The Competition for October was to “Write the last page of a thriller” in 300 words in 1st person with the entries adjudicated by Paul Bavister.
Paul is a poet who teaches creative writing for Oxford University and at Birkbeck College, London. His publications include: Miletree, Glass and The Prawn Season and his poetry has recently appeared in South, Shadowtrain and The Rialto.
Unfortunately Paul was unable to be with us last night, but thanks to modern technology he was able to e-mail his adjudications for me to present on his behalf.
In reviewing the entries Paul said that he looked for an original, distinctive voice. The piece needed to be expertly structured, make the most of the form and respond dynamically to the genre.
1st Prize: Emma Rose Hollands, Aftermath
‘“Aftermath” works extremely well, creating a potent scene with concise images while allowing the character to take centre stage. It is a powerful ending, drawing on the past but never allowing analysis to slow the pace. The mobile phone is used effectively to reach out beyond the scene, leading to excellent dialogue.’
Minutes passed. Maybe half an hour. I lingered outside the cemetery gates and stared at the way I had come.
The stone path was muddied with the weight of my footsteps. Silence all around me. The ominous silhouette of the church loomed in the distance, unchanged. I don’t even remember walking away from it. All I recall is sensing a numbness flowing inside me, bleaching my mind. No guilt. No shame. Just the company of the wind caressing my recently shredded trench coat and bloodied hands.
I had done what I had to do. So, why did I feel nothing?
Gradually, I dragged my gaze away from the path and up to the heavens. Overcast, strips of early morning light poking through the clouds. The rain had stopped falling. Somehow the world seemed bleaker in its ignorant regularity. Had it always been this way? From my pocket I took out my phone, the blood rubbing onto the silver casing. My eyes were fixed upwards. I couldn’t look away from those strips of light.
My fingers knew the rhythm. I had no control. 0-7-7-8-9-6-7-5-4-3-2-5. Ring. Ring. Somehow, I felt the chill of my phone resting against my ear. I don’t remember moving it from my side.
Click. Heavy breathing, accompanied by the sound of splashing puddles, filtered through the speaker. “Larry!” cried Jacob, “Larry, thank God. Where are you? Me and the boys are looking for you.”
The splashing on the other end stopped. Breath in, breath out. He was waiting for me. A lump formed in my throat, choking my words. A renewed speck of rain fell from the sky. A better world, I thought. I’ve made a better world. I closed my eyes, took a final breath.
“It’s over, Jacob,” I whispered. “It’s finally over.”
2nd Prize: Deanna Scutt, Casting Off
‘The physical and emotional journey away from the island is captured very well in “Casting Off”. The narrator’s thoughts and emotions scream through the mists of a serene scene. The island takes on a life of its own and becomes an extremely effective image to end the piece.’
There is mist on the lake as the boat chugs away from the jetty, and Cassidy huddles back from the spray, wrapped up in a blanket and shock. She has said nothing since we left the cabin, and my own silence remains unbroken. I stay focused on the oil-dark ripples that undulate before us. My hands are locked around the tiller; I have to stop myself before I draw blood from my palms.
A handful of swans make a slow parade past us, and are swallowed by the rolling grey expanse that is spreading across the water.
It is dawn, somehow, but I remain in the darkness. I can still hear footsteps running through the trees, and Amelia’s blood is so obvious on my shirt that I can almost feel her heartbeat, still singing in her chest. The breeze is her voice, chasing me for the last time, and I turn my face towards it, almost smelling the melancholy lilies of her perfume.
Cassidy doesn’t look at me, and I don’t acknowledge her.
There’ll be an inquest when we get to the mainland, so we’ll have to corroborate our story, make the twisted pieces fit, but for now we remain divided. Surviving seems to have pressed us so close together that we are pushing each other away, desperate to be alone, or one of the corpses, still strewn on the island like castaway dolls.
I can’t stop myself. My neck strains, looking back, but our misery is a silhouette, looming above the wet smoke that stretches towards us. I watch the trees’ black shapes fade into silver and ash.
The island and the past are engulfed, both swallowed by the white mist that has descended to clean the world. Even as I try to hold the image, it ghosts away.
3rd Prize: Louise Morrish, A Grain of Truth
‘This successful piece of writing portrays the absolute hopelessness of the main character. The questions asked show a trapped mind reaching out for a way to escape, making the final image particularly striking – dark and engaging piece of writing.’
We are but grains of sand in the vastness of the Universe.
My father’s voice comes to me from nowhere, as I sit and stare at the peeling, diseased walls. The air is stagnant, a fetid stench coming from the filthy bucket in the corner. Beyond the locked and barred door, I can hear muted shouts and thumps and the clash of keys.
I’m on my own now, a single grain of inconsequence in this corrupt country, trapped forever in the shifting sands of its judicial system.
One tiny clue, one miniscule speck of evidence, that’s all it took to bring down everything. The knowledge that I failed makes my bones ache, my head throb. To know that I will end my days here, far from home, in this godforsaken place, makes me long for my gun.
If my father was here with me, then I might just survive this. He was not above bribery or, failing that, brute force. But what’s the point in wishing for the impossible? He is gone, and my last chance with him. All that’s left is the prospect of oblivion.
I close my eyes and picture Dad’s laboratory, the microscopes and petri dishes, his pristine white coat hanging from a hook behind the door. What will happen to all his equipment and specimens now, who will take them away? The police? The government? Will they use or destroy what they find? My stomach gives a sickening lurch, as I realise I will never know.
A faint buzzing sound is coming from somewhere above me, near the one small, high window in this cell. I crane my neck, and see a tiny, frantic bee. Again and again, it collides with the dirty, opaque glass, desperately trying to find a way out.
Give up, I whisper.
Highly Commended: Lin Knott, Finale
‘“Finale” is a powerful piece that captures the bitterness and questioning mind of the narrator. Their anger and confusion is portrayed particularly well.’
Highly Commended: Elizabeth Wald, Seeing Red
‘“Seeing Red” is a well-structured ending that effectively outlines the emotional sweep of the character’s situation. The hopeful final lines make a successful contrast to what has gone before.’
The prizes were signed copies of Andy McDermott’s books, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication from Paul Bavister.
We would like to give our thanks to Paul for doing such a splendid job of adjudication, especially as there were sixteen entries this time.