which definitely weren’t going to make my final five, and even though I discarded plenty I really rated, I was still left with thirteen to choose from, so, if your story isn’t among the ones mentioned here, please don’t think it means I didn’t enjoy reading it, especially The Walking Shadow by David Lea, Hack Gang by Sally Howard, Seal the Book by Jane Howard and Spy by Rebecca Welton, all of which really impressed me.


1st Place: Teaser by Sally Russell

2nd Place: The Changeling by Scott Goldie

3rd Place: Sold by Kristin Tridimas

Commended: Tell No One by Linda Welch and The Road to Amber by James Lee


First Place – Teaser by Sally Russell

Daniel Clay: Sally has done a great job giving her main character good reason to stumble across the secret she uncovers and also gives us enough back-story to understand why Chloe feels betrayed by what she has seen. Kamara’s gloating, when confronted, is a brilliant example of show, not tell, and Chloe’s jubilation at finding her friend’s weak-spot right at the death, struck me as superb. I especially loved the description of the dusty window of an art room door, like see-through graph paper, scored with lines, which gave the opening’s pivotal scene a real edge of realism and left me feeling as if I was standing behind Chloe, seeing everything Chloe could see.

‘I saw you.’

‘What? Where?’ Kamara glanced at me from under her blackened eyelashes.

‘You know where. Last night. After school.’ I was gratified to see the flush creeping up from her neck. ‘You can’t do that.’


‘ ‘Cos he’s mine.’

For three years, since I was (even I admit it) a pimply red-haired thirteen-year-old, I had harboured lustful thoughts about Mr Dyer. Most cool art teacher ever. Now, my new bezzie, Kamara, had got there first.

The previous evening I had left my iPod in my art room locker. I had gone back to rescue it from the thieving fingers that haunted Western High in the evening shadows. I had gripped the door handle, then paused. Mr Dyer and Kamara were standing by the store cupboard. He touched her. He stroked her hair. I could only just see them as I peered through the dusty window of the art room door. The glass was like see-through graph paper, scored with lines. It was smudged with the mucky fingerprints of the budding art students who pushed it open every day.

Except last night it was locked.

I felt sick.

‘Jealous, Chloe?’ Kamara smirked.

‘Just don’t go there.’

She laughed. It grated on my nerves.

‘Kev and I are in love.’

‘Kev? Kev!’ I seethed. I looked at her raven hair, her olive skin. No amount of conditioner or hair-straighteners ever tamed my auburn mane. I felt my nails dig hard into my palms.

‘Didn’t you know that’s his name?’

‘You’ve only been here since Christmas.’ It sounded lame, even to me. ‘And you’re younger than me.’

‘I’m sixteen in August.’

‘Aren’t you supposed to have an arranged marriage?’

‘Not gonna happen.’

‘No, it won’t. Not when your brothers find out.’

Kamara blinked.

Got her, I thought.

Second Place – The Changeling, by Scott Goldie

When my sister Lucy was six months old, she was stolen. Only I know she is gone because only I saw the awful creature that took her.

When I woke that night, I knew something was wrong. I have always trusted my instincts. My grandmother would say I was touched.

I knew it was the creature I had glimpsed a few nights before. I also knew why it had come.


My room was black, except for a thin blade of moonlight cutting across my desk.

I lay there for a moment, shivering slightly. I had no wish to see the creature up close.

However, I tugged at the duvet, sent it whispering across the bed, and levered myself up. The frame creaked as my weight left it. I prayed the noise would go unnoticed.

My bare feet glided across the floorboards. I pulled at my bedroom door. My teeth clenched, anticipating a betraying creak.

It never came.

I moved towards the open doorway of Lucy’s room, saw that the window was thrown open, letting in a cool breeze, making the curtains billow. I crossed to her cot. A shadowy bundle lay there.

It was Lucy, sound asleep. I let out the breath I’d been holding and leaned against the cot.

A strange cooing snatched my attention. A figure was perched on the windowsill, silhouetted in the moonlight. Hunched over, knees folded up to its chest, its long arms clutched something wrapped in a blanket.


It stroked its prize with a long finger, cooed again, wide mouth filled with pointed teeth. I blinked and it had gone.

A terrible, icy feeling gripped me. I had no doubt that it had taken my sister.

But then, if it had Lucy, what now slept in her cot?


2nd Place:

The Changeling by Scott Goldie

Daniel Clay: Opens with an arresting line, but then builds to an even better closing line which promises a great story to follow for any horror fans out there. In-between, I really enjoyed the descriptive writing; terms such as ‘blade of moonlight’, ‘betraying creak’, ‘stroked its prize’ were perfect for the mood being set. I especially enjoyed the use of the word ‘cooing’ in such a different context to usual. I’ll certainly never coo over a baby again!

When my sister Lucy was six months old, she was stolen. Only I know she is gone because only I saw the awful creature that took her.

When I woke that night, I knew something was wrong. I have always trusted my instincts. My grandmother would say I was touched.

I knew it was the creature I had glimpsed a few nights before. I also knew why it had come.


My room was black, except for a thin blade of moonlight cutting across my desk.

I lay there for a moment, shivering slightly. I had no wish to see the creature up close.

However, I tugged at the duvet, sent it whispering across the bed, and levered myself up. The frame creaked as my weight left it. I prayed the noise would go unnoticed.

My bare feet glided across the floorboards. I pulled at my bedroom door. My teeth clenched, anticipating a betraying creak.

It never came.

I moved towards the open doorway of Lucy’s room, saw that the window was thrown open, letting in a cool breeze, making the curtains billow. I crossed to her cot. A shadowy bundle lay there.

