January Competition Winners 2015

The Competition for January was to write a magazine article in 300 words about “A Secret Place in Wessex’. Unfortunately our adjudicator, Heidi King of View Magazine, was unable to be at the meeting.

Heidi’s interest in journalism dates back to when she was 11 years old, with a love for ponies, when her ambition was to work for the PONY magazine. She later achieved this ambition when she was offered a job as a trainee journalist with PONY magazine and within a few years became assistant editor.

Subsequently she has contributed to over 200 titles worldwide ranging from The Financial Times and The Sunday Times to the Hong Kong Tatler and Wine Magazine. Heidi now edits ‘Wiltshire View’ and ‘Hampshire View’ as a freelance editor, whilst concurrently working on national titles. She still loves ponies, and magazines.

Heidi’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: David Lea, A Secret Place in Wessex

“David’s piece, based on a bunker near his home of which most are unaware, reminds us how scary the Cold War actually was, and how much we owe to Petrov’s clear thinking. Petrov’s decision touched our lives.

By mentioning his young children in the text – the portrayal of helpless sleeping innocence – David brings home the point that their destiny was in the hands of distant men. Having been behind the Iron Curtain back in the day, I remember how frightening this regime was. Putin’s recent belligerence gives this piece topicality.

David uses the limit on words to add drama, his simple sentences increasing the tension. He leaves it to his reader to fill in the gaps and understand the significance of what he is saying: he respects his reader. The piece is also loaded with irony, illustrated by the timeline, and David has found and included humour too, a bonus: five lavatories, four for men, one for women, the absurd allocation meaning that a visit to the loo in the underground bunker would result in long queues, but only for the women. ‘Twas ever thus, even in the face of nuclear catastrophe.”

To be published in View Magazine.

2nd Prize: Rebecca Lyon, Odiham Castle

“This made me smile, and remember.

The first sentence of this piece is prosaic, perhaps just another touristy blurb, almost enough to make me stop reading. If I were subbing it for publication, all mention of the road number and directions would go. The first sentence must be an invitation.

But from then on, through Rebecca’s adult eyes and the artless observations of the four-year-old child, the reader is reminded of how the places we visit in our youth become almost sacred in our memory as we grow older. We know that because of this visit, the little girl will love Odiham Castle throughout her life and cherish the memory of being there with her mother.

Rebecca, with the help of a child, has crammed a great deal into her 300 words, and it is a charming conversation. It’s a skill to know which pieces of a conversation to include. No matter how simple and artless they may seem, they can still speak volumes.”

Driving southwards along the B3349 into the village of North Warnborough there’s a little turning on the left, unmarked except a dead end sign. Take this turn, if you can spot it, and follow the winding track to the little parking area. From here you walk through marshy fields where ponies graze and gorgeous purple marsh orchids sometimes appear. Cross the River Whitewater through two clear fords (fun in wellies) and you pass a house with high walls and towering gates. It has a CCTV camera and shiny intercom.

‘Is this Odiham castle mummy?’ my four year old daughter asks.

I think she’s a little disappointed when I tell her that we have a little way to go yet. Take the footpath through a dandelion strewn field and you’ll come to the green-glassy Basingstoke Canal. Behind a clump of high trees and brambles is the magnificent octagonal keep of Odiham castle.

‘But it’s all broken down mummy!’ says my daughter.

I tell her that although it’s a ruin now (‘who ruined it mummy?’), it was once an important castle where royalty, knights and ladies lived. Built by King John at the beginning of the thirteenth century it’s been a fortress, a home and a hunting lodge.

‘It’s not pretty like Sleeping Beauty’s castle’ says my Disney-loving girl.

‘Maybe not, but in the olden days those pointy flints were covered with smooth stone. There would have been lovely paintings and tapestries on the walls and pretty gardens too.’

I decide not to tell her that it was also used as a prison, albeit a genteel one. We feed the nearby ducks until it’s time to go.

‘Can we come again mummy?’

‘Of course’ I answer. It’s a bit hard to find, but I’m sure it’ll be here for many years yet.


Highly Commended: Sally Russell, A Secret Place in Wessex

“I’m insatiably curious and constantly looking for information but I had never heard this story about Fanny Adams, so thank you Sally for adding to my knowledge. This is a disturbing true story. I have now looked it up, of course, and the detail of the little girl’s injuries, omitted by Sally from her piece, is sickening. Did she make the decision to draw the line at including this detail because of its terrible nature or because of constraints on the number of words? Deciding what to leave out and what to leave in makes a real difference in a short piece.

Sally’s choice of story has two hooks, the first being the extraordinary explanation of a much-used, well-known phrase, the second the fact that this was the last hanging in Winchester. This gives her piece news value and would help to make it attractive to editors.”

Highly Commended: Louise Taylor, Winnall Moors

“Louise’s description of Winnall Moors and her children’s changing perception and enjoyment of the place as they grow, is a happy piece. She takes me right there with her voles with ‘grassy moustaches’, and her children ‘stacked like pancakes’. Apart from sharing Louise’s pleasure of the reserve, the message I take from her piece is that protected areas such as Winnall Moors are invaluable not just to the creatures that call them home, but to all of us, at all ages, for a variety of reasons.”


The prizes were signed copies of “The Snowden Files” by Luke Harding, and a Certificate of Adjudication from Heidi King. The winning entry will also be featured in View Magazine.

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered the competition, and said that Heidi King had said that all of the entries had been pleasurable to read.

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