It was Lucy, sound asleep. I let out the breath I’d been holding and leaned against the cot.

A strange cooing snatched my attention. A figure was perched on the windowsill, silhouetted in the moonlight. Hunched over, knees folded up to its chest, its long arms clutched something wrapped in a blanket.


It stroked its prize with a long finger, cooed again, wide mouth filled with pointed teeth. I blinked and it had gone.

A terrible, icy feeling gripped me. I had no doubt that it had taken my sister.

But then, if it had Lucy, what now slept in her cot?


3rd Place:

Sold by Kristin Tridimas

Daniel Clay: Really stood out from first read-through. I was really impressed by the depth of character motivation, with Kristin making sure the main character, Jenna, had good reason to be somewhere she shouldn’t be and then good reason to investigate what was going on there. Small details – such as Jenna unthinkingly using the torch on her phone – rang true for a character of school-age, whereas I’d have stumbled around in the dark, completely forgetting to use the app on my phone. Also, I thought, the title was brilliant in terms of telling part of the story; had it not been called Sold, I think it would have been impossible for the last two lines to carry the emotional weight that they did.

Jenna had time on her hands. College was over for the day.

She couldn’t go home and risk walking in on Mum and Beer Belly Dave bonking on the sofa. The sight had scarred her for life. Not to mention it now meant the sofa was definitely a no-go area.

Her friends Rachel and Ted were stuck in the science labs for another hour.

Their fault for choosing chemistry. When they were eventually free, the three of them would go down to town to Mike’s Cafe, drink hot chocolate and attempt to hear each other over the chatter. So there was no point going townwards.

She did what she always did and headed up the hill to stare at the big stone building which had once been the object of her dreams. As soon as she knew she wanted to be a newspaper reporter, she also knew that one day she would work in those offices. Except she was wrong. Penchester Gazette had closed down a year ago. Before she’d even had time to do work experience.

She stared at the boarded up windows.

Suddenly, she saw movement.

A corner twitched.

A flash of pink.

She crossed over to look more closely.

Something was drawing her in. A journalistic instinct.

Her heart thumped as she lifted the loose board. Peered into the gloom.

Ghostlike empty desks. They taunted her with what might have been.

Her eyes adjusted.

Something moved behind one of the desks.

“Hello,” she whispered.

And then she did something that she would never normally do. Lifting the board, she climbed in. Switched on the torch on her phone. Crept towards the back.

Crouching behind a desk, looking at her with terrified eyes, was an Asian girl.

The girl shrank back. “Please,” she begged.


Highly Commended

Daniel Clay: Both were well written and well paced and left me with a sense there were full-blown stories to follow. In each case, I felt the story was going a certain way, yet each ended on a totally different note, which is a great demonstration of talent over only 300 words.

Tell No One by Linda Welch

‘If you don’t go to sleep right this minute, Father Christmas won’t come,’ Mum called up the stairs.

We’d played this game ever since I’d first called back, ‘Silly Mummy, Father Christmas doesn’t exist.’

Every year, Dad had come bounding up the stairs, saying in a stage whisper, ‘Shhh! Don’t tell her that, she still believes in him!’

Last year, when I was thirteen, it had still made me laugh, but this year there was no Dad, and I didn’t know what to say. Judging by the stifled sob from downstairs, Mum had forgotten for a split second that, just like Father Christmas, we wouldn’t see Dad tonight, or any other night.

I ran downstairs to find her wiping her eyes on the corner of the tea-towel. She tried to smile when she saw me, but it wasn’t a real smile, it didn’t reach her eyes.

‘Let’s make a new tradition,’ she said. ‘Instead of mince pies and sherry for Father Christmas, let’s make it hot chocolate and marshmallows for us.’

‘OK,’ I said, but really I wanted everything to stay the same. Most of all, I wanted Dad to still be alive.

Something woke me that night. I sat up in bed and reached for the bedside light, but a movement by the door made me freeze. Father Christmas?

‘Shh!’ came voice I knew so well. Father Christmas moved silently to the edge of the bed and pulled off his hood and false beard.


Surely I had to be dreaming? But his arms were warm as he hugged me, and his voice was soft and familiar as he whispered in my ear.

‘I shouldn’t have come, but I had to see you just once more. Everyone has to believe I’m dead, it’s the only way you’ll be safe.’


The Road to Amber by James Lee

Matthew stared at the black attaché briefcase, lying innocuously on the table before him. It once belonged to his Grandfather, and he had salvaged it from his Mother’s clearing of the attic, his only reasoning being that it was locked; a siren call to anyone interested in puzzles. It was not particularly sturdy, and a good knife could easily undo any protection the combination lock feebly offered, yet he resisted the urge. To do so would be a violation, an admittance of defeat to the coder, so instead he contemplated.

He recalled reading somewhere that a staggering proportion of number passcodes were a sequence of dates that held sentiment to the owner. For example, his parents’ laptop key was

271185, the date they first met. His Grandfather had often told the anecdote how he had been born on the 7th minute of the 7th hour of the 7th day, so Matthew half-heartedly swivelled the dials round to create this triple 7, a number dear to gamblers, Christians and aircraft manufacturers. To his disappointment the mouth popped open cordially: empty.

He closed the case and made to carry it to the skip to join its discarded brethren, when he paused. Something, a fragment, rattled about his head and refused to be lost to memory. He set the case down again, opened it, examined the corners, felt lining, frame, to no avail. What were they hiding?

He picked it up again, then realised: the case was far too heavy to be empty. His fingers groped around the edges of the inside, until his left thumb rested on a nodule under the lining upon the left border. His right thumb traced the felt until it halted at an identical one opposite. Matthew pressed, then the case opened once more, and not so cordially.